Katrin Koov: the travelogue of Mäetaguse

MÄETAGUSE SCHOOL AND SPORTS AREA
Landscape architecture: Liina Einla, Edgar Kaare, Terje Ong ja Timo Saabas (TajuRuum OÜ)
Commissioned by: Mäetaguse municipality
Constructed by: Kivipartner OÜ
Surface area: 1,5 ha (exludeing the back and front square of the park)
Project: 2016
Construction: 2017

Known for its openness to change, Mäetaguse borough has successfully combined its central area comprising buildings of various eras and the great outdoor space into an effective and comprehensive environment.

According to Statistics Estonia, the population of the tiny Mäetaguse borough amounts to 512. The heart of the place is the 16th-century manor estate that over the years has evolved, flourished and changed ownership on several occasions, with the Rosen family as its last aristocratic owners. After accommodating a school and flats during the Soviet era, it gradually faded until it was brought to life once again in the early 21st century. The main building now houses the local government offices, there is a hotel and restaurant in the coach house, a bathhouse in the former greenhouse, the school’s handicraft facilities in the large garner and rental premises for events in the smaller garner. The last missing piece was the restored border areas of the manor park including the sports facilities and the school surroundings.

Knowing the state of manor estates in many other places in Estonia as well as the fact that Mäetaguse has not participated in any of the public space programmes or organised public (landscape) architecture competitions while the manor centre nevertheless received the annual landscape architecture award last year for the work by landscape architecture office Tajuruum, it all seemed rather astonishing. I was intrigued by this special place and the people behind the changes. So, on a dim December day, I went to check out the place.

The heart of the manor complex seemed charming and dreamlike even on a gloomy and grey December day. In the given season, the Neo-Classicist buildings painted in light colours form a particularly strong contrast to the dark landscape and the bare sombre park. Together with the school, the compact manor estate is clearly distinct from the rest of the borough that mainly includes the industrial and agricultural buildings from the collective farm era, prefab panel buildings with a few detached houses farther in the distance. The reconstruction of the central part of the manor park and the front square of the main building was designed by Artes Terrae while the park elements together with the school and sports area are done by Tajuruum landscape architects. I first had a discussion with the head of the local municipality Tauno Võhmar and then inquired about the landscape projects from the environmental specialist Martin Miller.

Schema of the area and areas designed by Tajuruum.

Originally from Ida-Viru County, Tauno Võhmar grew up in Toila but his grandparents’ farmstead is only a stone’s throw away from Mäetaguse. He thus claims to feel the need to do something for his community. When he took office in 2015, his predecessors left him with a meticulously renovated manor complex that needed to be combined with a well-considered public space. When asked about their ability to value space, he says that he feels the inner need to make his environment more beautiful and thus set a goal for himself to bring about a positive change in the local living environment. He has been lucky to have worked with professional people and also his previous cooperation with architects in Toila and Jõhvi has taught him to look around with a keen eye and take notice of architecture and the urban space. However, he had an eye-opening eureka experience when meeting Tiit Kaljundi. It happened in the course of the spatial design project in Toila in 2003 when he as the head of the local municipality cooperated with architect Tiit Kaljundi, urban planner Andres Levald and geologist -cartographer Eduard Pukkonen. It was Kaljundi who guided the young local government leader to note and value space and also to see and analyse the big picture. He similarly made the recommendation to consider the location of new buildings highly carefully, first by densifying the central area and consciously keeping the population compact. His experience with large-scale public space projects stems from Jõhvi where in cooperation with Ra Luhse and Tanel Tuhal they designed a kindergarten and a promenade across the town connecting the park area with the town centre. The given success story also gave him the courage to undertake a major project – combining the heart of the manor estate into an integrated whole – in Mäetaguse.

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Read more from Maja’s 2020 winter edition (No 99). Maja is on sale in Estonia, for international subscribers click here to order the magazine.

KATRIN KOOV is an architect and President of the Association of Estonian Architects. Working at the architecture office Kavakava, she was the co-author of several public spaces and buildings. She teaches at the Estonian Academy of Arts and School of Architecture, she has also curated and designed exhibitions as well as edited the architecture journal MAJA.

HEADER photo by Johan Huimerind.