Winter 2022 (107): Evolution or Revolution?

(R)evolution 〉Jaak Tomberg, Urmo Mets, Kaja Pae (text below)

Johan Tali. Only Cities Can Save Us Now!
〉Interviewed by Joonas Hellerma

〉Kaja Pae
The New Cruise Terminal in Tallinn 〉Tuomas Silvennoinen
A Low-Tech Table 〉Hannes Praks
Zerotopia 〉Kalev Rajangu

Los Angeles Cultural Hypertrophy 〉Sille Pihlak
The Vision of Heliorg in Harjuoru 〉Villem Tomiste
Digital Park 〉Lauri Eltermaa
Dark Matter 〉Ahti Sepsivart
A Symbiotic Garden-Library 〉Kadri Kerge
The Arctic Nature Defence Forces 〉Mari Hunt

Maja and Sirp Publication Award 2021
Parasites in the Cracks of Human 〉Madli Maruste
A Vision for Hundipea 〉 Indrek Allmann
How To Live? 〉Kaja Pae
Oasis, a Mirror of Dreams 〉Siim Tanel Tõnisson


When a shoe squeezes a bit too much, there is reason for revolution. On a global scale, there are currently a number of issues on the verge of reaching that stage—for instance,  it is impossible for the construction sector to disregard the green transition. At the same time, there are rapid changes taking place in the technology sector as well as organisation of society. Against this background, architects should not forget to keep themselves alert, and to ask for a new and better world. But what kind of breakthrough could actually be appropriate for the climate transition? The kind of novelty that was very much coveted in the field of architecture only a decade ago has suddenly become something that raises skepticism. Time and again we are roused in the midst of architectural novelty that no longer offers us satisfaction and looks like a fad from yesterday. But how could something qualitatively new be born? How to understand the relationship between development and breakthrough, evolution and revolution in the contemporary times?

We seem to be living in a maximally connected and compressed cultural space, where all kinds of interdisciplinary, symbiotic and dynamic contacts are extremely probable. The chance of unpredictable breakthroughs should be quite high.

Then again, there is a large contrast between global virtual awareness and local material corporeality. Is that good or bad? Who knows. On the one hand, my message can reach everywhere. On the other hand, this global awareness can make me languid—after all, who am I to do something, given my material finitude?

How does the fragmentation of public play into this? How far-reaching and thorough-going should a revolution be in order to be worth its name today? 

Development and breakthrough

A classic understanding of the relationship evolution and revolution contrasts and alternates, on the one hand, a relatively slow, more or less stable and largely predictable development and, on the other hand, a very swift and intense, unstable and absolutely unpredictable breakthrough, which establishes a new, seemingly incommensurable situation—which then in turn starts to develop in some direction in a slow, more or less stable and largely predictable way. This is how historical continuity has been thought of on the social, political, economic as well as cultural level—both on the macro and micro level. Much has been written on this. Juri Lotman developed an entire model of culture where he contrasted the regularities of balanced development with the randomness of an explosion. But does this kind of opposition between development and breakthrough still hold any immediate potential for mapping our situation? Could it be that the felt intensity of development pre-empts the possibility to perceive a breakthrough as a breakthrough? Or perhaps the felt intensity of development even shrewdly conceals what is actually stagnation?

Right now, we are hoping for a breakthrough in the turn toward climate-neutral wooden architecture. Yet, how groundbreaking would this transition seem when looking back to it in the future, given that large-scale wooden districts were built already in the times of the Industrial Revolution?

Reform and revolution

Or perhaps it is this clear-cut dialectic itself, between development and breakthrough, reform and revolution, that belongs irrevocably to some past era? Reformists were always reproached for staying innocuously and obediently within the horizons of the existing system and not changing anything fundamental, regardless of how constructive their reforms were. On the other hand, revolutionaries were reproached for the inevitable destruction and violence that accompanies the total transformation (or in fact replacement) of the existing system. Lately, there have been calls to transcend the opposition between reform and revolution. In his book Four Futures, Peter Frase has an interesting discussion of revolutionary reforms that could be brought to pass “innocuously and obediently”, i.e., within the confines of democratic laws, but which would have total consequences (i.e., changing the system totally). In his view, the choice between reform and revolution is a false dilemma—the right choice is revolutionary reform.

Given this context, what is the effect of green transition on the construction sector?  Could the normalisation of environmental certificates for building materials and adoption of material passports for buildings that retain information about the possible improvement and recycling of materials, amount to a revolutionary reform?

In this issue, we discuss the role and formation of vision-laden project ideas in contemporary architecture. Who is doing the envisioning in Estonian and European spatial design, and how much of it is done? We also examine it from a structural perspective—what lies within the powers of the European Union and European Commission, what can be done by the municipal authorities, and what are the possibilities of an architecture firm? Even though the focus today is seemingly on collective newness and tying together the threads of our compressed cultural space, we still cast a glance at the contents of the hard drives of Estonian architects and investigate what kinds of unbuilt or even not-to-be-built works can be found there. The history of architecture is well-acquainted with unbuilt projects that have nevertheless had a huge impact on our ideas, or have even become emblematic of their time.

Period or break? 

Fredric Jameson identified already in the cultural historiography of the late 20th century a ‘dialectic of period and break’. It is a two-way movement where the emphasis on all kinds of continuities, a consistent and fastidious focus on smooth transitions from the past to the future slowly transforms into an awareness of a radical break, whereas heightened attention on the break gradually transforms the break into a full-fledged period. Sufficient reflective emphasis on a period makes it look revolutionary; a sufficiently intense look at a break makes it look like a consistent period. This is a paradox that is bound to accompany our historical mapping of the present and the past. 

Jaak Tomberg, Urmo Mets, Kaja Pae

February, 2022