BIG to Design Tallinn City Hall

BIG to Design Tallinn City Hall

By Tiffany Chu
In a unanimous decision by the jury for the international competition to design Tallinn's new City Hall, the entry from Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group was awarded first place. The civic design is meant to be a structural translation of the transparency necessary for good governance and participatory democracy.

A porous canopy floats above a broad public service marketplace on the ground floor, which allows for daylight and views to permeate the structure via light wells, panoramic windows and courtyards. Specifically, the sloping ceiling of the City Council tower is finished in a large reflective material, which creates a mirror or "huge democratic periscope" that allows transparency between politicians and the public.

The idea of a city hall as a democratic space for citizens to see their city at work is well-entrenched in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Parallels can be drawn between BIG's design and Alvar Aalto's famous 1952 Saynätsälo Town Hall in Finland, which also incorporated soaring, angled roof forms, a courtyard, public commercial space on the ground floor, and was intended to be a gathering space for everyone, not just elected officials.

According to Bjarke Ingels, partner-in-charge of BIG, "For a Danish architect it is a special honor to design the new town hall of Tallinn, because after all, they designed our flag." In another curious turn of cultural interconnection, the original meaning of the name "Tallinn" is thought to be derived from the Estonian word "Taani-linn" for "Danish-castle," after the Danes built the castle in place of the stronghold at Lindanisse in the 1200s.

Structurally, the design is "a grouping of easily assembled individual frames that through vierendeel frames free the connection of the city at ground level whilst simultaneously act as a 'group' to resist lateral loads. The result is an economic, fast-build adaptable solution," says Hanif Kara of Adams Kara Taylor, structural engineer of the project.

While the sleek silhouette of the new town hall tower will be new to the city's historically spire-laden skyline, such as those of Niguliste Museum-Concert Hall, Toomkirik, and St. Olav Church, BIG's newest work will surely mark Tallinn as a burgeoning place on the modern architecture map.


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