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During the nineteenth century Estonia experienced an ‘age of awakening’ with the spread of a national consciousness and the establishment of Estonian language literature, theatre and professional music, as well as the formation of the Estonian national identity. Estonia initially gained its independence from Soviet rule in the 1920s, only for its parliament to be disbanded in 1938. During World War II, Estonia was occupied and annexed first by the Soviet Union and subsequently by the Third Reich, only to be re-occupied by the Soviet Union in 1944. War losses in Estonia, at around 25% of population, were among the highest in Europe and an estimated 90,000 Estonians died.

Estonia regained its independence on 20th August 1991 and joined the European Union in 2004. It has since embarked on a rapid programme of social and economic reform. The creation of the new Estonian National Museum, to be located in the city of Tartu, is testament to the quest for reawakening a pride in national identity and a unique cultural history. The international competition for the design and execution of the 34,000 m² building, housing a collection of 140,000 objects, was launched in 2005.

The proposal for this Museum challenged the competition brief. Instead of locating the building on the proposed site, the museum was anchored near a former Soviet military base - a physically present ‘ruin’ of a painful history. The new Museum should play an essential role in the regeneration of the area and to do so it had to start by dealing with this heavily charged and spatially unique place. With a sensitive intervention on this site, the National Museum becomes a continuation of the airfield – its roof lifting and expanding towards ‘infinite space’ - inviting the visitor to enter into the landscape and into the heart of the museum. The design creates an open house for public activities - exhibition, performance, learning - a place of gathering and interaction, bringing people together to celebrate a rich, if sometimes painful, history.

Project information

Status: Completed

Location: Tartu, Estonia

Date: 2006 — 2016

Area: 34000 m²

Commission type: Public

Client: Ministry of Culture of Estonia

Program: Museum, Exhibition Spaces, Auditorium

Project team

Architect: Dorell Ghotmeh Tane / Architects, Paris

Engineering: Arup (competition phase) and EA Reng

Landscape architect: Bureau Bas Smets

Lighting design: Hervé Audibert

Local architect: HG Architecture

Local landscape Architecte: Kino

Local interior architecture: Pille Lausmäe








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