Socialist period

Estonian architecture managed to emerge from the fortunately short-lived Stalinist period (from the end of the war to about 1955) more or less unscathed. The expression of the main principle of Soviet art, ‘national in form, socialist in content’, is seen in Estonian architecture in a few overly decorated facades and Classicist colonnades. Only Pärnu got a Stalinist city centre. The Tartu centre, deserted after the war destruction, remained empty for decades. North-eastern industrial towns offer quite exotic examples of Soviet town building.

With the arrival of the 1960s political ‘thaw’, Estonian architecture acquired an international style. Nearly all the ideas prevailing in Western architecture were duly realised here. For architects, however, this meant a transition from Soviet euphoria to quiet opposition — socialism easily took over all that was negative in international experience (strict building regulations, limited usage of material, prefabricated cast iron details and a low-quality workforce). The attitude towards architecture as a noble art emerged in the 1970s. In addition to their everyday work, architects were engaged in art, music and film. In the 1980s, an abrupt shift towards the understanding of environment and history occurred: the Tallinn school, as it was known (architects Vilen Künnapu, Toomas Rein, Veljo Kaasik, Jüri Okas, Leonhard Lapin, etc.), turned to the legacy of 1930s Functionalism and thus raised the question of identity, connecting the independent period with ethical, conceptual, romantic and patriotic strivings.

The era of international modern construction is mainly represented by high-rise residential districts with their complicated architectural and social problems, largely built to house the workforce arriving from other parts of the Soviet Union. Estonian society is not wealthy enough to completely demolish the huge high-rise apartment buildings, nor can it afford to turn these ‘dormitories’ into decent living environment’s through renovation.

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