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Tallinn Architecture Biennale suggests built environment designs look to the principles of metabolism

A display table with a variety of plants growing on it.

The 2022 Tallinn Architecture Biennale (TAB) started in the second week of September. Titled “Edible; Or, The Architecture of Metabolism”, the events and exhibitions continue until 20 November.

Held for the sixth time, TAB has its established character and programme, but every year also includes surprises and excursions. Tallinn is changing, and the changes bring new buildings and development towards a better city.

TAB organises a competition to find new curators and a theme for each biennale. The curators are tasked with planning the main exhibition, finding a title, and collecting the content. Lydia Kallipoliti and Areti Markopoulou were chosen to curate, and the biennale was given the title Edible; Or, The Architecture of Metabolism. The main exhibition is open at the Estonian Museum of Architecture until 20 November.

This year’s programme includes the usual pavilion outside the museum. The public was also invited to participate in its creation and the design of its wooden objects. The pavilion’s name is Fungible Non-Fungible and it was designed by the Iheartblob collective. The biennale included a competition for developing the large Soviet-era Lasnamäe housing estate and improving its ecological sustainability. The competition was international.

Fungible TAB
Fungible Non-Fungible, Iheartblob. photo: Tõnu Tunnel

Symposium elaborates on the biennale’s theme

A two-day symposium was held immediately after the biennale’s opening on 8–9 September. The venue was the Kulttuurikattila, familiar to many and always spectacular inside, only five minutes away on foot from the TAB pavilion in front of the Estonian Museum of Architecture and the main exhibition held within.

Curated by Kallipoliti and Markopoulou, the symposium dove deeper into the “Edible” theme. It was not a matter of architecture being good enough to eat, so to speak, but a new way to build our environment – cities in particular – that resembles metabolism. Some of the biennale’s participants have considered the theme to be earth-shattering as we face completely new challenges. Our buildings, urban environments, and way of life must be able to rise to a variety of challenges.

The organisers, curators, and the specialists and working groups who created the main exhibition’s objects and collections were all given the opportunity to speak at the symposium. The second day featured international heavyweights, including Jonathan Minchin and Mitchell Joachim. The main speaker was Beatriz Colomina, a respected lecturer known for her many books, whose skilfully illustrated presentation discussed architecture in a way that was tangible for Finns as well.

photo: Evert Palmets

Colomina’s lecture, The Weak Body of Architecture, included a brilliant analysis of how infectious and other diseases have left their mark on architecture in the course of history. One of Colomina’s main examples was the Paimio sanatorium, designed by the office of Alvar and Aino Aalto, including its many details. She emphasised how a decisive factor for the design was Aalto’s own experience with illness and lying partially helpless in a horizontal position. In a way, Alvar and his wife Aino had come up with a new type of architecture that prioritised the promotion of healing and recovery and eliminating pathogens, all the way down to the details of architecture and furniture, such as shapes and colours. The same principle of clarity and brightness was introduced to residential designs.

State leaders turn up in numbers for the opening

The Estonian Centre for Architecture (ECA), Estonian Association of Architects (EAA), and Estonian Museum of Architecture have managed their public relations well. Alar Karis, the president of Estonia, participated in the opening with his adjutant, and the audience also included a number of ministers and members of parliament.

The impressive events, international stars, and stylish catalogue and other materials are a clear sign that TAB receives plenty of support from its sponsors. In addition, excellent consideration is now shown to the media participating in the events and symposium.

Dedicated programming is available to the general audience and the citizens of Tallinn until the end of the biennale, and some architecture firms opened their doors to curious citizens during the opening week. Estonia saw exceptionally widespread interest in domestic architecture after regaining its independence, and its people frequently ordered designs for their own houses from Estonian architects. The latest shifts in the country’s architecture have not necessarily been for the better.

photo: Tõnu Tunnel

Internationally recognised architecture event

TAB is considered to be one of the most internationally significant public and expert events for European architecture. The symposium’s audience now included many young architects from different countries. They were offered excursions around the city. TAB has always had splendid evening functions and programmes.

In future, it may be possible to offer international visitors arriving in Tallinn the opportunity to visit Helsinki, which has close ties with Estonia’s capital city.

There was one thing at the symposium that left me puzzled. A few of the younger guests blamed everything on modernism, unaware that Bauhaus residents were growing their own food in the city of Weimar in Germany over a hundred years ago. Walter Gropius loved gardens, and the Dessau-Törten housing estate included gardens for growing fruit and carrots, as well as rearing chickens. The Bauhaus model building on display in Weimar has always had a garden for useful plants – building things good enough to eat indeed.

Tallinn Architecture Biennale is open until 22nd November 2022. Read more through this link.