Editorial: hope and fire in the heart of Tallinn

Old City Harbour in the Port of Tallinn.

PHOTO: baltictransportjournal.com

The war of words triggered around commercial center called Porto Franco planned near port had drawn the entire harbor area into limelight. Long oh how long has been the wait for the wastelands to be filled with buildings and beauty. In that sense, we are hopeful – soon, cranes will be adorning many a lot. 

Logic dictates Old City Harbour to be where the heart of Tallinn would expand. Current choices by owners, architects, and city officials will shape our future environment. Among other things, they will shape the picture and the experience encountered by anyone stepping off a ship in the port. Thus, the area is a kind of business card for Tallinn and all of Estonia. Verily, the choices being made must undergo public scrutiny.

The international Porto Franco architectural competition is also reason to talk about how things are done in Tallinn, and what can be done better. The Union of Estonian Architects claims the ordering party manipulated with jury in order to secure victory for the architectural bureau picked in advance. OÜ Porto Franco chief says this isn’t true. On basis of what is currently known, we cannot and will not sit as judges regarding the alleged manipulation. Even so, we would like to point out a fault in city government as the regulator, which is worth fixing.  

Namely, it is unclear under which circumstances an (international) architectural competition is the order of the day. Postimees has been told about insecurity in officials while communicating with developers – perhaps we’d really have to have a competition maybe... Why not put the requirement in the books black on white, regarding key areas of the city – or, otherwise, leave the owners alone altogether. Owner of developing company is the one who assumes the risk and pays for everything. Goes without saying he has his preferences regarding partners, and even the preparation of plans is far from cheap. If the demand or urgent advice about a competition comes as a surprise in the middle of the process, the least it does is present a temptation to outsmart somebody.

All told, the key issue is if the owner really believes that an architectural competition totally honest and one involving the public may end up giving him real estate more valuable than would be gotten without a competition. Not limited to written rules, this is about the culture of organisation and involvement. Among other things, of realising where essentially the line is drawn between public interest and private owner’s business interest, and how to prudently go about seeking agreement around it. If indeed the developers think that competition and involvement means stupid intrusion into their business operations which just has to be endured and outwitted somehow, and representatives of the public (such as architects) start out by viewing the businessmen as crooks with poor taste – this spells a rather weak foundation.

A public debate now on our hands between developer and the very architects union serves to show we have room for development, in Estonia, in these issues.