Spiral Forest

The history of people is built in resonance with their ecosystem. Estonian culture has been fashioned by a specific physical geography that is characterised by a proximity to the Baltic Sea, low topography, harsh winters, numerous lakes and the ubiquity of forests. The project, Spiral Forest, is conceived to support the display of the collection of the Estonian National Museum ; it is a time promenade that circles through the history of this forest of the north.

Scenario. The time promenade

Visitors access the museum from two possible points : from the north alongside the lake, the ENM park promenade leads into a public area (ticket free zone) that includes a cafe, conference hall and seminar rooms. From there visitors circle around the building and join up with guests who arrive from the parking lot to enter into the reception and ticketing area of the museum collection. This division makes it possible to keep the cafe and auditorium areas open at hours when the collections themselves are closed.

The entrance to the museum collections contains an information point and leads to the lobby and bookstore with views that open out onto the lake and the Raadi Manor beyond. From there visitors access galleries using a ramp that spirals alongside the exterior façade. Here, one is plunged into an atmosphere that evokes the underwoods of ancient forests.

For the duration of this travel through time along the ramp, the variation of the forest’s essences are recalled : the juxtaposition of the odor of birch trees with the golden colors of old pine ; the intricate serigraphy creating direct rays of sunlight and dark patches of shadow elsewhere ; the seemingly random cadence of the wood mullions in different sections and the changing rhythm of the vertical members that work to generate a nuanced environmental ambiance : beyond regulating sunlight and view based upon orientation and internal programmatic requirements, the complexity of the façade binds the experience of the museum to the Estonian forest.

Along the ramp, the gallery plateaus are divided based on thematical needs. The gallery spaces terrace around the core of the building, following the spiral of the ramp. The buffer created by the ramp, between the external facade and the gallery spaces, insures that they receive little direct sunlight, thus protecting the displayed objects.

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The last three floors of the museum house staff facilities. On the top floor, the restaurant overlooks the study area and its urban context. As they ascend through the heart of the building in glass enclosed elevators that allow views into the central functional core, visitors will be able to observe the work that is being undertaken by the Estonian National Museum staff to care for Estonia’s cultural history.

Study area. The archeology of landscape

Four existing landscape typologies are identified within the study area :Type 1 : The infill terrain of the old Russian aircraft base becomes the site for the museum and adjacent service areas ;
Type 2 : A «primary nature» area between the lake and the pond where construction do not seem appropriate ;
Type 3 : A man made landscaped forest ;
Type 4 : The Raadi Manor area and terraces.

The fragility of these markings, of the stories embedded within the residue of topography and ruin is such that the project’s approach to landscape seeks to heighten the visitor’s awareness of the layers of time and memory present within the site. As such, archaeology and nature as it is become the text of one’s experience.

In order to recall the impressions left by the museum’s spiral ramp, these quadrants are linked with a promenade of wooden paths that float just above the landscape like scaffolds through an archaeological site. Guests make their way past the crumbling ruins, to outside activity spaces organized in the remains of the old distillery, through the hush of a forest, into a glen of trees, and onto the terrain of the museum itself. Rather than wiping away the transformations that mark the site, this intervention engenders close contemplation of the situation of time within the landscape.

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Urban planning. The pedestrian «ENM boulevard»

In order to strongly link the ENM to its urban context, the project reinforces and extends the north south 2.5km axis between Tartu’s historical center and the study area. This axis remains a semi-pedestrian boulevard so that it does not compete with the future development of Narva Road. At the same time, it could structure the development of additional city parks, educational facilities and leisure programs, becoming a «cultural and leisure spine» for the city of Tartu. The boulevard ends at the Museum and there joins the lakeside promenade.

Building. Sylvan Canopy as Urban Signal

The museum building is situated between Vahi street and the lakeside promenade on terrain that slopes to meet the water. This gesture reflects the siting of the manor house on the opposite side of the lake, itself on land that terraces to the water’s edge.

1. Function : the search for form began with a desire to create a dense building that would yield low construction, maintenance and energy costs, while also creating efficient proximities between departments of the institution. The resulting façade surface area is minimal such that construction costs can be optimized. The density of the building’s mass also responds to programmatic requirements for storage and utility zones ; these zones have low direct-light requirements. By placing them within the windowless core of the building, the storage needs of the museum’s large collection are served. Moreover, the circular form yields a building with neither front nor back, such that from both the city and the countryside the Museum appears as a strong marker on the landscape.

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2. Symbol : the form of the museum also echoes with cultural precursors in Estonian and Baltic history : the circular village, stacks of cut wood, the cycles of seasons and time… From the city and countryside, the museum hovers on the horizon as an atemporal signal, calling back from time past into the space of the country’s future.

3. Structure & Technical aspects : The siting of the museum on the grounds of the old military base offers a number of advantages. Beyond the economy of the existing landscape, building on stable infill, which is slightly elevated in relation to the level of the lake, avoids all of the additional charges for infrastructure.

Placed on a slightly resized base, the superstructure is composed of a central concrete core – that effectively protects the collection storage areas – and an envelope of wood and glass. The facade is supported by large arcs of wood that are punctually braced by panels of solid facade. Steel beams fixed to the core and the facade support the floorplates and the ramp. All of the HVAC systems of the building pass through the technical heart of the central core and are repartitioned from there to service the floor areas.

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