“Square! Positively Shrinking” | Pavilion of Estonia 17th Biennale di Venezia

The Estonian Centre for Architecture will present the exhibition “Square! Positively shrinking” www.positivelyshrinking.ee curated by Jiří Tintěra, Garri Raagmaa, Kalle Vellevoog, Martin Pedanik and Paulina Pähn in the Pavilion of Estonia at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (May 22nd - November 21st, 2021), which will be hosted in the Arsenale complex.

Exploring the role of high-quality urban space in enhancing the future development of small towns that are in jeopardy of depopulation, the exhibition sparks a debate on the lesser known facet of urbanisation.

“The causes of population decline are global, but the consequences are local. One way to combat this phenomenon is to focus on improving the quality of life of the population and strengthening local awareness and identity. Our message is that quality urban space has a key role to play in this and cities and architects can do a lot”, asserts the Estonian team of curators.

The phenomenon of shrinking cities is widespread throughout Europe and as a consequence of fundamental changes during the transition in 1989/1991, post-socialist Eastern Europe is strongly affected. The influence of urbanisation and suburbanisation processes on local communities often has a greater impact than out-migration or low birth-rates at national level. As a result, 45 in 47 Estonian towns have lost a significant percentage of their population since 2000.

The most visible symptoms of shrinkage in urban space are building vacancies and brownfields, the predominantly low quality of residential premises, unsightly dilapidated buildings and an underinvested environment, which negatively impact residents and amplifies the vicious circle of decline.

While questioning the social, economic and environmental implications of de-urbanisation, “Square! Positively shrinking” showcases solutions to shape the renewed identity of shrinking cities via building demolitions, active housing policies, historic building restoration and urban space revitalisation.


The exhibition, in which video screenings play a central role, focuses on “Great Public Spaces” (Hea avalik ruum), organised within the framework of the Estonia 100 Architecture Programme, a remarkable example of urban space intervention in shrinking cities. Conceived on the occasion of the country’s 100th anniversary, the initiative aimed to regenerate the centres and public spaces of 15 Estonian towns by 2020. Town centre squares in Tõrva, Põlva, Valga and Rapla were completed in 2018, further squares were regenerated in Võru and Kuressaare in 2019, and others in Elva and Rakvere were completed in 2020.

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Estonian Centre for Architecture NGO / Eesti Arhitektuurikeskus MTÜ

The Estonian Centre for Architecture (ECA) is a non-profit institution that was established in 2008 by the Estonian Academy of Arts and the Union of Estonian Architects, to develop the architectural culture in Estonia and to foster contemporary Estonian architecture abroad.

ECA’s mission is to raise awareness about how high-quality architecture and urban space are essential for everyday life, and to support Estonian architects and architecture offices that seek to expand into export. By integrating the knowledge and competence of the architecture sector within other fields in our society, the organisation contributes to development and innovation in the field of architecture, and in other related fields. ECA is one of the organisations carrying out Estonian architectural policy at local, regional, national and global levels, with the aim of crossing borders, reaching new audiences and serving organisations and individuals.

Moreover, ECA works in collaboration with like-minded partners around the world, including the City of Tallinn, several Estonian ministries and local governments, companies and entrepreneurs, as well as those further afield, to synthesise information and objectives to create better public spaces.

ECA is headed by architect Raul Järg, who was previously City Architect of Rakvere (Estonia) from 2008 to 2012, worked as an architect at the Ühinenud Arhitektid office in Tallinn and Parkin Architects in Toronto (2005-2007), and graduated from the Estonian Academy of Arts in 2001.

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