Next time in Lasnamäe
by Andreas Wagner
The LASN is an architecture exhibition displaying materialised professional opinions on the future of the built environment of Lasnamäe. Unfortunately, the curator fails to contextualise the results and to put them in perspective as adequate contributions to this complex discussion.
The LASN exhibition is timely placed on the background of the ongoing struggle of Tallinn’s professional elites and administration about how to deal with this part of the modernist legacy and the celebration of Mustamäe’s fiftieth anniversary this year. Lasnamäe is the notorious modernist extension to Tallinn, the idealist’s solution of strains produced by an overcrowded inner city and the continuous influx of people. The models on display visualise burning questions about this district in very different forms. The teams involved point towards different spatial questions, for example, of boundaries (Salto), administration and form (Järving / Pihlak), resource management and re-/upcycling (Kavakava), perspective and shared space (b210), co-creation (Alver). They offer thought-provoking impulses to the audience.
Lasnamäe is reduced to a screen for all kinds of projections and judgements, and as the lack of precision in the design and catalogue of the exhibition show, this attitude is not likely to change very soon. One of the reasons why modernist planning has been judged as a failure has been its elitist planning paradigm. I wonder how we can hope to overcome this fault, if we do not discuss the matters of Lasnamäe in the necessary scope and seriousness on the ground and with the actual subject.
I got the feeling that the curator creates a rather exclusive “ivory tower” image of the architect’s profession, that does not overlap with other professions, such as historians, sociologists, physicists, economists, political or environmental scientists. But are not architects and planners doing the best job when they acknowledge and incorporate opinions of experts from other fields – thereby communicating and promoting their own?
Tallinn is by far not the only place where districts like Lasnamäe, Õismäe and Mustamäe have to be reinterpreted and reinvented due to faulty design and changes in history. If you look not as far west as the curator, but just to the estates in central European cities, there are many feasible examples of adjusting buildings and districts under very restrictive financial and social conditions.
Maybe one of the answers to the question of why architects have not been involved in Lasnamäe’s development during the last two decades might be the lack of a broader discussion and dialogue. A representative body such as the Union of Architects is expected to play a strong role by moderating constructive criticism of the mission and responsibility of architects in our society. I had the impression that during this particular event this role was forfeited.
Following that thought, should it not be the responsibility of the curator to orchestrate the contributed models and ideas not only in context to each other, but in the wider reality of the city? Is it not in the best interest of the Union of Architects to mediate the work and interest of its members to a wider audience, including other professions?
The first impression I got during the vernissage did not follow these principles. We are talking about Lasnamäe, why are we then in the city center? Why is the second language of the catalogue English, and not Russian? Why is the exhibition design so irresponsible and sloppy (i.e. the unapproachable position of model captions, uncommented chops of statistical data, errors in the catalogue)? These questions are in stark contrast to the catalogues conclusion: “All the changes have to be co-produced with the local populace. The inhabitants of Lasnamäe have to be able to say – ‘I made this!’”
The impression that I carried home did stir up my thoughts, but certainly not on the subject of Lasnamäe. The curator speaks of opinions, but fails to sketch out a particular problem. He is quick with judgements such as “The houses are there, the urban environment is not.” Where is the argumentation for that? Are annual statistics enough to draw up such a universal conclusion? What is the character of the desirable urban environment that the curator is imagining in contrast to the one certainly existing in Lasnamäe? Should a new generation of architects find solutions to the problems produced by their professional predecessors in the very same manner?
Some models did raise questions beyond the scope of plain structural architecture. Lasnamäe, like any other urban district in Tallinn, is defined through its mixed population, the quality and quantity of its built structure and the image and meaning applied to it from the outside. And like all its neighbouring districts, it is continuously changing. It is in the interest of professionals involved in city development and planning, the political administration and the people living there, that this discussion is being held with the seriousness and on the scope that it deserves. Thus the display of opinions of architects must reflect dedication by placing itself inside the particular surrounding it discusses. Furthermore, the involvement of the local population and expertise is a fundamental precondition. Finally, accumulating constructive criticism on the presented opinions and incorporating it into a continuous feedback loop should be the ultimate goal of such a dialogue, rather than the climax of a single event.
I believe that realistic visions for Lasnamäe can only be constructed with the authentic and professional dedication of the people involved. This includes the necessary respect of past efforts, continuous adjustment to the present obstacles, and an attitude that includes Lasnamäe in the urban discourses of Tallinn in as many levels as possible. To say it with the words of one guest of the vernissage: “Next time you should come to Lasnamäe, maybe your ideas will then be even better.”