There are many ways to transform brownfields. Some come up organically such as Christiania in Copenhagen, Ingens Gata in Oslo, and Hackerscher Hof in Berlin and become spaces for hippies, artists and squatters respectively, then you have the unplanned conversion of lands such as that of Uzupis in Vilnius. Then there are planned ones such as Haga in Gothenburg and Telliskivi in Tallinn’s Kalamaja district.
There are many different ways to plan a transformation though and Tallinn, despite its smallness has two planned transformations that cater to vastly different audiences with completely different vibes. There was Telliskivi in the northwest and then there was Rotermann’s Quarter in the northeast.
We moved quickly from the Telliskivi to Rotermann, the trip itself took less than 10 minutes by bus, and the scene before us changed. Gone was the raw, industrial chic that was in Telliskivi, and in its place was a modern functionalist design.
While almost all the shops in Telliskivi were small local firms, some of the stores in Rotermann’s seemed to belong to brand chains. However Rotermann’s competes with Telliskivi to house the widest selections of some of the best cafes, bakeriesand restaurants in town, take for example Rost and Platz
The Rotermann district was named for Christian Abraham Rotermann an artists who arrived in Tallinn and set up a merchant space called Chr Rotermann. This merchant court, or business space, dealt with the production, import and export of construction materials. The company grew and grew and later Rotermann built a small department stall at the outskirts of the old city. The business centre of Tallinn had moved northwest to a place called Viru Square, and Rotermann decided to take advantage of this by building his merchant square a short walk away from the new business centre. His company was succeeded by his son Christian Barthold Rotermann, who continued the tradition, becoming one of the most important industrialists of the late 19th, early 20th century Tallinn in that process many factories around the department stall were built or bought over to form Rotermann’s Quarters.
Rotermann’s fate followed that of Tallinn, as Tallinn’s economy grew from 1900 to 1918, so too did the Rotermann’s Quarters. The most iconic buildings in the area were completed in that time, some of which till stand today. It was in fact at the forefront of technology throughout the whole of the Russian Empire, with factories that were the most modern throughout all the vast expanse of the Russian empire. Rotermann’s was collateral damage from 1918 to 1920 when the fledgling Estonian Republic was repelling enemies from Germany and Soviet Russia, but soared back to life after 1920, when Estonia was an independent country without major neighbours claiming it as a vassal.
Then came the 1940s, and the 50 years of Soviet rule. Rotermann wilted like Tallinn and the rest of Estonia, its buildings were destroyed in the war years, after the wars the factories were nationalised, and maintenance was ignored by the occupiers. The 1970s marked the near death of Rotermann’s when the Soviet leadership decided it wanted a huge pedestrian boulevard to be built in the area, a plan that was shelved after much protests from professional architects in 1980. But by then the damage was done, Rotermann’s was a wasteland. One captured hauntingly in Andrei Tarkovsy’s Stalker.
But then came the fall of the Soviet Union, and the return of the Republic. And with its Rotermann’s decaying fortunes were reversed. The mold and decay was wiped off, and the old industrial buildings were restored. New modern services like restaurants, cinemas, residential areas and cafes were moved in and the district was transformed once again.
This time Rotermann’s is at the forefront of some stunning modern architecture. It’s going to be exciting following how this avant-garde architecture will continue to develop and shape the city around it.
And its transformation is only just beginning.
ON THE MAP