Tartu Art Museum and Town Library

Location: Tartu, Estonia

Year: 2011

Status: Competition

Size: 58,950 m²

Program: Cultural

Project team: Alver Architects (Andres Alver, Tarmo Laht, Indrek Rünkla, Ulla Saar, Sven Koppel)


Tartu is an academic town in south Estonia, which houses the oldest university in Estonia, dating back to the XVII century. The competiton site – the old part of Tartu, which accommodates the university and a collection of historically significant dwellings and churches – was built up consistently in the ascetic style of classicism by the former Swedish rule. Thus, there is a very precise existing situation, into which the new building is to be placed.

The existing Art Museum complex has a peculiar architectural feature: one of the buildings of the museum has leaned slightly onto its side, for the same reason, as the infamous Tower of Pisa. And just as the leaning Tower of Pisa has over time become a “brand” – the leaning tower of Tartu can become one, as well. We make it into one of the generating concepts for our entry.

The building has a dual nature, defined by the two programs – administrations of both the Library and the Museum want their respective parts to be independent and equally visible. The connecting tissue between the two is the site itself, which is tight, resulting in the close adjacency of the programs (like two amateur dancers, tied by a scarf to learn to move as one), and some public functions, such as a stepping cafe open onto the inner street, and shared conference spaces. The street which bisects the site, both acts as a shared internal courtyard, and reinforces the independence of the two programs.

Given that museums prefer opaque “shopping-window free” volumes, the Museum is placed into the eastern part of the site, towards the busy Vabaduse road running along the Emajõgi river. The Library, on the other hand, occupies the quieter western and northern parts of the site, overlooking the park. Both programs are open towards the internal street, which acts as the main entrance for both.