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The Renewed Viru Centre: Feeling the Modern Urban Beats


Viru Centre is one of the pulse points of the city of Tallinn. Architect Ilmar Valdur from the 3+1 architectural firm writes about the conceptual approach to the interior design of the renewed shopping center.

While it may often seem that time expresses itself through special and architecturally unique projects, a true sense of timelessness can be better grasped through buildings intertwined with everyday life. Even before the time of Christ, our everyday life revolved around markets or trading streets. Centuries passed, but even today, we can learn much about our culture from the developments of medieval markets – shopping centers.

Architectural starting points, unlike many other physical professions, are at times quite abstract. In our work, we base ourselves on the function of the building, spatial and locational awareness, light, and the purpose that the created space will fulfill. Whether I am a local or foreign professional, my goal is to find a place in today’s time and urban space for a new or renovated space. It is an extremely exciting goal that we have been working on for the past three years based on the project of the international architectural firm Wingårdhs to recreate one of Tallinn’s most important indoor streets and shopping centers, which has now completely transformed its interior look in the tiny span of 20 years in historical terms.

When recalling the commercial spaces of the 90s and even the early 00s, what comes to mind is their closure and isolation. Closed windows, standard walls, bright light, and a uniform interior, all designed to lock in entrants into their world and separate them from reality.

Time passed, e-commerce came into our lives, along with flexible working hours, conditional routines, stable welfare, and increased purchasing power. Most of us no longer value things, but emotions, time spent together, quality, and comfort. The new era has brought accelerated rhythms of life, pressure, and stress. The pandemic has left its mark on maintaining our social ties. These are abstract values, but it is precisely on them that the architect must respond in order to keep pace with the times and create comfortable and modern spaces for people. If you imagine in your mind how this might look, come take a walk in the Viru Centre.

Due to the impact of e-commerce, the physical shopping environment has evolved into more of an experiential space, no longer focused solely on the product but on providing services and experiences instead. “The best product is the un-consumed product,” says today’s philosophy of sustainability. Therefore, emotion and experience also matter in the interior of Viru Centre, where you find yourself passing through distinct zones and moods. The central avenue of the center is bright and rhythmic, but turn up a floor and you enter a private, noise-dampening world where there is time to focus on your desires and needs. Three, four, five separate solutions in different parts of the center make movement exciting. Adventuring between separate worlds, you find variety and the joy of discovery, creating a pleasant emotion.

The concept of following the center’s vision and pursuing high quality were also sought in the renewal of tenant stores. For example, the jewelry store Goldtime, where the interior design features regal tones like gold, deep blue, and dark brown, creating an elegant and captivating atmosphere, and the furniture was handcrafted in Saaremaa. In the private jewelry consultation room, there is also an exhibition of Wiiralt’s famous works.

From a somewhat isolated commercial space in the past, today emerges an artery seeking more connections with the city, with windows, doors, and interior corridors open. When creating solutions, we literally thought outside the box, a good example being opening the view of the old town from the Arket café.

The center’s main street doesn’t hide its importance in the city’s movement. It offers a pleasant respite from rain and wind, but also opens up side streets hiding new experiences and even culinary journeys. A recent example is the new Food Street, which appeals to visitors with its quality and variety. The new world of restaurants unfolds with a terrace opening widely towards Tammsaare Park, showcasing an active and inclusive urban space.

While developing the old solution, we don’t forget the center’s connection to the past and utilize old marble tile fragments in the new floor. This is a unique and sustainable trick, and a floor produced in this way is easy to maintain. On the second floor, we incorporated a lot of wood but did so sparingly and using small pieces, as the forest is our value and we use it carefully and efficiently. Tenants also introduced the reuse of old furniture and interior elements, for instance, Adidas boutique repurposed the old gym floor as the first store in our region to do so in their sales area.

Throughout the floors, there are hanging plants and green walls that add color and freshness to the interior. Rumor has it that even an orchid has started blooming in one green column. Our contemporary understanding of time and its values permeates every building solution. Time and its inhabitants command us in this way, leading to the creation of a comfortable and beloved part of the city center.

The article has been published in the magazine EDASI.


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