The architecture of the Maakri Quarter is not based on a single leitmotif, but grew out of the eventful history of the Kivisilla district of Tallinn. The St John’s almshouse (or more accurately the Hospital for Lepers of St John the Baptist), which was partly situated on the land, was first mentioned in writing in 1237. The Kivisilla district, which was the first industrial area in Tallinn and which is known as the cradle of Estonian industry, sprang up next to the Härjapea River. This river connected Lake Ülemiste to the sea and was the river that provided the most water to Tallinn in the Middle Ages. The first mills were constructed on the river, which flowed across what are now Maakri and Kivisilla Streets, in the 13th century. By the end of the 17th century there were eight mills on the river, including wheat, paper, copper processing, gunpowder and leather tanning mills. All of the buildings in the area were destroyed in 1710 during the Great Northern War, but within a few years industrial activity had already recommenced in the area.
The land was purchased in 1877 by one Theodor Grünwaldt, who laid the foundations for Estonia’s biggest leather factory. The frontage along Maakri Street gained the appearance it retains to this day between 1909 and 1912. In 1909 the existing buildings on the corner of Maakri and Pääsukese Streets were joined together and thoroughly redesigned by Jacques Rosenbaum, an Estonian architect with Baltic German roots. Within two years, another grand building designed by the same architect had been constructed alongside the first. Its first floor, influenced by the Art Nouveau style popular at the time, was made from unrendered punctured slate, while the remainder of the street-front façade was in New Historicist style. This was followed in 1912 by a stone building, again designed by Rosenbaum, which completed the street frontage on the corner of Maakri and Tornimäe Streets. With its construction, the Härjapea River was relegated to sewer status beneath the buildings.
Opening its doors in the Maakri Quarter in 1921 was the country’s largest and most famous shoe factory, Union. By 1937, one in five Estonians were wearing their shoes. In 1940 the factory was nationalised, eventually being renamed in 1951 as the Kommunaar integrated leather and shoe production works. In 1991 it changed its name to Linda, retaining it until production came to an end in 1997.
The Maakri Quarter today
When starting to plan the contemporary look of the Maakri Quarter business centre, renowned architect Rasmus Tamme took on the task of seamlessly blending the new buildings into the historical environment around them. The new buildings are in modern style, with strong, clear geometry. The minimalist approach to form distinguishes the new structures from the old and makes no attempt to copy the form of the historical buildings. Nevertheless, the past, present and future are woven together into a single whole. The character of the quarter is therefore rich in diversity, whether viewed close up or from afar.
The 110-metre highrise which overlooks the Kaubamaja department store and forms the main façade of the quarter is a new landmark in Tallinn. The 30-storey tower links the historical heart of Tallinn with the new part of the city marked by highrise planning. The twin towers of Swissôtel and the Tornimäe 5 commercial building that have dominated the city skyline to date now form a trio of towers with the Maakri Quarter highrise. The NW- and SE-facing façades of the tower feature a vertical glass frontage with LED lighting. A square adorned with a sculpture stands before the main entrance to the quarter. The entranceway itself is framed by a portal utilising a glass solution that forms a contrast to the historical buildings around it. All of the buildings, new and old alike, are linked by a shared foyer and courtyard. The choice of interior and exterior finishing materials was also inspired by the history of the quarter, being expressed in the naturalness and authenticity of the selected colours and materials. The use of materials is modern and respectable, with minimal detailing.
This has led to the creation of a people-friendly urban environment in which there are seven distinct buildings rather than one large, indistinguishable mass. At street level, the Maakri Quarter is open to all of the streets that surround it. Access from the streets is to the buildings themselves as well as to the landscaped courtyard and its terraces. The diversity of eateries and service companies creates a lively environment that is conducive to work. The quarter is linked via an underground level to the EuroPark car park beneath Rävala Avenue, and from there to neighbouring buildings, including the Stockmann department store.