Thursday Salute to Originals: A Temporary Building Ingrains a Lasting Impression

While our Thursday posts often highlight the outstandingly wacky, this week’s subject proves that originality can be expressed in a subtle and contextual manner. The NO99 Straw Theatre of Tallinn successfully mixes with a great deal of history. Adjacent to Tallinn’s Old Town, the theatre stands in Skoone Bastion, a 17th century Swedish fortification. Built to guard the Estonian capital’s Baltic coast, the site occupies a mountain in the center of the city which, around the early 20th century, had transformed into public gardens enjoyed by the whole populace.

With the country’s tragic takeover by the USSR, the area soon became reserved for sailors from the Soviet Navy who enjoyed it as a recreational area complete with a summer theatre throughout the Cold War. The fall of the Iron Curtain saw the summer theatre burnt down and public parks subsequently neglected. Since then, several failed development projects and real estate controversies had caused the site to sit vacant and unused.

Tallinn-based Salto Architects designed and constructed the NO99 Theatre using bales of straw. Spray painted matte black and supported by steel trusses, these straw bales provide an interesting contrast in scale and texture as well as highlight the building’s temporary nature. Standing between May and October of this year, the building has the distinction of being the world’s largest straw structure. While most think of straw as being adequate only for livestock fodder, builders have recently rediscovered straw’s advantages over wood, namely durability, renewability, and pest deterrence.

The main theatre sits on top of the Soviet summer theater’s ruins and incorporates its old stairs as a pedestrian walkway. Salto Architects wrote, “The dramatic appeal of the building stems from its contextual setting on the site and its black, uncompromisingly mute main volume contrasting with a descending “tail” with an articulate angular roof.”

Built to commemorate Tallinn’s selection as Europe’s Cultural Capital for 2011, the NO99 Straw Theatre also seeks to revitalize the Skoone Bastion while still acknowledging its place in Estonian history. Open and free to public use, the surroundings include an oversized chess board, outdoor baking oven, aerobics classes, and an outdoor library, all providing a relaxed, non-commercial atmosphere. Salto effectively incorporates a substance as mundane as straw by utilizing it as a material for both art and construction. In doing so, they successfully revitalize an area and highlight the culture of an entire people.

Image credits: Salto Architects