These are a couple of published articles.
  • Recycling Ideas or To Think is Not to Work Within the Set of Given Conditions

    During September of this year, the second Tallinn Architecture Biennale took place in very particular venues across town, curated by Aet Ader, Kadri Klementi, Karin Tõugu and Kaidi Õis of the local architecture office b210. The Sprat-Tin Hall, part of the building now housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was the setting for the Curators’ Exhibition of commissioned works by invited authors. A collection of student projects from local and international architecture schools were exhibited in the foyer of Linnahall. An out-of-use school building in the district of Väike-Õismäe was the stage for presenting the results of the vision competition for this very district. The cinema Kosmos saw an enthusiastic audience for the two-day symposium. A city center gallery had been transformed to a temporary meeting location, a site of presentation, meeting and discussion. A number of satellite events accompanied and rounded the program.

    When setting out to discuss the heritage of Estonian modernist architecture under the banner of revisiting ideas and reusing material - as the title “Recycling Socialism” suggests - I can imagine, one soon finds oneself in a minefield of ideologies, emotions and aesthetics – a classic conflict of first-hand experience and retold experience. The monuments, buildings and concrete slab districts remaining after the great changes of over 20 years ago, are still inherently political, they are still the material of the politics of memory. The ideas materialised by the buildings, are not new; they have been discussed in the theories of modernist architecture long time ago, but have by now been buried under a history yet to be historicised.

    As Andres Kurg states, the profession of the architect has suffered dissolution mass construction during the Soviet times, but so does today’s architecture suffer dissolution in market construction. In that sense we find ourselves in a similar situation of feeling the need to relate architecture to a strong, dictating outside force. But a constructive discussion cannot be based on opposition to times or contexts. It will prosper not by negating (parts of) the existing thus being a simple derivation of the condition at hand, but by questioning the underlying values of the material and our own position to those. A utopian vision for our cities should not be a singular boring daily-marketed dream but a challenge that is continuously tried out, monitored, adjusted, questioned – a process rather than an aim. A process of approaching again and again the fundamental ideas of equality and striving for a better living – words that have become hollow projectiles in today’s Estonia worshipping profitability.

    Architecture is a utopian practice realised says Petra Čeferin. It is not a servant to the continuation and reproduction of the material world but - through thinking and critical reconstruction - its master. The definition of an architect, Čeferin continued, lies in the ability to see the minimal difference – that what tells a good creation from a bad one. Thus, everyone is an architect, not as an author, but in relation to the material world. Everyone is capable and responsible of judging the course an environment is taking. While a tremendous effort to reconstruct our living spaces, our workplaces, and our monuments is still necessary, we face pressures where a certain kind of thinking (not to confuse with calculating) might not be forbidden, but is becoming increasingly impossible. Today, thinking, creating, producing is required to be profitable, measurable and to return a tangible value. Reducing thinking to numerical calculation cannot be interpreted as an advancement, this is not what makes knowledge society, or any society, for that matter.

    At the centre of opening up reflection over the buildings of the past are the questions of which ideas are worth saving and which ones should be abandoned. But who has the authority to decide on that? Probably not the anonymous general public. Should it be the political representatives? The technocrats in the city planning department? Should it be the city architect or a future state architect? An investor? The mere opinion does not bring any life, tough. Do we actually need to talk about Linnahall, or should we just open it up piece by piece and see how practical, day-to-day use can be a realistic scale of evaluating the needs and necessities for these huge structures. Have we ever looked at the details of how people have appropriated the blank concrete over the decades, and how the not so obvious ways of variation through use have poked holes of good solutions into the imposed salvation of mass residencies? We need to rethink the materiality of our work and living spaces not under the aspect of interesting and exciting, but under the aspect of social, stimulating and reconstructed.

    This is also a reminder on the view of our lives and how we organize it around production - both the material and intellectual. The idea of the social - of how we ally among us - is defined on how we produce; how we transform our environment and our intellectual world. Only that today we work and live more and more on our own. Do you know what your freelancing writer colleague earns? In what conditions the designer lives that sketches illustrations in your favorite cafè? When do you yourself stop working during the day and start living? If we think about the factories back then, though not the conveyer belts, but the fact that we knew those things about our colleagues. Production is not a single-sided activity, but it involves the entire spectrum of our personality. Pier Vittorio Aureli reminded us on concepts of the monastery or the phalanstery, and suddenly, the cubes of dogma’s factory concept might be worth a try, even more so considering the ever decreasing availability of public spaces and places. Gregor Taul’s idea of placing these cubes in guerilla fashion around the temples of capitalism would add to a diverse city. And including Robert K. Huber’s treatment of the material heritage in the information age – that is: how we can incorporate knowledge about material, about reusing, about cataloging and data-mining this existing treasure - finds the common ground to the topic of recycling.

    The public space architecture of modernism is agreeably brutal at times, and the continuous talk about our idea of public space is indeed exasperated at times. While we slide into discussing all and everything under this term, it obscures and avoids the true question of public. Today, there is no public space left. All are by means of ideology controlled in one way or another. Under the prerogative of an illusion of security and a fear of losing material goods, we give up a the value of accessibility for all. Again, this counts for material and intellectual space. They are entwined. When the actions of elites resemble a competition for control of opinion through propaganda and politicized media, and when the idea of politics resembles only the infinite reproduction of the status quo, then the discussion transcends a the single field of architecture.

    When we are asked to review ideas of the past, we find ourselves in a common dilemma. In retrospect thoughts stand out as monolithic, unique, unprecedented and untouchable. But as such we cannot approach them. In our rational of multifaceted subjectivity, we are constantly forced to map ourselves and our opinions in a web of influences, relationships and reciprocities. The TAB events gave the necessary space for everyone - the architect of the era, the contemporary urban dweller and the naive outsider - to approach the material in its broad complexity and maybe reconnect and reconsider some of the engraved ideas.

    If you are looking for more inspiration, check out these remarkable people and their activities. KÉK from Budapest, Horizonte from Weimar, VROA from Wrocław, Dogma from Brussels, Petra Čeferin, Andres Kurg, raumlaborberlin, zukunftsgeräusche from Berlin.

    Article originally published in Estonian Art - Eesti Instituut

    “To think is not to work within the set of given conditions” is a quote by Petra Čeferin, one of the speakers of TAB 2013 Symposium.

  • Bitcoin - a missed chance for Estonia?

    Bitcoin is not the money of the internet. It is the internet of money. Andreas Antonopoulos

    As recently demonstrated by the warning of the Chinese government and the Russian Office of Prosecution against the use of bitcoins as alternative money, many authorities see themselves coerced in making a stand on the novelty of the cryptocoin concepts.

    Money Contrary to popular belief, money is nothing natural, and the reason we use euros in the Eurozone or US dollars in the USA are quite interestingly more legally than economically based. In order to use money, we agree on certain conventions. Money is a store of value, it is a unit of account, and a universally binding medium of exchange. Any arbitrary token that wants to compete in this commitment requires a specific set of attributes. It needs to be scarce, uniform, transportable, identifiable, durable, and it needs to come in a predictable, steady supply. Gold has been a perfect fit for these attributes, and hence is practically unmatched. In order to understand the impositions of modern moneys like the euro or the US dollar we have to consider the legal attributes. Under scrutiny, they fail on the attribute of scarcity. Although all legal tenders are inherently inflationary, we are bound by law to use them. Hence a currency is not a natural phenomenon, nor is it set in stone.

    So with the legal framework of modern money, and the alternative of rare metal coins, what makes cryptocoins, and bitcoins in particular, interesting as a money? The practical answer lays again in their attributes. Bitcoins can not be counterfeited; they are highly durable, combinable and mobile. And most importantly, bitcoins are scarce. The combination of practical and scarce produces the commodity character, and every commodity has a price. On another level the answer lays in two revolutionary concepts - their radical mobility and their unique infrastructure.

    Mobility Cryptocoin transactions in the current network with standard tools are near instant, technically distributed and traceable in a matter of seconds. In the case of bitcoin, a transaction is irreversibly confirmed every ten minutes and secured by the ridiculous cost of hardware needed to crack this cycle, currently in the hundreds of millions of euros. Other comparable online transaction systems such as credit cards are commonly confirmed only after a week, and can be reversed by the credit authority.

    The fee of a cryptocoin transaction is usually fixed on somewhere around 1 % of the transaction volume, which makes it cheaper than any other currently available global mode of transaction. And tools for transactions are readily available for all sorts of technical systems from a computer to smartphones, homepages, SMS text messages. Of course, if you prefer the security of a vault, a cryptocoin account does not need to be kept digitally, but can be scribbled on a piece of paper, making it crack proof.

    Infrastructure Cryptocoin infrastructures are decentralized peer-to-peer networks. All participating members of the network (machines running a wallet program) have a proportional say according to their computing power. The only shift in network paradigms can be achieved if a majority agrees on a proposed shift (practically by making changes in the source code and updating the software).

    From its first inception every single transaction of a particular cryptocoin is recorded into a public ledger, called the blockchain. This database can be regarded as a foundation for much more than only bitcoin transactions. At the moment it attaches a value in coins to a particular account, but for example Colored Coin already explores the possibility of attaching and exchanging other kinds of assets via the bitcoin network and its alternatives.

    The underlying computing principles - the proof of work functions - are also in constant development. While most networks still rely on cracking hashes, more sophisticated networks are searching for prime numbers and are already challenging the efficiency of supercomputers in this category. The next generation of cryptocoin networks will provide generic programmable access, realizing decentralized computation with inherent economic incentive - SETI@home that pays.

    Legal and market implications For the first time in history a money could be successfully decoupled from any form of centralized backing authority, which in traditional money system dictates prices, but also injects counterparty risk and makes a currency an object of politics and ideology. The decentralization is so advanced that not any single party would be able to turn off the system. Cryptocoins have no physical constraints, their production and transportation are fully audible processes, yet their exchange is in principle anonymous. Thus any single person or institution could use bitcoins as legitimate means to exchange value parallel to any mainstream money. This poses interesting questions and challenges to regulation and taxation. In the light of the polar relationship of centralized authority versus decentralized networks, cryptocoins need to be understood along the concepts of the open source movement. In that sense a critical stance and suspicion towards banks and regulators is inherent in this community.

    In Finland cryptocoins are treated like a commodity, Canada’s central bank rejects their status as currencies. Great Britain’s tax authority regards them as private money, but not a tender for tax. The European central bank generally shows an attitude of rejection and warning. India is warning, but also considering to tax the mining process. After a very positive start with Baidu accepting bitcoins, now China’s government officially prohibits its banks to exchange them. Recently, the Russian State Prosecutor rejected bitcoin’s status as a legal money according to the Russian law. The governments of the USA and Israel are still in the process of investigating, with the US financial authorities looking into technical and legal possibilities of regulation.

    The bank of Estonia has decided to follow the ECB line of warning and rejection - although their recent comparison of bitcoin to a pyramid scheme exposes a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept. And that commodities can be lost, stolen, or be subject to volatility is not really news. However, there is yet no governmental stance on the issue.

    Possibilities The use of substitute currencies is not very uncommon, i.e. the Deutsche Mark has been a longtime substitution for any other practical currency in European countries with weaker currency systems. In the short term, there is no foreseeable need to substitute the mainstream use of the stable, accountable, usable euro.

    Interesting overlaps can certainly be found between communities that have experience in the use of alternative currencies, i.e. the Paide Pai, the Brixton Pound and many others. Complex ecosystems can evolve around those, existing along or even in interaction with mainstream money. Currently, a private initiative is planning to establish a cryptocoin Auroracoin for Iceland, which will be pushed by handing out an initial amount to every citizen. Other coins like dogecoin are advancing along edge communities like reddit and surfing the media hype, trying viral ways of creating value based on attention.

    When assessing new possibilities of use, it is essential to understand cryptocoins in Andreas Antonopoulos’ terms: “Bitcoin is not the money of the internet. It is the internet of money.” They provide a platform with the protocol, the transaction language and the network - in short the full technological capacity to develop services which intensify the connection of the digital and the material world.

    Conclusion The cryptocoin ecosystem is in its very early time. It is very rare that a completely new money/commodity is established and economized (in some ways comparable to the introduction of crude oil to world economy in the early 19th century). Although its market capitalization and influence is still negligible, bitcoin’s niche is already challenging both regulatory and banking systems.

    Currently the public narrative tends to be driven by the negative aspects, for example the associations with criminal activity. However, scenarios like the closing of the Silk Road and similar online trading places is only a would-be scandal compared to i.e. the involvement of the US dollar in criminal activity. Nobody would think of blaming the currency.

    The problem of insecure environments (operating systems, software, devices) is something that needs to be addressed as part of a more general strategy to promote information awareness, technology training and best practice examples how to properly cater for your data. Yet again, it is not the tool, but the problematic context in which it is used.

    I strongly believe that cryptocoins are here to stay. Money is prone to development, and the attractivity of near instant movement at low cost, and the independence from a central third party certainly will give room to at least one main and probably a handful of specialized coins in the long run. It might not be the bitcoin network prevailing, but as a contemporary digital alternative to cash money, cryptocoins are just too convenient.


    Andreas Wagner - Bitcoin and beyond

    Bitcoin Cryptocurrency Crash Course with Andreas Antonopoulos - Jefferson Club Dinner Meetup


    Article in Uncube Magazin

    Having visited the Tallinn Architecture Biennale as well, I confess I’m astonished by the article of Tarja Nurmi and her smashing judgment.

    Calling the six lectures “theoretical or shallow” in the same sentence is absurd. Mrs. Nurmi apparently did not understand the obvious effort of the curator team, to not principally copy and paste the numbers game of so-called “excellent built examples”, but to give a chance to fundamentally rethink our approach to ideologically biased space production. Furthermore, I have rarely been at a symposium where invariably every speaker was thoroughly prepared, interacted with the other presenters so constructively, and had a more passionated and profound opinion on the event’s topic. To call this Stringent Intensiveness shallow is beyond believe.

    Considering your cry for “real specialist”, I’d love to hear more about who that would be. Is it the city architect of a post-socialist metropole? The engineer that calculates a glass and steel facade for a concrete slab public building? The investor that finally brings the millions to commoditize the fouling heritage?

    I’m not sure how Mrs. Nurmi could have missed the implications all of the presentations had in their pursue of social and cultural effects and implications of architecture and their interpretations: Huber’s multimedia hybrid and “passive house” museum/public space, Aureli’s consequences of modern space for the precarious creative workers, Hungar’s spatial interpretations of social relationships, Wojciechowski’s resistance to pure market logic and patronizing rule sets of competitions and Čeferin’s jolting plea for a critical architecture revised. For me as an urbanist it is beautiful to see how diverse architects can look at space. Mrs. Nurmi, not reflecting in your blog entry upon the implications of those lines of thought on those grounds, in particular here in the Baltics and in Tallinn - this is the actual shallowness towards your interested readers.

    There is a lot to learn about how to functionally reuse socialist architecture, but for this I can as well review the efforts made by various projects installed through the last two decades throughout Europe. Speaking of which, the renovation and reuse of the TV tower in Berlin, and correspondingly in Tallinn. Really? Those projects are done and over with, there’s nothing groundbreaking to see here. I strongly believe that we don’t have trouble finding creative architectural methods and ways of reusing and remaking objects produced in the last 70 years. We need to layout the groundwork to discuss how we approach them ideologically. And for this process the symposium provided enough food for thought to leave to the audience.

    As of the rest of your review, your reflection on the curator’s exhibition, and the exhibition space in Linnahall, and the temporary club/café/bookshop leaves me thoroughly unsatisfied. In the only critique towards the curator’s exhibition models you missed the blatantly obvious recursive thought of the Swiss team about ideology, time and object: the most famous conclusion of modernism, modified - “All that is solid melts into air” - and so does the architecture. How can you not see the inversion of all that has been taking for granted, manifested in Frolov’s/Levtchuk’s hovering monolith - the reversed ground. No word of the presentations and dialogues fueled by architects from all over Europe - the vast network which the “young curators” as you call them have been able to weave in years of effort; no word about the contributions of the school’s exhibition in Linnahall - didn’t you long for practical examples?

    All in all, a disappointing review, obviously biased with name dropping by the author. I for my part can only hope that the next Tallinn Architecture Biennale will pick up on where the b210 team have left us here in Tallinn, showing how it certainly is possible to put Tallinn on the map outside of the rails of the boring IT hype.

  • The value of ideas in Tallinn

    Creative and enthusiastic people are the lifeblood of the smartness and richness of Tallinn. They provide the ideas and initiative for the layer of contemporary culture that will ultimately save this city from becoming a pure office plantation or medieval theme park. Acknowledging this, cultural institutions, educational centers, private businesses and the city administration have already put it on their banners to nurture and comfort the development of this fragile branch. In this context it is especially disturbing how the attitude towards this group by the Kultuurikatel reminds more of common exploitation than supportive encouragement.Last year the garden of Kultuurikatel had been host to a range of activities centering around the garden theme, most notably a bar to attract promenaders and to host a wide range of events, the opening of the velonaut bicycle workshop, an open air theater and the popular mini chicken enclosure, the Kultuurikanad.

    Since we are talking about Katlaaed, the people behind the different projects were not simply occupying the place as in the time before, but had been selected by a jury, instantiated via Kultuurikatel. This had specifically not been a competition for curation of the garden, but merely a call for all projects possible. Hence also all projects had been accepted. And with the closing call of this jury one could say, that the involvement of the institution of Kultuurikatel had been over, because henceforth the initiatives were left to themselves in organizing and realizing their projects. There had been no monetary funding and barely any material made available to the groups. The labour, many man-hours of on-site construction work, cleaning up and running the show - were merely compensated with a pat on the back, a name on a poster and the title “partner to Kultuurikatel”.

    Over the summer, in particular the Kultuurikanad turned out to be a successful branding strategy, since the adorable furry chickens in their posh garden establishment were a magnet to young and old and the accompanying brunches with mini egg sunny side up reflected exactly what kultuurikatel and the whole area on the sea is craving for: a bit of chic urbanity on the fringes of the dull tourist entertainment machine.

    Further along the year, the cultural chickens received more and more fame, up until the honorable mentioning by 2012’s Eesti Disainiauhinnad and a nomination by the “Eesti Maastikuarhitektuuri Aasta Tegu 2012“

    One of the more important aspects of establishing an image of a place is continuity in its effort, sincerity in its goals and some solid resource base to put things on. To continue these efforts the group around Kultuurikanad, most notably Grete Veskiväli, Isabel Neumann, Kaisa Kangur, Triin Orav, Juula Saar, Liisi Tamm, and b210’s Mari Hunt and Aet Ader proposed already early this year to offered the concept and design of the Kultuurikanad installation again to kultuurikatel. They politely declined the offer.

    Kultuurikatel now opened Kohvik Kanala.

    For what it’s worth, this part of the story can certainly be judged one way or the other. The authors of last year’s chicken outlet agreed obviously to the conditions put into place by kultuurikatel, to pay all material and labour themselves. And they did - as many others - pay with their money and sweat and by using every connection they can think of in order to get this wood delivered or that metal frame welded. They work without a clock and without pay to provide this one thing extra that this city can henceforth gladly present - in this case under the name kultuurikatel. The authors of Kultuurikanad also agreed to this deal, because in Tallinn, you have to do so in order to get access to locations like Katlaaed. The gatekeepers are the institutions, even when it’s only their name on a call for ideas and a press folder in their archives and reports afterwards.

    Since the ending of the year of the cultural capital 2011, the renamed Kultuurikatel SA struggles for a valid meaning of existence, having found a purpose finally in the support of the cultural and entrepreneurial creatives of Tallinn. I wonder how this goes along with extorting the ideas off of this very group? What kind of attitude must be in their midst, if the value of intellectual property - even the assumed one of a concept - is meaningless and what kind of assumptions must they have about the effort and costs associated with this work?

    The new café in Katlaaed is a beautiful place, and it will be a trending spot this summer, with refreshments and food - a calm island in the busy city. But it certainly did not need the ugly treatment of its pioneers to accomplish this.

  • Next time in Lasnamäe

    The LASN is an architecture exhibition displaying materialised professional opinions on the future of the built environment of Lasnamäe. Unfortunately, the curator fails to contextualise the results and to put them in perspective as adequate contributions to this complex discussion.

    The LASN exhibition is timely placed on the background of the ongoing struggle of Tallinn’s professional elites and administration about how to deal with this part of the modernist legacy and the celebration of Mustamäe’s fiftieth anniversary this year. Lasnamäe is the notorious modernist extension to Tallinn, the idealist’s solution of strains produced by an overcrowded inner city and the continuous influx of people. The models on display visualise burning questions about this district in very different forms. The teams involved point towards different spatial questions, for example, of boundaries (Salto), administration and form (Järving / Pihlak), resource management and re-/upcycling (Kavakava), perspective and shared space (b210), co-creation (Alver). They offer thought-provoking impulses to the audience.

    Lasnamäe is reduced to a screen for all kinds of projections and judgements, and as the lack of precision in the design and catalogue of the exhibition show, this attitude is not likely to change very soon. One of the reasons why modernist planning has been judged as a failure has been its elitist planning paradigm. I wonder how we can hope to overcome this fault, if we do not discuss the matters of Lasnamäe in the necessary scope and seriousness on the ground and with the actual subject.

    I got the feeling that the curator creates a rather exclusive “ivory tower” image of the architect’s profession, that does not overlap with other professions, such as historians, sociologists, physicists, economists, political or environmental scientists. But are not architects and planners doing the best job when they acknowledge and incorporate opinions of experts from other fields - thereby communicating and promoting their own?

    Tallinn is by far not the only place where districts like Lasnamäe, Õismäe and Mustamäe have to be reinterpreted and reinvented due to faulty design and changes in history. If you look not as far west as the curator, but just to the estates in central European cities, there are many feasible examples of adjusting buildings and districts under very restrictive financial and social conditions.

    Maybe one of the answers to the question of why architects have not been involved in Lasnamäe’s development during the last two decades might be the lack of a broader discussion and dialogue. A representative body such as the Union of Architects is expected to play a strong role by moderating constructive criticism of the mission and responsibility of architects in our society. I had the impression that during this particular event this role was forfeited.

    Following that thought, should it not be the responsibility of the curator to orchestrate the contributed models and ideas not only in context to each other, but in the wider reality of the city? Is it not in the best interest of the Union of Architects to mediate the work and interest of its members to a wider audience, including other professions?

    The first impression I got during the vernissage did not follow these principles. We are talking about Lasnamäe, why are we then in the city center? Why is the second language of the catalogue English, and not Russian? Why is the exhibition design so irresponsible and sloppy (i.e. the unapproachable position of model captions, uncommented chops of statistical data, errors in the catalogue)? These questions are in stark contrast to the catalogues conclusion: “All the changes have to be co-produced with the local populace. The inhabitants of Lasnamäe have to be able to say – ‘I made this!’”

    The impression that I carried home did stir up my thoughts, but certainly not on the subject of Lasnamäe. The curator speaks of opinions, but fails to sketch out a particular problem. He is quick with judgements such as “The houses are there, the urban environment is not.” Where is the argumentation for that? Are annual statistics enough to draw up such a universal conclusion? What is the character of the desirable urban environment that the curator is imagining in contrast to the one certainly existing in Lasnamäe? Should a new generation of architects find solutions to the problems produced by their professional predecessors in the very same manner?

    Some models did raise questions beyond the scope of plain structural architecture. Lasnamäe, like any other urban district in Tallinn, is defined through its mixed population, the quality and quantity of its built structure and the image and meaning applied to it from the outside. And like all its neighbouring districts, it is continuously changing. It is in the interest of professionals involved in city development and planning, the political administration and the people living there, that this discussion is being held with the seriousness and on the scope that it deserves. Thus the display of opinions of architects must reflect dedication by placing itself inside the particular surrounding it discusses. Furthermore, the involvement of the local population and expertise is a fundamental precondition. Finally, accumulating constructive criticism on the presented opinions and incorporating it into a continuous feedback loop should be the ultimate goal of such a dialogue, rather than the climax of a single event.

    I believe that realistic visions for Lasnamäe can only be constructed with the authentic and professional dedication of the people involved. This includes the necessary respect of past efforts, continuous adjustment to the present obstacles, and an attitude that includes Lasnamäe in the urban discourses of Tallinn in as many levels as possible. To say it with the words of one guest of the vernissage: “Next time you should come to Lasnamäe, maybe your ideas will then be even better.”

    Estonian version

  • Coworking at Social Media Week

    I’ve just come back from a talk at the Social Media Week at the Aufbauhaus, an intriguing piece of architecture at the Moritzplatz in Berlin Kreuzberg, opposite the Betahaus. The topic of the talk kindly related to my work of the last two month: “Small Brands & Social Media: Become popular by building or joining a coworking community”. Let’s take a look at the panel.

    Christoph Fahle, one of the six founders of the Betahaus and influential person in Berlin’s coworking scene. Alexander Lang, initiator of co.up Coworking Space and founder of the Berlin software forge upstream. Pedro Jardim from Agora Collective Michael Hartung from House of Clouds Host to the talk was Carsten Foertsch, founder of Deskmag and co-author to the highly regarded “Global Coworking Survey”, published together with Lukas de Pellegrin in 2010. There was also one of the users of Betahaus, whose name I can’t seem to remember right now. If anybody knows, please leave a comment.

    The round and the audience gathered informally in a side part of the bar, almost too informal, as it was hard to follow some of the speakers due to the noise around. However, all of the coworking operators sketched out their idea of coworking and their vision for their spaces. Once more it was striking how broad the concept of coworking is being defined, and hence how difficult it is to clearly demarcate it from other concepts of simple office sharing. Describing their approach to people and their ideas of the “atmosphere” of the spaces, the audience was widely showing interest in the topic.

    I was and still am wondering, if the critical mix of users can be fostered and reached by clustering other, independent institutions, business and such in physical proximity to the coworking spaces, but none of the panellists could reply to that. That would be most interesting. As for concepts of community building, people spoke of critical mass and the importance of a figure head or host in the space, to specifically reach out to offline community members with analogue technologies. Classical socializing, I guess. Nothing dramatically new today.

  • First visit to the kultuuri katel

    Today, I had an exclusive chance to talk to Herkko Labi, urban activist and organizer of projects like Telliskivi in Tallinn. At the moment he is employed by the Kultuuri Katel to oversee the conceptual and physical changes planned for the building site, a derelict power plant close to the sea side of Tallinn. This building stands for the flair that the whole area creates in my mind - a place of transition.

    The coastal side of Tallinn has a highly ambigous history and role. During the Soviet times, the landscape was marked by military structures, demarkating the coastal border of Estonia. Heavily fortified, it steadily erased the image of an accessible beach and port for the people, cynically turning the metaphor of the sea as wide open space and a location of adventures and new possibilites into an imaginery of death and decay, of a wall you would run into if you would just try to go further than allowed to you by authorities.

    Since then the area underwent a complete turnaround, though in different directions. The militaristic buildings are gone, and to the East the renovated port area with its endless concret parking spaces and chances to get overprized alcohol and souvenirs are calling for easy commerce. Not so the Western part, close to the historical port and cut off by the Linnahall plot. Here, where the “cultural kilometer” connects random and dispersed, yet to be discovered spots of interest - cultural, natural and economical spaces of chance - the Kulturi Katel seems to be a massive dominator at first glance, not unlikely comparable to the brutalist Linnahall and the cheap modern shopping centers and ferry terminals.

    Yet, it is the concept that will shape this place into something different, hopefully in the near future. It used to be the flagship development, representing the ‘becoming of space’ of the 2011 Cultural Capital agenda. Unfortunately, it has not been finished by now and the events happening there seem to be a bit out of place at a sight lacking a coherent image as of now. However, the precarious situation of the building give way to trivial visions like mine. Could it be possible to enter and shape part of that dramatic space? It cannot be handled monolythically, so let’s see if the cracks in the monster are big enough…

  • The chimney in the street

    Yesterday I was a witness to what is nowadays called a cultural urban intervention. In a semi-legal action the citizens of Tallinn made a present to their own city in the form of an urban art piece by “upgrading” an existing piece with an additional piece of work.

    Right in front of one of the rare inner city Stalinist buildings situated around Karjavärava square, hosting among others the Hollywood club and the Sõprus cinema, real estate entrepreneurs put up a statue of a chimney sweeper as a high-profile art present just last year. This has been generally approved by the elites of the city as a contribution of a lobby, envisioned as important for city development in terms of architecture and business.

    However, the imposition of meaning by this piece of art has not yet reached the general public in the ways intended. Apparently, there is a still a group of people, mainly young activists, contesting such moves of colonizing urban space. During the aforementioned action, they have chosen to hide the statue by constructing a temporary chimney around it. Obviously offending parts of the city elites, the chimney was taken down soon thereafter.

    In this busy street, part of what I would call the party Bermuda triangle of Tallinn Old city, such an affront is a direct comment of citizens towards the praxis of the city to consider what is art and what is not. Impressed by the dynamism of the young and coming artists and activists of this city, I intend this post here to draw my hat before those people and hail to them: Keep up with the confrontation, urge and participate in the discussion of what is the city and whom does it belong to. And if you are not heard, let this not stop you nonetheless.

    This citizen project seems very much inspired by this year’s urban installations festival lift11, as you can see here.

    Images in courtesy of this wonderful companion to art in Estonia, and Tallinn specifically: Artishok