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The cultural centre in the heart of the city

The cultural centre in the heart of the city

The Tartu City Government is planning a cultural centre, which will become a high-quality public space in the heart of Tartu, containing culture for all city residents and visitors to Tartu.

The cultural centre in the heart of the city ...

… creates modern conditions for the Tartu Art Museum, enabling it to host world-class guest exhibitions in Southern Estonia and to exhibit masterpieces of Estonian art hidden away in collections, for which there are currently no suitable conditions for exhibition.

… creates modern and versatile opportunities for the Tartu City Library to bring literature and reading to everyone’s fingertips and to promote hobby education, lifelong learning and social activities.

… significantly increases the number of participants in culture, as it attracts an estimated 6-10 times more visitors to the art museum and 2 times more to the library.

… brings more events to Tartu, because concerts, performances and conferences can be organized in the multifunctional hall with up to 500 seats.

… creates new jobs and suitable opportunities for the creation of businesses that support the various functions of the building.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

The planning of a new joint building aka the downtown culture centre that would combine Tartu city library and the art museum has already taken over twenty years. Heated arguments have always been companions on this journey. This time is no different.

The decision is compelling and the opinion of every person in Tartu matters. This is why it is important for misleading statements or rumours not to take too much attention. We would like to point out some facts that have caused most reactions:

  • The city centre park with its playground and seating areas will not disappear. The building will be fitted into the park not be built instead of it.
  •  The comprehensive plan has lead to discovering the best location right in the heart of the city – the city centre park that even in earlier times was filled with buildings.
  • The other locations suggested in the discussions either don’t belong to the city (the surroundings of the Atlantis building) or just wouldn’t fit the culture centre (Magistri street parking lot).
  • All photos illustrating the culture centre that are circling at the moment are misleading as the architectural competition hasn’t been held yet. The aim is to build a wooden and climate neutral building that fits into the environment of the park.

Doesn’t the opinion of citizens matter?

The opinion of citizens in Tartu has always been important and is of great importance in the matter of the downtown culture centre as well. The city of Tartu has, through several comprehensive plans, asked for its residents’ opinion about the development perspective of the library and art museum’s joint building and its future location. The work has been carried out systematically, has been going on for years and has addressed the development of the city as a whole.

It makes sense to calmly continue the discussion, but the use of misleading photos and exaggerations or petitions containing downright false information is not something that is going to lead to good results.

Active discussions with regard to construction of buildings in parks took place in years 2015 and 2016 in the course of compiling and proceeding of the comprehensive plan of Tartu city centre. Over the years, various locations have been considered with the conclusion of the same understanding – in order to be the best library and the best museum for the people of Tartu, as well as visitors, this joint building needs to be located in the heart of the city. Even now the city library and the art museum are located in the city centre. Moving these two very important organizations to the outskirts of the city would give people even less reason to come to the city centre where we would, in that case, mainly be left with shopping malls.


Wouldn’t the park across the river that is located next to Atlantis be a more suitable place for it? Furthermore, why couldn’t the downtown culture centre be built instead of Atlantis?

There isn’t enough space that belongs to the city in the Holm quarter, which is where the Atlantis building is located. The space in the quarter is divided between five owners: properties that belong to state, those that belong to three different private owners and in small proportion that belong to the city (the parking lot area at the moment). The Atlantis building is also privately owned.

Why couldn’t the downtown culture centre be built next to the Estonian National Museum?

Having considered various locations for the library and art museum over the years, the same conclusion has been reached over and again: in order to be the best library and the best museum for the people of Tartu and the visitors of Tartu, the joint building needs to be as much in the heart of the city as possible. Even now the city library and the art museum are located in the city centre and moving these vitally important organizations towards the outskirts, would leave the city centre with mainly just commercial and office spaces.

Both the library and the art museum should be places that people can spontaneously drop by and not always have to plan their visit beforehand.

Why couldn’t the downtown culture centre be built to Vabaduse Puiestee instead of the Magistri street parking lot?

To keep it short, there just isn’t enough space to fit this building. This area was considered in an architectural competition about ten years ago but resulted in failure. Even the first floor exhibition hall that would meet all the international requirements together with public reading halls and service areas of the library wouldn’t fit on this property. In such a case, a large part of the activities would have to continue to take place in historic buildings not built for the purpose and not meet the needs of a modern library and art museum. Not even to mention the possibility to fit a hall and other rooms which have now become an integral part of the complete solution of the library and art museum’s joint building.

Why do we need to build the downtown culture centre in the city centre park?

One idea behind the downtown culture centre is to establish the first heart of town in Estonia that is centered around culture and communities instead of business and commercial spaces. The new city library and art museum rooms would perfectly fill this void creating a choice of high quality spaces that would evolve into a natural site for meetings and gatherings. With that in mind, such a symbolic building needs public space around it in order for activities to start even before entering the main door and for them to reach out further along to the city space. The area between the old town and the so-called new centre located next to the lively Küüni street and river Emajõgi serves as the most effective area for such a public space.

The plan of establishing the downtown culture centre includes carrying out a multi-stage architectural competition and development that takes into consideration the area from Ülikooli street down to river Emajõgi. Today, Vabaduse puiestee separates this territory into parts but the downtown culture centre would form an entirety tightly linking the river to the heart of the city.


Why do the city library, the museum and the conference centre all be together?

Bringing the museum and the city library under the same roof enables creating synergy and development between different fields of culture. In addition to the rich and unique art collection, the Tartu art museum has an impressive collection of professional literature. A modern library, however, doesn’t only serve the function of lending books – different events and workshops take place there as well. So, these two facilities complement each other perfectly. In addition to the two big facilities (the city library and the art museum) the centre will provide rooms for smaller organizations and enterprises as well as people active in culture.

We haven’t planned a classical conference centre into the downtown culture centre but rather a multifunctional hall that can be divided according to demands and would serve the daily needs of both the museum and the library, but also provide potential space for organizing concerts, conferences and other events.

Both the city library and the art museum are in need of contemporary rooms to function in a way a museum and a library should in the 21st century. The state owned art museum and an attractive library meeting all requirements, deserve a space which is completely dedicated to them plus well-planned and designed in cooperation with the best specalists. The new downtown culture centre will be easily accessible to all visitor groups – it is going to host various events and be an open building for visitors.

What use is there of a building in a park if it is closed in the evenings?

The downtown culture centre will not be closed for visitors in the evenings. New technical means open up the library for readers 24/7. The potential of the museum is probably a bit more restricted, but it is still difficult to come up with reasons as to why at least some of the rooms couldn’t be open to the public seven days a week and a bit longer in the evenings. There will also definitely be cafes open for visitors in the evenings.

Why do we need to build some monstrous concrete block in the park?

Talking about some monstrous concrete block is completely wrong. The aim is to build a wooden climate neutral building that fits into the park. The photos that have been circling the media are arbitrary and misleading.

One of the great challenges of the architectural competition is to combine the outdoor with the indoor so that the use of the park was plentiful and offered possibilities for everyone. The city won’t lower the bar on the quality of the architectural competition nor the construction of the building. The aim is to create a building in Estonia that could set a new standard for city architecture – both ecologically and from the standpoint of how space is used.

In the comprehensive plan, half of the park area is reserved for the culture centre but according to the volume estimates the planned bulding will not take up that much space. The maximum possible space for construction given in the comprehensive plan can not be equalized to the actual space the bulding will take up.

How big will this bulding be if the comprehensive plan allocates 50% of the park volume to it?

The comprehensive plan does, indeed, allocate to use 50% of the park space for the culture centre but according to the downtown culture centre project, not more than 1/3 of the park space is planned for the building. With that said, it will be stated in the requirements of the architectural competition that as many trees and bushes as possible will have to be preserved. Economic and volume analyzes revealed that there just isn’t a need for a bigger building and the comprehensive plan doesn’t obligate to fill the whole space.

The exact location of the building in the park hasn’t been decided yet – it is something to be dealt with in the future. The necessary square metres will be most effectively divided between floors during the architectural competition so the building can be most suitably placed between the trees.

1/3 of the property area is 7,111m2, the area occupied by the theatre Vanemuine building is 5,201m2. Why does this building need to be that big?

The area occupied by building is based on the needs for space by the library and the art museum. The current Tartu city library is the biggest national library in Estonia (there are many branches in Tallinn), Tartu art museum is the second biggest art museum right after Kumu and is limited to exhibit just a fraction of its collections. The library and the art museum are big and important institutions. Their activity would benefit us all given they have the space necessary for their main activity.

Why is there a need for a big parking house in the heart of the city – won’t this attract people to drive their cars more?

Up to two underground floors for parking is needed for the centre’s own needs (both facilities are visited by many people even now), but also to reduce the parking burden that falls on the streets of downtown so that pedestrians and those using their bicycles, skateboards and such would have more space to move around.


Why is it necessary to build the downtown culture centre in a park?

It is important not to opppose the park and the building. One of the most important goals is to enrich the park area. In addition, we are dealing with public functions that complement the use of the park even more. It is possible to establish the building in the park so that a large part of the park is preserved but, of course, the park itself also needs to be modernized and changed - this is why the park environment is going to change as well. What will definitely remain in the park is the very popular children’s playground.

It makes sense to look at the area as a whole – from the Barclay park and Küüni street all the way down to river Emajõgi. The park will remain suitable for organizing fairs, the Tartu Hanseatic Days, International Children’s Day, dog shows, concerts, garden parties, theatre plays, university graduation ceremonies. And unlike today, there will be a large and decent culture centre suitable for hosting indoor events.

Why do you want to cut down the trees in the park? Cities are in need of green spaces, trees are the lungs of the city.

The city has no desire to cut down trees but preserve as much of the trees and bushes as possible. In doing so, the building and the park would form a wholesome public space of high quality that people wish to and can actively use. One of the pillars of designing the downtown culture centre is to figure out a way to make the park, the landscaping and the building work in harmony.

Last changed 31.03.2021