New central square of a small estonian historical town Rakvere by AB Kosmos architects Ott Kadarik, Villem Tomiste and Mihkel Tüür is part of a planning project for the whole town center that won the competition already in 1999. Since then there have been many changes in the center, whitch used to be a dull open field for parking and a small greasy out-door markets, not a place to be and sit. There is only one historical builing on the site and that is the market building, beside the central area is also an old bank building but that’s mainly it. There is a small shopping center from the soviet period in the center of the area, but it has not the character or power to be the main spot of the town.
So the new planning had to be something totally new and different from the existing chaotical landscape, the architects had the liberty of applying new ways of space useing because there was very little historical values and practices to the area that could have been integrated in the project. New center is penetrated by a long pedestrian promenade and a short street for cars, the main traffic is organised around the center. Some shops and supermarkets along with a new bus station have been built, the old market builing is being renovated into a huge sweets shop, the soviet shopping center will soon be added a new wing.
Rakvere is a very small town and so is the center, whitch is now mostly covered by pedestrian traffic. Estonians are not very keen on useing their public space by walking on promenades and other such areas because they are not used to, due to constant lack of such kind of spaces. People are here keen on their cars and are used to drive them almost everywhere. One of the main goals of the new center of Rakvere was to make it attractive to pedestrians, to give people cozy space in their home town. The other purpose was to attract investors to build houses around the new central square because the area is almost empty and there where no bigger houses surrounding the square and making it into a space of its own.
Today we can say that the architects have succeeded in designing a modern and attractive square to the rapidly developing town of Rakvere. The new central square has given the town centre and also to the whole town a new character. It is colourful and attractive and also a bit shoking, mainly to the older citizens of Rakvere but also to the whole estonian architectural scene – it is safe to say that it is the first modern town square or a park design in Estonia, at least in such dimensions. It is a kind of a redefinition of public space that is mostly very dull.
Pedestrian promenade that penetrates the center organising it into easyly useable spaces ends up in the new square. The square is the main site for all the things you can do in a public space: leasure, meeting, people gatherings, parades, shows etc. But it has to work also when there are no bigger events taking place. Kosmos has designed the square into an ever-changeing space that has all the common functions of a central square but is also very open to every new way of useing it. And it works even then when you want to do practically nothing on the square – the design is a whole that feeds the wondering eye.
Estonian weather is most of the time no fun – it is gray and dark, raining and quite cold. When a square is covered with common gray stones, it appeares most of the time even grayer and depressing. Rakvere’s new central square is therefore covered with black and white natural stones, organised in a grafically expressive way. So the white looks whiter even in a bad weather, contrasted by the black areas. What gives the square instantly character are the large yellow lanterns, kind of domes hanging from white leaning posts over five circles of cobblestones from the old market-square. The large lamp-globes protect the circles from little rain because they are so big, they are made from light material sheets and so they move in the wind, making the square even livelier. Especially in the dark when their moving light-circles are almost the only light on the otherwise dark space. There is a straight row of smaller lamps by a long mound covered in grass on one side of the square, marking a future house and closeing the square from nearby parking-lot.
Five circles of old square’s stones are all different in size and in character. One of them is almost a plain large circle, one is a small concave used most commonly by bikers to boost a small jump, one is a bigger hump that people started to use as a platform for speakers or a stage. Then there is a circle with many smaller bumps functioning as a playground for children, the largest circle is a pool with a fountain, because Rakvere is one of few towns that has no rivers passing through, nor is it by the sea or a lake. Largest circle is therefore rather a pool, a basin of water in the center, than a fountain ground.
All the circles are surrounded by specially designed seats that can be used as normal benches but you can put your feet up or sit in a kind of circle on the bench to discuss something in a small group. The white-and-yellow seats harmonise with the lamp-domes and rising posts and invite people to use them in different ways. Benches are desingned to be as comfortable and attractive as possible to invite even the shyest people to sit and rest.
To make the square even more active and bring more people to it, the central bus stop was moved to the side of the square and designed in a very expressive way to harmonise with the dynamic pattern of the square. The bus stop has been critisized to be too expressive, almost attacking the passers-by, resembeling an explosion etc, but it is really a sculpture to welcome to the new square, to give shed to bus-waiters. It has a small seat for only a few people to guide them to wait rather for their bus on the comfty benches of the park, to inhabit the square.
What makes the Rakvere central square unique, is the fact that it is very thoroughly thought through, designed to the very last detail in order to give a powerful start to a new town center, train people to take advantage of their pedestrian status and use public space in a variety of ways. It is a generator and a landmark of development and building of a new center for rapidly modernising Rakvere. On one side a five-story house is already being built, on another side is the long grassy hill marking a future house with cafeterias on the ground floor, the other two sides of the square are lined by young trees. Rakvere central square is an example of brave modern planning and design, expressive way to boost a small town’s center into an active and lively area, to inhabit a space with new ideas.
Urmas Oja Published in Topos magazine