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Issue #22

If you use something existing, it is much easier to create diverse and meaningful places than when you start from zero.

Siiri Vallner - Kavakava

architect Siiri Vallner portrait picture
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architect Siiri Vallner portrait picture
Siiri Vallner ©Tarvo Hanno Varres



KAVAKAVA is an architecture office in Estonia with Siiri Vallner and Indrek Peil as the key figures. Their work is always site-specific, highlighting the potentialities of a particular place. At the same time, their aim is to provoke new situations. If an old structure has enough real and authentic material, they transform the old building into something new and creative. Siiri Vallner talks about her approach to renovation projects.

You recently finished the renovation of the Culture Cauldron, a new event centre in Tallinn. What was the challenge for that specific project?

 The Culture Cauldron is a former power plant located between the Old Town and the seaside. The complex was built step by step, some parts in the 19th century, but most of it during the last century. It has been classified as a cultural heritage monument, so it was not easy to change and modify the use of the space.

How do you deal with restrictions that often occur while renovating a building?

Creatively. In this case, the main design tool was removal to unveil the existing structure in a most attractive way.

brick facade building factory renovation front view Kultuurikatel Tallinn
© Tõnu Tunnel
brick facade building factory renovation front view Kultuurikatel Tallinn
© Tõnu Tunnel

Does that mean you developed a plan to show the original materials and structures, as opposed to adding new elements?

We added only a very limited amount of new things. The chimney and the smoke stacks, where we used brick, were already such unusual and impressive spaces that we decided to follow the existing features. Originally everything was made out of brick, as the temperature inside was high. Consequently, for the new extra space, the rooftop of smoke stacks, we used bricks as well.

How would you define the challenge between renovating a heritage building while at the same time providing informal creative space for modern use?

We transformed the power plant into an informal cultural place for artists and musicians. The main characteristic of the spatial concept is openness and exposure of the materials – brick, steel and concrete. This enabled us to achieve authentic design even with little financial investment. Indeed, there was a very limited budget. And this means that you have to be very precise and to the point with every intervention. Now, after the renovation, there are halls for performing and rehearsal; there are artists’ studios, offices and lots of common space. The design concept was developed alongside the concept of the Cauldron itself.

factory renovation industrial design interior view Kultuurikatel Tallinn
© Tõnu Tunnel
brick facade building factory renovation detail view Kultuurikatel Tallinn
© Tõnu Tunnel

Which projects would you find most suitable for renovation work?

Anything which still has enough real and authentic materials left. For example, brick is one of the materials which are well suited for this kind of work – combining old and new materials. Our experience is, that for successful reuse, it is necessary to integrate external impulses, hold workshops and listen to users’ input. When you communicate with the various parties, you can develop new content.

The aesthetic appearance can be changed completely when renovating a building, like in your project Raua sauna. How and when did this idea evolve? What are the reasons for covering the whole building in a clay brick lattice?

In this case, the existing building itself was very simple, just a shed. But it is located in a posh neighbourhood, where most of the buildings are under protection. So we needed something modest, which would not offend the heritage department, but still be clearly new and fresh. Natural light on the inside was also important, but without exposing the interior, of course. Another thing is – we want our buildings to get old in a beautiful way – and for this, brick is perfect. The renovated older parts in the original are a mixture of Art Deco and Functionalism, and we redesigned the street side pavilion building, which was enclosed by a brick lattice structure. The new look relates modestly, but clearly to the heritage site neighbourhood.

grey brick facade design front view Raua sauna Tallin
© Gert Kasak, Statiiv OÜ

What makes renovation projects especially interesting?

Discovering, “reading” and rearranging previous spatial ideas. When we began planning the Culture Cauldron, we considered the spatial connections both in the vertical and horizontal direction. So, for example, the basement is accessible via the chimney, adding a dimension to the more common horizontal method of movement in space.

What are the advantages of renovation?

If you use something existing, it is much easier to create diverse and meaningful places than when you start from zero. On the other hand, renovation often turns out to be more expensive than starting from scratch. But architects, as trend setters, can introduce new methods and aesthetics which are more affordable.


grey brick facade gap design detail view Raua sauna Tallin
© Gert Kasak, Statiiv OÜ