It was a last minute dash to head over to The Arts Tower before leaving Sheffield and driving south. The short winter days left little time for photography and the sun was already low in the sky, casting shadows over the lower floors of the building when I arrived.
The Arts Tower was opened in 1966 by The Queen Mother. Belonging to the University of Sheffield it was at first home to its eighteen art departments. For many years it was the tallest building in Sheffield.
Short on time I never ventured inside, missing a very well known and unique detail of The Arts Tower, its paternoster lift, one of only a handful left in the UK.
I have to admit visiting Hull was a last minute decision. I had never heard much about the city nor given a reason that visiting the city was a must. After immersing myself in the world of Brutalism and historical architecture under threat Hull was suddenly on my radar, and for unlikely reasons a must visit destination.
The conversation around the Three Ship mural in the city centre was reaching a critical point and the buildings future was in trouble. Visiting a friend in Yorkshire I knew I would never be closer. Even though Hull was a four hour detour I had to go and I must say the city impressed me.
Its architecture was diverse, from the historical buildings that surround Queen Victoria Square to the modern glass and steel design of The Deep. And of course there was plenty of concrete.
Tidal Surge Barrier
Coming across the Tidal Barrier was a happy accident. I had taken a route from the car to take in The Deep which I knew about already due to its unique shape and striking presence next to the sea.
Hull has always had trouble with flooding as the city is barely above sea level. After the devastating floods in 1969 it was clear that something had to be done but it took another decade before the solution was found.
Since then the Tidal Barrier has been protecting the city, being deployed around thirty times a year. In 2009 and 2010 the barrier underwent a £10 million refurbishment project and since 2017 it has been Grade II listed.
Not only was finding the tidal barrier a great surprise, the shots I took of the structure were among my favourite from my time in Hull.
The view from Queen’s Gardens to Hull College and the Wilberforce Monument is quite striking. At the time I didn’t know the importance of what I was looking at but I soon found out once I had returned from Hull.
The Wilberforce Monument stands 31m over Queen’s Gardens, where it was relocated to in 1935. William Wilberforce was a British politician who was born in Hull. Throughout his career he worked to abolish the slave trade. He died three days after the Slavery Abolition Act was passed and buried in Westminster Abbey.
In the foreground is a fountain, that was out of use during the winter, and an untitled concrete mural of birds in flight designed by Robert Adams. If you look closely at the facade of Hull College you may be able to spot a panel by William Mitchell representing nautical and mathematical instruments.
It was the reason for me being in Hull. I had to see the building the internet had been talking about before it was demolished. At the time I had written about Alan Boyson’s Three Ships Mural and the battle that was going on to protect it.
I still can’t see why the city planners couldn’t see the historical significances to the mural, maybe the fact that it was attached to a piece of potential prime real estate may have played a large part in their decision making. It seemed that the last thought on their mind has how it could be preserved rather how it could be developed.
Development of the site has been complicated and hit a few problems along the way. Since my visit to Hull there has been increased pressure, primarily from Save Hull’s BHS/Co-Op Murals Twitter account, which has finally resulted in the mural being granted Grade II listed status and more recently the council committed to plans that will ‘save and restore’ the Three Ships Mural. A decision they have been forced into but a decision that they should have made in the first place.
The Humber Bridge
Leaving the city I had to stop off and look across the Humber and the impressive bridge that spans the estuary. For seventeen years after the Humber bridge opened in 1981 it was the longest of its type in the world. The addition of the bridge cut 50 miles off of the drive from Hull to Grimsby on the other side of the Humber.
In 2007 I was living in Canada for a year. I travelled from Toronto to Montreal for a weekend to meet a family relative and I was taken around the city and shown the sights. These included the Biodome, a building originally built in 1976 for the Montreal Olympics as a velodrome but now is home to four different ecosystems, and the Biosphere built by the United States for Expo 67 that was held in the city.
Montreal has been shaped by the two events, especially the Expo. A subway system was constructed and the excavated soil was used to create Notre Dame Island. Just across the Saint Lawrence River an experimental building was built, Habitat 67.
I was recently encouraged to look through my photos after seeing Nick Coupland‘s artwork of Habitat 67. I originally thought that I had only taken two or three shots during my visit to the apartment complex so I was quite surprised to find a wide range exploring the exterior of the building and an inner courtyard.
Habitat 67 was designed by student architect Moshe Safdie as part of his program at McGill University. Eventually it was picked and funded for the Expo. 354 prefabricated concrete boxes were made on site. These were arranged in various ways and at its tallest Habitat 67 reaches 12 stories in height.
It’s hard to understand from the outside how this mishmash of identical blocks stacked together make a coherent living space on the inside. Originally Habitat 67 had 158 apartments varing in size. Over time changes were made, walls were knocked through to make larger living spaces decreasing the number of apartments to 148.
Habitat 67 was meant to revolutionise affordable prefabricated housing but some felt that the eventual high rent prices were a sign of the buildings failure. It is also situated in a part of Montreal that isn’t easily accessible by public transport. Luckily when I visited I was taken there by car.
Still Habitat 67 was a great success during the Expo and helped launch Safdie’s career as an architect. The building has since become a symbol of Expo 67 and a recognisable landmark.
In 1974 the Soviet Union won the bid to become the host of the 1980 Summer Olympics. As its host city Moscow is miles inland there was a search for a suitable location to host the sailing events. As Estonia was at that time under Soviet occupation the city of Tallinn was chosen.
The 1980 Olympics saw a number of problems including many countries and participants choosing to boycott the event and not attend, due to the Soviet Unions invasion of Afghanistan. Led by the United States many other countries chose to boycott the games, others claimed financial reasons. It total sixty-five invited countries did not attend the Moscow Olympics.
The Soviet Union invested over 200 million rubles into the city of Tallinn in the years leading up to the event. The TV tower, Hotel Olümpia and the airport were built and developed as well as the Tallinn Olympic Yachting Center in Pritia where the event would be held. There was also a budget for arts and culture, restaurants and museums were built or renovated. 436 houses were randomly painted and renovated around the city and Tallinn’s historical old town was given a makeover.
Tallinn saw great change during the lead up to the event and many of those changes can still be found in the city today.
Hotel Olümpia began construction in 1974 and took six years to build. There are 390 rooms including a presidential suite and a number of recently renovated conference rooms. The building is 84m tall, 10m taller than the nearby Sokos Hotel Viru, with the name of the hotel in large letters on top. The 26th floor features a fitness club with its very own swimming pool.
Once Tallinn was chosen to host the sailing event a location was picked in Pirita, a neighbourhood three miles from the city centre. The Tallinn Olympic Yachting Center was constructed over four years and opened in 1980 in time to host its first guests. It was the home for the competitors for the time they were in the city.
Currently the building is home to Pirita Marina Hotel and Spa and several sports clubs, as well as a cafe that looks over the marina and a casino.
Since 1997 the building has been under protection as architectural heritage of Estonia.
The V. I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sports
Now the culture and sports venue goes by the name Linnahall and has been out of use since 2009. The design was from architects Raine Karp and Riina Altmäe. The building was completed and opened in 1980 with the name V. I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sports. Under its concrete and limestone form the building held a 4,200 seat amphitheater, an ice hall, an exhibition space and dance hall. The building was specifically designed so it didn’t interrupt views of Tallinn’s old town from the sea.
Though the building wasn’t used during the Olympics it was part of the development that took place in Tallinn in the years leading up to the games.
Linnahall has heritage protection for its cultural significance but its future remains uncertain as the city searches for investment.
Tallinn’s TV Tower was built to provide better telecommunications for the coverage of the Olympics. It stands 314m tall in a location approximately 5 miles from Tallinn’s city centre, also in the district of Pirita. It was originally designed to have a rotating observation deck on the 21st floor.
The TV Tower played an important role in Estonia’s independence in 1991 when several operators risked their lives to protect the free media of the newly formed republic.
I have covered Linnahall in great detail and released a collection of my photographs in a small zine titled BRUTAL II.
The Tallinn Olympic Yachting Centre was built for the sailing event of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics that were held in Tallinn. The building was designed by architects Henno Sepmann, Peep Jänes, Ants Raid and Avo-Himm Looveer. The Olympic Village officially opened in June of that year and hosted its first guests in July in preparations for the games.
Now the building is under protection as architectural heritage of Estonia and currently home to Pirita Marina Hotel and Spa, as well as several sports clubs and restaurants.
The following photographs were taken over a couple of visits to Tallinn and the district of Pirita.
The Maarjamäe Memorial Complex in Tallinn dates back to 1960 but the history of its monuments and the people they commemorate goes back even further, some to the Russian Civil War of 1918. Since June 1940 Estonia was under the occupation of the Soviet Union until its independence in August 1991, an important detail in understanding the complex and its memorials.
In 1960 the first memorial, a 35 metre obelisk, was raised to commemorate those that had fallen during the 1918 Russian Civil War. This was, and still remains, controversial as the soldiers it commemorates had been fighting against Estonians at the time.
The area was expanded in 1975 with memorial graves to those who died in the Russian Civil War aboard the Avtroil and Spartak as well as the Soviet soldiers that died fighting the Nazis during World War II. A large amphitheater providing views over the Baltic Sea was added but at the time of my visit was closed due to the structure being deemed unsafe.
“Since Estonia gained its independence from Soviet rule in 1991, the Maarjamäe Memorial Complex has faced an uncertain future. Its symbolism goes beyond being merely pro-Soviet, to being, arguably, even anti-Estonian in meaning.”
Due to the controversy of the memorials the future of the area was uncertain. Instead it was decided to restore the balance of the area and commemorate the 75,000 Estonians (a quarter of the countries population) who were killed, deported or imprisoned during Soviet occupation. The Memorial to the Victims of Communism was completed in 2018 and consists of two parts, the Journey and the Home Garden.
I entered the complex through the Journey, a long sloping corridor lined by huge black walls. The newest addition to the memorials was dominant and impactful. As I made my way through I passed the names of those that were lost before appearing in the snow covered Home Garden.
Many Estonians were sent away to serve the Soviet Union or ended up in work camps, when they died they were often buried in unmarked graves. 22,000 individual honeybees on the wall of the Home Garden symbolise the victims that never returned home.
The area felt abandoned, maybe because it was winter and no one was around. On one hand there were the new and modern memorials that were an almost complete juxtaposition to the older Soviet ones. I could imagine that in the summer months the large snow covered spaces would be replaced with green grass , an idyllic place next to the sea to sit and enjoy a picnic.
A man walks under the bronze sculpture ‘Perishing Seaguls’.
Though some of the memorials remain controversial they are a testament to the Estonia people, a reminder of the troubles and suffering they went through, especially for the 50 years of Soviet occupation. Estonia has a complex history and in preserving this area it will be a continuous reminder to those visiting.
In 1974 the Soviet Union won the bid to become the host of the 1980 summer Olympics. As its host city Moscow is miles inland a location was needed where the sailing events could be held. At this time Estonia, among other countries, was a part of the Soviet Union and its capital Tallinn was chosen.
During the years leading up to the Moscow Olympics Tallinn saw a boom in construction. The airport was expanded, the twenty-eight storey Hotel Olümpia and a 314m TV tower were built, as well as the Tallinn Olympic Yachting Centre in Pirita where the event would be held, even the medieval old town was given a makeover.
During this period construction began on a multipurpose cultural centre on a large area of land next to the sea. The design was from architects Raine Karp and Riina Altmäe. The building was completed and opened in 1980 with the name V. I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sports. Under its concrete and limestone form the building held a 4,200 seat amphitheater, an ice hall, an exhibition space and dance hall.
The building was specifically designed so it didn’t interrupt views of Tallinn’s old town from the sea. It is also said, like many other Soviet buildings of the time, that the design and position next to the sea would allow for the building to be fortified easily. Its wide walkways and stairs would make the tiered platform roof accessible for tanks and other armaments if needed.
When Estonia regained independence in 1991, with the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, the building was renamed Linnahall but by then it had seen its best days. It continued to hold concerts even as the building began to fall into disrepair. After its last concert in 2009 Linnahall was closed and even though the building has heritage protection for its cultural significance its future remains uncertain as the city searches for investment.
My zine exploring the exterior of Linnahall is now available to order. It features black and white photographs taken over several visits to the building.
While living in Helsinki I was able to visit Tallinn easily, it was only a short and fairly inexpensive ferry trip away. Linnahall quickly became a fascination of mine. During each trip I would take a route from the ferry terminal to the old town that allowed me to walk across the stairs and staggered platform roof of the building. It later allowed me to explore new areas of the city, including Kalamaja and Telliskivi.
I first visited Linnahall five years ago and have been to the building on almost every trip to the city. It has allowed me to photograph the building during different stages of its decline but also during different times of the year.
This photo series features in my new zine exploring the exterior of Linnahall. The effects of time was a huge factor behind my images and with this series of images it allows for a clear comparison.
Since first releasing my zine BRUTAL I had always wanted to make it a series, each issue featuring a different building that I had photographed. Deciding on the Tricorn for the first was easy. It was a local building with a history and had caused much debate in the city of Portsmouth. There was also a large community of people who appreciated brutalism and the now demolished Tricorn held a special place in their hearts.
My concept for BRUTAL came together nicely. I had recently discovered my old negatives in my Dad’s loft and about the same time I heard about Silver Pan Lab who would be able to scan the negatives into digital copies. While finding other enthusiasts online I had come across Nick Coupland, an artist that drew brutal architecture in fantastic detail. After contacting him he kindly let me use his image of the Tricorn for the cover.
The reception to BRUTAL was excellent, far exceeding anything I had imagined, I even had to get it reprinted a few times. I had now been photographing brutalist buildings and other architecture solidly for two years by this point but couldn’t decide on my next point of focus.
Demolition had started on Welbeck Street Car Park and I had managed to get up to London to photograph the building before any damage had been done. I had also photographed other buildings in London, including the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate and the Barbican Centre, both on a very miserable winter’s day.
My travels also took me up north to Sheffield where I gazed upon the Arts Tower its facade of never ending windows. Then Hull where I was able to photograph BHS/Co Op Building and its mural by Alan Boyson that was at that point in danger of demolition as the building was planned for redevelopment.
I had all these places in mind but I never felt that there was a story to tell, especially in some cases one that hadn’t been told already. It wasn’t until I saw the movie Tenet that it all fell into place again. In the opening scene the exterior and interior of a building I had become quite familiar was featured. In the movie it was the Kiev National Opera House but in reality it was Linnahall, a disused culture and sports venue in Tallinn.
The last time I had been in Tallinn I was unable to visit Linnahall as its exterior had been fenced off so that it could be prepared for the shooting of an upcoming movie, the rumours were that it was for a Christopher Nolan film. These rumours turned out to be true.
I went home and looked through my archive of photos. Taken over a number of visits my photographs of Linnahall spanned about five years, the best part was that they documented the building through different seasons as well as in different stages of disrepair.
Once I began my research into Linnahall I found that it actually had a complex and interesting history. Any information on the building is hard to come by, especially during those years that it was in use, and the reasons behind its construction even more so. The building was connected to a much larger development in Tallinn prior to the 1980 Moscow Olympics and held concerts up until 2009, since then it has been out of use.
For years Linnahall and the mystery behind the building has fascinated me. I have tried on many occasions to visit the interior of the building and even came close once but due to the difficulty travelling this year that will have to wait. If it still remains possible is another question entirely.
My photographs of the exterior were so extensive I knew that I would be able to tell the story of the building I wanted to without images of the interior. To be honest that would be a whole different story. I have now put together a series of images that reflect Linnahall’s size and scale, its mystery, its fortress like design, but above all its struggle to be saved.
BRUTAL II is available to order now. It is an A5 zine featuring my black and white photographs of Linnahall taken over a five year period. There are currently a handful of copies of BRUTAL featuring the Tricorn left.
The following was written roughly four years ago after my first visit to Linnahall.
Slowly decaying on a small section of Tallinn’s coast is Linnahall, an old sports and concert venue built in 1980. The venue was built as part of the Olympics that took place in Moscow in the same year. At this time Estonia was apart of the Soviet Union and as Moscow didn’t have a suitable location to hold the sailing events Tallinn was chosen.
When the venue was completed it was named V. I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport but after Estonia’s independence it was changed to Linnahall.
There was little sign of life and I was the only one walking around. At the entrance there were a few cars parked outside but I had no idea where the owners would have gone. If the offices inside were used I thought to myself what a miserable place to work.
Who knows when Poseidon saw its last customers. Not much of a night out now.
You can walk fairly freely around the building as long as you can navigate the maze of stairs, many of which still lead to a dead end or locked gate.
What surprised me most about Linnahall was that the building was completed in 1980, and from the looks of things, it was abandoned almost right away. I know 1980 was actually sometime ago and more likely the venue has been used more recently.
It seems like such a waste to leave a large and interesting building to go unused but it happens everywhere, especially when it comes to buildings built for the Olympics. My visit to Linnahall has sparked my interested and I am keen to learn more about the building and what the city has planned for its future.
As with any building left to sink into disrepair, Linnahall has attracted a fair amount of attention from graffiti artists, some of it better than others.
Views of St Olaf’s Church and Tallinn’s medieval old town can be seen as it’s only a short distance away.
From the outside it is difficult to tell what Linnahall is all about. The crumbling and graffitied walls, the locked doors and barred windows, are hiding the secrets of what lies within. Unfortunately, that will have to wait for another time.
After five years of visits and photographs I have put together my second zine in my BRUTAL series, this time featuring Linnahall.
My photographic journey into Brutalism continues with: