Museum of theatre puppets in the historic Old Town of Tallinn

Tallinn, Estonia
Client: Estonian State Puppet & Youth Theatre
Invited architecture competition: 2007, 1st prize
Completed: 2010
Surface: 1,500 m2

The theatre building housing the puppet theatre on the corner of Lai Street was built at the beginning of the 19th century – the first professional Estonian theatre opened its doors there in 1809. A thorough reconstruction of the building occurred in the 1880s, and since that time the capacity and general appearance of the building has remained the same.

The theatre decided in 2007 to establish a museum of puppet arts in the buildings next to the theatre that would be closely tied to the work the theatre was doing – it would introduce the history of the Estonian puppet theatre and theatre puppets via contemporary displays and technical solutions.

Considering the sensitive building regulations in the Old Town of Tallinn, the interior of the Medieval houses had to be restructured so that the spaces could be used by the museum. The winning design suggested the museum and the theatre be connected through the basement under the stage in the courtyard. Later on it was discovered that even though both of the buildings had a few spaces in the basement, neither of them had a deeper foundation. In order to build the passageway in the basement, a foundation to the building had to be constructed – already an extraordinary and complex task, complicated further by the fact that the building was located in the Old Town. In addition, the courtyard area between the buildings was also taken into use.

The permanent exhibition starts in the basement with theatre posters and costumes. The glass floor reveals Medieval walls and wells. One of the limestone vaults accommodates a Wall of Stars with a video screen and 160 buttons complete with recordings of the performances of the actors of the puppet theatre. The ground floor includes a room dedicated to the founder of the theatre Ferdinand Veike and an exhibition introducing the history of puppet theatres both in Estonia and elsewhere in the world. A further room presents the world of puppets, where different types of puppets are displayed in clear cylinders and visitors can use touchscreens to move the puppets and learn about the mechanisms used to animate them.

To comply with fire safety regulations, the roof is detachable in its entirety. A glass bridge goes through the courtyard area and connects the second floor rooms in which the permanent exhibition is displayed. From the bridge, the visitors can also see into the workshops of puppet masters and prop-makers. Going through the glass walled hallway under the courtyard stage, the visitors can sometimes see the actors preparing for the shows. So a glimpse behind the scenes becomes a part of the museum experience.

Membership of Excellence Club at the conference of world museums – Best in Heritage 2011.