Reconstruction of a medieval merchant home to house an interactive exhibition

Tallinn, Estonia
Client: Estonian Health Care Museum
Open architecture competition: 2010, 1st prize
Completed: 2015
Size: 2,000 m2

The idea of establishing an Estonian health museum already emerged in 1922 and the first exhibition was held in 1924. Having seen the health museums in Dresden, Berlin, Amsterdam, Helsinki and Paris, the secretary of the working group and subsequent director of the museum, Voldemar Sumberg, prepared a development concept for the museum: “Health museums are not just depositories for antiquities and historical artefacts. They are educational institutions for teaching people about health care issues through illustrative and captivating exhibits, while firmly grounded in the requirements of real life and scientific achievements.” At first the museum was active in various locations in Tartu. After World War II, the museum closed, but was reopened in 1968. The museum moved to its current premises at 28/30 Lai Street in Tallinn’s Old Town in 1989. Prior to that the Polish company PKZ had renovated the two medieval merchant houses.

The complete reconstruction of the building and creation of a new permanent exhibition started in 2011. All technical systems were renewed in a manner that respects and cherishes the old building – hiding the necessary wiring and other systems in the walls, ceilings and floors. The wooden gates on the Lai Street side that had been kept closed were opened, and behind them doors made from only slightly reflective glass were installed so it is possible to see inside.

“A Heart to Heart about Your Body” – the new permanent exhibition of the museum aims to give visitors a vivid and memorable experience of health, the history of health care and breakthrough discoveries in the field. Visitors have the chance to enter the human world at a microscopic level and to test their senses. The structure of the exhibition follows the cycle of life, covering all vital functions from birth to death, making detours at each stage of life to focus on those organs, senses and functions that play the greatest role at that point, or alternatively, that cause the most trouble. The interior design features are based on the body and the human anatomy, magnifying a cell or structure beyond actual size, thus supporting and explaining the idea of the exhibition. With a diversity of graphic solutions in the form of diagrams, wax and plastic anatomical models, a complete picture is given of the inside of the human body. Wonderful opportunities for interaction are provided by hands-on electronic and mechanical displays. Computer programs created especially for the museum help explain basic truths about the functioning of the body and provide educational entertainment.