A modern sports facility for a dignified school building

Tallinn, Estonia
Client: Tallinn English College
Commission: 2004
Completed: 2007
Size: 4,000 m2

Since the 19th century, Tallinn city centre has rapidly expanded around the medieval Old Town. Historic events have caused several interruptions and radical changes in this development. One of the few areas that has been developed quite cohesively in the former bastion zone surrounding the Old Town is the quarter between Estonia Avenue and Pärnu Road. Theatres, a library, a court house and schools that were built at the beginning of the 20th century are located there. Among them is also the English College, which for years had been waiting for its own sports complex.

The new sports building designed by KOKO had to meet all of the school’s needs while taking the established urban context into consideration. The architects wanted to position the new building between the historic buildings as inconspicuously as possible but at the same time also make use of the courtyard and offer a modern and positive learning environment for the schoolchildren.
Only a part of the sports complex extends towards one of Tallinn’s main roads – Pärnu Road, but the design of the section by the street is eye-catching if not provocative. This section of the building, which has been positioned on branched pillars, creates an entrance area for the sports complex and actively shapes the public space by the street – the courtyard of the sports complex seamlessly transitions into a street-side green area with a public bus stop that town people use actively.

The sports complex is built apart from the historic school building, although there is a connection in the basement that joins the two buildings. The pool is located in the basement, there is a parking lot above that and a gym is located on the upper floors. The design also includes office spaces, which are mainly located in the section that rests on the branched pillars by Pärnu Road. The interior architectural solutions of the sports hall mainly focus on children and young people and are designed with the desire to offer a fun and playful environment. Despite the small size of the site, an outside space resembling an amphitheatre was built in the courtyard, where it is possible to organize classes or more ceremonial events when the weather is nice. The excavated amphitheatre also provides the pool with natural daylight.

During the design process for the English College sports complex there was a lot of scepticism from heritage officials and the more conservative city residents. Now that several years have passed since its completion it has become an organic part of the dignified buildings in Tallinn’s centre and enriches it with its colourful and playful character.

Text: Carl-Dag Lige