The Digital Forest (2011) creates a passageway, an edge, and a destination. Calling on Estonia’s cultural heritage and its recent economic dynamism, the forest provides a grounded connection to place (earthly) and a technical connection to the wider digital world (ephemeral). The layering of a series of simple strategies creates a complex solution. The street responds to contemporary patterns of living and working and encourages numerous modes of transportation both within the center city and to and from the outlining districts beyond. The scheme addresses street movement in two ways; splitting the proposal into a central spine running adjacent to the center city, port, and old town and connected extensions where it reaches out to Viimsi, Pirita, and Lasnamäe in its first configuration and to Mustamäe and Nõmme in future expansions. The central spine provides Tallinn with a city-scaled urban space.
At the central spine private car traffic is placed underground and a forest of native species establishes an edge to the city and connection to the sea. The forest is simultaneously a cultural landscape and an ecosystem restoration effort. Along the city side of the spine there are several opportunities for new buildings, a gracious sidewalk, a high-frequency streetcar line, and a limited-access service street for deliveries and taxis. By placing automobile traffic underground along the central spine, much of the right-of-way is liberated for the forest. This avoids introducing significant traffic infrastructure along the waterfront severing the city from the water. The high frequency trolleys allow for fluid movement along the spine and facilitate easy transfer between modes and scales of transit.
Three key crossings connect the city to the port. The crossings are strategic points that allow for easy movement across the central spine and provide opportunities for the scheme to extend south into the center city, connecting to citizens’ daily lives and reaching the existing bus and tram lines. Framed views of the forest from along these feeder streets announce its presence to the city dweller.
The forest is place of urban respite traversed by walking/skiing and biking paths. It widens where it meets underutilized port sites, reaching from the city to the sea. With opportunities for playgrounds, garden allotments, picnic areas, beaches, and habitat creation, the forest is a place where residents and visitors can inhabit a landscape reminiscent of the glacially formed beauty found along much of the Estonian coast. This earthly garden speaks to the Estonian national identity. Accordingly, the forest can be used as a processional pathway for choirs as they walk from the old town to the song grounds for the Estonian Song Festival or Laulupidu. Glass boxes in the forest house a variety of functions, ranging from commercial kiosks, to warming shelters, to a municipal greenhouse that reaches out into the bay and compositionally balances the Linnahall and becomes an iconic feature of the city for visitors arriving by boat. These glass boxes shift seasons and allow access to the earthly forest throughout the harsh winter months. The municipal greenhouse is also the anchor of a proposed system of greenhouses to encourage urban gardening and local food production.
Plazas carved from the forest emphase significant buildings like the Museum of Estonian Architecture (rotermanni salt storage),the historic Linnahall and the forthcoming City Hall by BIG architects. Though seen as terminating at Pirita Tee on the east and the City Hall / Linnahall plaza on the west, future growth of the central spine into Kalamaja is envisioned. This addition will catalyze the redevelopment of Patarei Prison and the thinshell hydroplane hangars for cultural or residential uses.
A free municipal high speed internet service underpins the entire central spine, democratizing information and, through hand held devices, providing a technologically augmented reality that overlays sounds and images of the city’s geology, ecology, history, and culture on the forest landscape. This ephemeral forest encourages exploration, commerce, and communication. As the walls of the workplace, social spaces, and educational institutions dematerialize with the growth of digital means, the forest offers a civic space that boosts online interaction while bringing people together. At night users can choose to have smart lighting track their movements illuminating a nearby perimeter; a strategy that improves visibility, enhances energy efficiency, preserves the night sky and provides poetic effect. During the summer atomizing nozzles fill the forest with a soft mist. Juxtaposing the earthly and the ephemeral creates a hybrid urban space appropriate to Tallinn’s increasing stature in the European community.
Attached to the central spine, extensions connect the center city to outlying areas. Here all traffic is brought to the surface and the cross section of the road is divided efficiently between multiple modes of transit - private automobiles, trams/buses, bicycles, and designated spaces for pedestrians to walk, run or ski.
Project Team: Ted Shelton, Tricia Stuth, Emily Dent, Kate Armstrong, Luke Murphree, Phil Zawarus, Maudy Budipradigdo, Ken McCown