The Hidden Gems of Tallinn

It’s no surprise that both foreign investors and local business people looking into purchasing a residential property or an office space first plump for the prestigious and historic Vanalinn, or Old Town, for a taste of late-Medieval charm. The old town’s castle-like masonry architecture, with its partly-exposed stone walls, pale coloured stucco, deep window sills, exposed raw timber beams and heavy wooden doors replete with hammered iron hardware are all features that will take you right back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

As the secondary choice for many, and in fact the primary choice for more than a few IT and telecoms companies, small business owners and sometimes students, the area immediately outside the old town (called the Kesklinn, or town centre) is also attractive in terms of available residential and office buildings. Such buildings vary greatly in quality, style and facilities – starting with the inter-war period masonry buildings which are almost as robust as their Old Town counterparts and which can be anything from fascinatingly detailed to utterly minimalist, through to the sombre early Soviet era concrete pseudo-classic style blocks. The range continues all the way up to the glass and metal post-independence boom-period “new” buildings which nonetheless seem to age quite quickly, with their glory fading away much faster than the older adjacent buildings.

Recently the eyes of investors as well as the “new locals” have shifted their focus to the district of Kalamaja – an area which is also situated immediately next to the Old Town, where both masonry Art Deco and traditionally detailed weatherboard-clad multifamily houses stand side by side in harmony. The area is characterised by its calm, airy feel, where residents enjoy the ever-changing colours of light shining through the mature leafy trees in summer as much as the warm, amber light from the living rooms and kitchens escaping onto the thick layer of snow in winter.

Some landowners who have clearly been misguided by the false sense of “per square meter” economy have constructed an array of concrete panel “imitation” apartments in Kalamaja, replacing the empty lots and dilapidated or even burnt down old buildings. However, some wise land owners have constructed new buildings using mostly traditional methods and the original blueprints combined with more functional thermal insulation and heating technologies, offering more comfort yet an aesthetic typical to the area and matching the surroundings. Such phenomena as unoccupied quality apartments are becoming scarcer, unless they are ridiculously overpriced, and more and more young families are relocating to Kalamaja.

This also meant that the residents of older generations are slowly being pushed out of the area due to increasing rent and maintenance costs of old buildings, meaning that the area is very young and becoming more “cultural”. A local former industrial complex now hosts a restaurant, bars, cafes, weekly flea-markets and other attractions to meet the young families’ needs for a meeting place as well as economical ways to get much-needed children’s supplies as well as kitsch vintage decor items.

There is another adjacent area, Pelgulinn, not yet deeply explored by either foreign buyers or local developers. Pelgulinn offers a much greater variety of building age, styles, sizes, finishes and prices than does Kalamaja. If Kalamaja is geographically separated from the Old Town by the railway station and the tracks, Pelgulinn is further separated from Kalamaja by more railway tracks and a marked lack of commercial activities. It lies sandwiched between the industrial railway depot and the main thoroughfare in North Tallinn, Sõle Street, with many more compact lower-income housings at the Northern end of the district close to or actually on Sõle, while more beautiful yet not overly elaborate buildings can be found at the Southern end towards Telliskivi street. There are numerous cul-de-sacs and shortcuts for pedestrians compared with Kalamaja, making an almost ideal neighbourhood structure according to urban planning textbooks on what constitutes a liveable neighbourhood. Even though most buildings share the same periodic influence as of those in Kalamaja, Pelgulinn has a markedly different atmosphere. Pelgulinn is an area where a good mix of buildings in various states await an injection of financial investments and new generation of residents to raise the quality of the streets.

Pelgulinn does not share the feel of a seaside town which Kalamaja hints at. For some strange reason the Old Town appears far more elevated when viewed from Heina Street in Pelgulinn, where it looks almost like a Medieval castle town situated in more mountainous country such as that surrounding Salzburg or Prague. This makes you wonder whether a great river divides the Old Town and your standing point – in no such river runs through Tallinn. Pelgulinn is an area which offers a very different feel from other parts of Tallinn. The district features former workers’ wooden terraces, railway tracks, idiosyncratic house number discs and street names in both Estonian and Russian, and garages and disused factories the area lacks of cold industrial feel. The streets are slightly narrower than those of Kalamaja and the lack of pastel-colour houses found in the latter gives a more authentic look of a residential suburb which the Western European countries lost back in the seventies. There is something of a nostalgic feel to the area yet it is not left undeveloped either. Brand new apartments cleverly blend into the surroundings, and although some old buildings look well-worn from outside their interiors can be very contemporary.

Pelgulinn is best explored on foot, even without a map. There are so many things to be discovered every day throughout the year. It may even offer the perfect excuse to walk or ride a bike in order to go shopping for groceries at Jaama Turg – the Railway Station Market – rather than driving to a hypermarket.

text by: Satoshi Joshua Ogawa
The author is a Tallinn-based architect recently moved from Brussels and specialising in residential building designs.

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Colliers International: Demand For Commercial Space To Increase

Here at Tallinn Property we like to focus on residential real estate, but it’s worth taking time out on occasion to examine how other areas of the real estate market are faring.

Real estate analysts Colliers international’s monthly survey, when taking 2011 as a whole, has shown that whilst at the beginning of 2011, no significant changes were expected to take place in the market, there was a surprise in store in the office space sector, where at the end of the year there were few vacancies and a rise in the rental price for new office space.

“There is a distinct lack of first-rate office space, and thus we forecast that by 2013 there will be an increase in this area  in the central business district [of Tallinn] of at least 10 000 square meters” says Colliers Investment and Evaluations manager Margus Tinno.

“The retail sector, which saw a high degree of competition between supermarket chains in 2011, will see this trend continuing into 2012. Rental rates for long term tenants should remain stable; however some smaller landlords may increase rents” Mr Tinno went on.

Activity in the real estate market saw some unexpected developments in 2011, which was mainly driven by the public sector. In 2012 the Technomedicum (incorporating the biomedical engineering, clinical medicine departments together with the cardiology centre) and Mechatronics Centre at the Tallinn Science Park is due to be finished, and about half of the space is so far subject to rental lease agreements with the state. Additionally, the Ülemiste Technopolis has started to construct some new office space, of which 11 600 square metres is to be taken up by the Estonian Tax and Customs authority. Furthermore a new headquarters for the Estonian Statistics office, of around 4 4000 square metres, has been planned for the end of 2013, all of which makes the public sector the most important driving force in the marketplace for office space.

2011 saw a growth in exports which in turn led to increased demand for industrial and warehouse space. A significant number of industrial enterprises and foreign capital-based companies, which work primarily in the electronics and distribution fields, have begun to consider expanding and thus need to find additional or entirely new space. However, due to rising construction costs, commercial rental prices have increased significantly (by 50 per cent or more when compared with 2009). Colliers predicts that the industrial warehouse market will be seeing a distinct lack of larger, high quality space, and so there is a current gap in the market for speculative, good quality warehouse space with a provisional asking rental of 4-4.50 Euros per square metre per month.

Overall, the boom time of the middle 2000s saw a decline in the use of warehouse ownership. More and more warehouse users are preferring to rent warehouse space, thus keeping themselves free of the capital and real estate commitments that ownership entails. The situation is somewhat different for heavy industry, however, where more specialised production demands tend to necessitate ownership of suitable facilities.

“Whilst the debt crisis in the Eurozone has continued to adversely affect the investment market, the total volume of investment in this area in 2011 came to around 250 million Euros, which is more than three times the value for 2010” Tinno goes on.

“The largest single deal in the history of the Estonian real estate market took place in 2011 as well, when publicly-traded Finnish retail investor Citycon purchased the Kristiine shopping centre in Tallinn for 105 million Euros. We anticipate that the investment arket in 2012 will continue to be active, because most investors now have the funds available, and the market is expecting to see investment coming to sites” he concludes.

The original article (in Estonian) as published on Tõnu Toompark’s Adaur blog, can be viewed here.

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Tallinn Then and Now – 12 Years of Change in Photos

We wanted to share a great series of impressions of Tallinn in May 1998 and now in 2010. Some changes are amazing, but it is also amazing that some places still look exactly the same :)

Twelve years ago, in May 1998, my friend designer Dan Mikkin decided to have a walk in his hometown of Tallinn along with his no-name camera and take few snapshots. No specific method or locations, just random, but the plan was to visit the same places again after twelve years, happen what may.

Now it’s 2010 and Dan really did take his camera and Tallinn photoalbum and searched the places he had photographed. As a result we have a great snapshot of history of Tallinn. In my opinion the change is mostly for the better, but see for yourself.
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Above is just a selection of Dan’s photogallery. Look for more on his Facebook Group Dozen or his Flickr album Tallinn Dozen

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