Estonia is a nation that looks to the future. It is one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world. Nevertheless, alongside their love of the future and capacity for innovation, Estonians also have a profound love for their art and history, which is embodied in the oldest part of the capital, located inside the city walls. Tallinn is renovating one of the best-preserved medieval city walls in Northern Europe that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. In 2017, in view of the festivities that were being planned for the Republic of Estonia centenary celebrations the following year, a tender was launched for the refurbishment of the lighting system in Tallinn Old Town. The tender was won by the Finnish studio Lighting Design Collective and the project was carried out in 2019 thanks to the financing of over 800,000 euro by the real estate company Kapitel. The system was constructed and installed by the Merko company.
The lighting designers created a lighting system in which the position of the luminaires and the illumination levels highlight the city’s original and distinctive features. The studio worked by creating a relief of the city using drones and laser scanning as well as building a series of mock ups. The attention of both visitors and citizens is drawn to the city’s features with a balanced play of light and shadow, as the design deliberately avoids using homogeneous projector-based lighting or “spectacular” illuminations with coloured lights.
The Lighting Design Collective chose compact luminaires that could be installed in the architecture itself, in order to create a “lit-from-inside” effect, like the lighting for the tower windows where Underscore InOut luminaires were widely used. To illuminate the wall’s exterior surfaces, a grazing effect was created using mainly Linealuce luminaires with Wall Washer and Wall Grazing optics, integrated in certain places with pole-mounted Woody floodlights to cover the entire height of the towers.
In addition to the walls and towers, the project also illuminates a number of other sites, like the Patkuli hill and steps, the Toompea Castle and the Paks Margareeta Tower. The latter, commonly known as Fat Margaret, because its diameter is significantly larger than any of the other towers in the city, is lit all the way round by Light Up Earth with a Wall Washer – super comfort optic.
During the installation process, the two lighting designers became particularly fond of certain sites. Anuj Gala’s favourite location, for example, is the Patkuli steps that were previously lit inconsistently, so it was impossible to appreciate the structure of the wall, whereas now the lighting has a soft, warm quality that also reveals the contours of the landscape. Jari Vuorinen’s favourite installation, on the other hand, is the lighting on Pick Jalg (the open tower in the Toompea Castle) whose walls were previously immersed in shadow.
The project covered a total of 40 “sites” and approximately 600 LED luminaires were installed with a warm colour temperature that offers energy savings of an incredible 80% compared to the previous system. The overall result is a lighting system that the vice-mayor of Tallinn, Kalle Klandorf has defined as “velvety” because it wraps the city in a generally warm and inviting atmosphere that becomes magical in the winter when the landscape is covered in snow.
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