A plan to build Estonia’s largest “wooden building” is progressing after the government awarded the construction contract in what it has hailed “the future of construction.”
Known as ‘Environmental House, the €54.4 million net-zero project was designed by Kavakava architects and will consolidate several Estonian government agencies under one roof.
The project is part of a broader push to construct public buildings out of timber, with the Estonian government pushing to mandate its use in building and construction.
According to Pärtel-Peeter Pere, the project is essential as the former Soviet country is increasingly pivoting to German and Danish customers and away from Russia.
Mr Pere is the government’s deputy whip and editor-in-chief of ‘Ehitus teekart’, a 2040 urban plan for the country.
“With the best will in the world, no one orders Estonian products just like that; we have to prove ourselves. The environmental house (Pere refers to it as a Loodusmaja, a nature house) provides this opportunity.”
Estonia currently ranks third in the world for cumulative emissions per population – having emitted 1,394 tonnes of CO2 in 2021, according to an analysis by Carbon Brief.
The tiny Baltic country’s copious oil shale reserves have been a mixed blessing, granting it a high degree of energy independence while embedding a deeply carbon-intense legacy.
However, the war in Ukraine has forced the country to embrace renewable energy as it seeks greater alignment with the West.
It will underpin the country’s most challenging decisions, helping it meet targets around the oil shale phaseout and much-needed investments in housing and transport.
Wood Central understands it will also see significant investment in Estonia’s timber industry, including in plywood production.
Estonian timber companies export various product groups, including sawn and planed timber, pre-fabricated structural details for homes and furniture manufacturers, and modular buildings.
Over the past 25 years, greenfield investments have played an essential role in developing the Estonian wood industry, allowing it to become a high-tech industry that responds very well to the market’s needs regarding the quality of products and security of supply.
“A huge progress in political ambition” has helped make this possible,” according to Kristi Klaas, Estonian Deputy Secretary General for Green Transition.
“I think that the past two years have been very exciting in terms of green transition in Estonia,” she says.
Prime Minister Kallas took office in early 2021 with a promise to stop shale oil production by 2035 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
When completed, ‘Environmental House’ will house the Estonian Museum of Natural History, the Environmental Board, the Environmental Agency, and the Centre for Environmental Investment.
The building will be built in Tallinn’s Lennusadama neighbourhood at Vesilennuki 12, totalling 24,660 square meters and will include a massive green courtyard which doubles as exhibition space for the museum.
Minister for Climate Kristen Michal said the museum will have more space to display its exhibits and be able to offer a better overall visitor experience in the new building.
“We are grateful that the seeds planted by previous governments are growing,” he said.
It also provides opportunities for the country’s timber and construction industry, “today is a challenging time in construction and timber across the region – providing work and a strong example for Estonian champions in the growing market for climate-friendly construction.”
Michal said moving the agencies under one roof will allow the government to sell several buildings and save between €0.5-0.7 million a year.
The government’s real estate management agency Riigi Kinnisvara’s acting director of real estate development, Tarmo Mändmets, said Nordecon’s proposed work schedule, experience and plan won the “value-based procurement”.
“Planned as an energy-efficient timber building, the ‘Environmental House’ will help reduce the construction sector’s environmental footprint and send out a message that such innovative timber buildings are possible in Estonia,” Mändmets said.
Heidi Jõks, director of the Estonian Museum of Natural History, said: “We aim to become the most modern nature museum in the Nordic countries, with a quarter of a million visitors yearly. That’s five times more than we can take in now.”
Annika Kadaja, CEO of the Estonian Wooden House Association, expressed her hope that ‘Environmental House’ will become a landmark project that will help bring international attention to Estonian wooden architecture and technology.