The Grand Prize in Architecture of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia 2023
Architecture
Margit Argus, Eliise Harjak (studio ARGUS)
Margit Aule (LUMIA)
Birte Böer
Interior architecture
Margit Argus, Elo Liina Kaivo (studio ARGUS)
Margit Aule (LUMIA)
Consultant
Artur Ümar
Architecture (convention building wall and roof)
Ülo Mahoni, Andrus Rehemaa (ARC Projekt)
Landscape architecture
Margit Argus, Eliise Harjak (studio ARGUS), Margit Aule (LUMIA); Sulev Nurme (Artes Terrae); Britt Mäekuusk (Projektibüroo)
Exposition
Margit Argus, Elo Liina Kaivo, Eliise Harjak (studio ARGUS), Margit Aule (LUMIA); Erika Saks, Jüri Lõun, Kersti Tuhkru, Sigrid Randoja, Kristina Aruvee (PULT)
Structural design
Projektibüroo, ARC Projekt
Commissioned by
Põltsamaa Vallavara
Design
2020–2021
Completed
2023
Photos
Tõnu Tunnel, Terje Ugandi

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Although several features of the original architectural solution adding to the attractiveness or functionality had to be abandoned due to increasing building costs (for instance, walkways on the wall, the lift in the gatehouse, windcatcher and bell tower were postponed for the future), many things have been achieved. A heritage site that has been the pride and joy of the region was saved from destruction and restored to its dignity. A small local museum has grown and transformed into a visitor-friendly environment with a wide range of functions that bring the heritage back to life. In setting up the customer and archive areas, we relied on reuse, for instance, the chairs in the cinema in the gate building were brought from the National Library. In addition to enhancing the competitiveness of a small local museum and increasing the number of visitors, the innovations have also had a positive impact on the sense of pride and unity of the community, the regional image and attractiveness to tourists. The thematic comprehensiveness based on a strong historical narrative will lay the foundation for new traditions since also the possibilities for leisure activities and events have expanded. Põltsamaa Castle is a vivid example of what can be accomplished in a small municipality for a small local museum in a short period of time, if there is motivation and other resources: realistic funding monitoring, skills to write and implement large-scale project proposals, valuing reuse and relying on close cooperation with the local government, funders and support institutions. Despite the recent external crises (corona, war, hyperinflation), an investment consisting of nearly 20 financing projects with the total cost of almost 4.6 million euros (including the contribution of the local municipality) was implemented in 3.5 years.
Egle Oja, Põltsamaa Castle, member of the board

The history of the architectural ensemble dates back to the 13th century when a fortress commissioned by Grand Master Otto von Rodenstein was built on the right side of the river. A century later, a convent building was constructed in the east corner of the wall. In the 16th century, Põltsamaa became the residence of King Duke Magnus. It was turned into a castle by Hermann von Wrangel in the 17th century, with Woldemar Johann von Lauw reconstructing it as a grand palace in the rococo style a century later. Unfortunately, the complex was severely damaged in a fire in 1941, leaving only the outer walls. Even the most outstanding feature – the rococo style so rare for us – is only captured in photos. Since 1970s, the complex has been gradually improved but the gate building and the magnificent convent building were left at the mercy of rain and winds.

The challenge in the reconstruction was not so much in preserving the old but rather adding the new, thus creating a symbolic bridge between the past and the present. The grand dome of the convent building marks the historical shape and provides views over Põltsamaa – just as it was relevant in defence against the enemies. There is a winding staircase leading to the tower designed in a way as to afford various views. The buildings are now covered with a rolled sheet metal roof with the perforated metal walkways and concrete steps allowing unique journeys through history.

When we began the reconstruction, there were only walls left of the buildings, some of them at risk of collapse. We analysed the paths between various buildings and the ways to connect them seamlessly with steps and walkways. Due to the size of the complex and budgetary constraints, only a part of what was planned has been realized so far. Future plans include, among other things, the reconstruction of allures and the steel gallery along the defensive walls allowing us to have a glimpse of the former glory.

The historical body of the walls has been carefully conserved to avoid further decay and to allow the story of the castle to be told also to future generations. The new additions act as a delicate tribute to the historical heritage, combining the valuable layers with modern touches. All new additions are clearly marked by contemporary design features distinct from the earlier layers.

In addition to buildings, we also dealt with the castle grounds and stage area that could perhaps be considered as the new central square of the town. The architecture of the stage is kept as simple and neutral as possible allowing the historical buildings to dominate the scene.

Margit Argus, Eliise Harjaks