Sprawling downhill towards the open sea, Tallinn’s giant Linnahall dominates the harbour of the Estonian capital. The multi-purpose sports and events venue is the former V.I. Lenin Palace of Sports and Culture, built to stage the sailing championships at the 1980 Summer Olympics (which took place in landlocked Moscow).
Designed by architects Raine Karp and Riina Altmäe, Linnahall is a symmetrical, monumental concrete structure. Located outside Tallinn’s Old Town, the building was designed to maintain a very low elevation, accessible from the outside through multiple staircases, so as not obstruct the view of the medieval city centre. Inspired by the structure of ancient fortresses, yet open both to land and sea, Linnahall appears both secluded and accessible at the same time, tantalisingly enigmatic.
In its heyday, Linnahall hosted performances by both Soviet and foreign music stars, before its gradual decay in recent decades. Its skating rink closed in 2009, followed by the concert hall in 2010. City authorities searched for investors for several years, before starting to renovate the building themselves in 2015. As of yet, the project is yet to come to fruition, although the building has made a reappearance in the international spotlight in recent years. Movie aficionados will be able to recognise Linnahall from Christopher Nolan’s 2019 film Tenet, where the colossal structure stands in for the Kyiv opera house in film’s action-heavy opening scene.
While the venue may have fallen into disrepair, Linnahall remains an architectural symbol. In 2012, the Estonian pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale — titled How Long Is the Life of a Building? — explored the legacy of modernist Soviet-era buildings in Estonia, Linnahall included.
And although closed to the public, the building can still be visited from the outside. Linnahall’s walls are now covered by graffitied poems, and plants grow through cracks in the concrete, towards the water. But from the top, visitors can admire its grand scale and modernist architecture — all while catching a glimpse of the sunset over Tallinn’s medieval city centre.