• Interior lighting fixtures: Tarmo Luisk
  • Location: Nurme Road 3, Pringi Village, Viimsi Parish, Estonia
  • Size: 430m2
  • Status: completed 2007
  • Client: Viimsi Jaakobi Kiriku Ehitamise Sihtasutus
  • Photos: Arne Maasik

St. James’s Church in Viimsi is the first Lutheran house of worship to be built in Estonia since World War II. Several churches and chapels were planned in the more liberated perestroika atmosphere of the late 1980s, but they were never built. The Viimsi church, which was built with an extremely limited budget and the help of donations and the Consistory of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, also has a long and complicated history. The coastal church is dedicated to everyone who has been lost at sea.

The building, which has an underlying steel structure, has been compared to an origami bird – its neck outstretched, looking toward the sea. The “neck” is a 13-metre-high tower donated by the Concrete Association of Estonia, which contains two bells. The larger bell – Memento Mori – is dedicated to everyone lost at sea, while the smaller one – Memento Vivere – is to those, who have survived shipwrecks. A commemorative slab of black granite with the names of all the victims of the Estonia ship disaster is positioned in front of the church.

The outer surfaces of the building are clad in spruce weatherboarding. The architect got the idea for the wooden façade from the wooden churches he had seen in coastal villages, and primarily from the mid-17th-century church on Ruhnu island, which is the oldest wooden building in Estonia.

Typical of Lutheran places of worship and based on the traditions of modern Nordic churches, the interior is ascetic and scant. After one passes through the foyer and moves past the vestry, a spacious fan-shaped church hall opens up, where the mood is created by the natural light flooding through the roof windows that run lengthwise along the ceiling. Simple chandeliers from Estonia’s most famous lighting designer are the only design element. The choir room, with a limestone altar and christening basin, is raised a few steps up from the church floor. The most sacred part of the building is also emphasised by a floor-to-ceiling window, which can be viewed as an altarpiece that changes constantly based on the light. In one of the most secular countries in the world, it is not sensible to build a mono-functional church. Therefore, the church has also been designed to be a local cultural centre. Concerts often take place in the hall, which has good acoustics, and the church also functions as a gallery space.