National Library of Estonia

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Raine Karp

Interior design

Sulev Vahtra

Competition & awards

1983, 1st Prize


Tõnismägi 2, 10122 Tallinn


51,477 m2


Completed 1992


Ott Alver


Culture, Science & Education, Historic, Interior Design, Landscape and Urban Planning, Public


Public, Library, Tallinn city centre, Cultural, Interior, Landscape & urbanism, Awarded, Historical, Educational, Tallinn

The National Library, although completed in 1992, was the last Soviet megastructure built in Tallinn and designed by Raine Karp. Raine Karp has been an architect with perhaps the most original handwriting and the most controversial reception over time in Estonia. During Soviet times, he received several substantial state-commissioned projects and completed them in a highly unique manner, at the time attracting criticism for his position, but later on being highly appreciated for his work.

The National Library was designed as Estonia’s main public library, with underground floors for a huge book depository. The formal solution aims towards grand monumentality and a ceremonial, solemn interior atmosphere. The building with its pyramid shaped roof opens to the entrance square. The main part of the structure is symmetrical.

Limestone, adopted for both exterior and interior use, relates to the locality and Estonian nation; rose windows add a touch of the sacred. The black ceiling harks back to a well-known national poem. Similar to Linnahall, the building features stairs and accesses all over the structure, adding a clearly urban dimension.

The eight-story building with two floors below ground houses 20 reading rooms with 600 reader’s seats and the library’s stacks are designed to hold five million volumes. Until the opening of the Latvian National Library in Riga it was the largest library in the Baltic States.