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Competition: Tallinn Red Terror Museum

The Estonian Institute of Historical Memory has announced an international contest for a landmark new 5,000m² museum of the crimes of communism (Deadline: 24 March)

The competition seeks ‘contemporary, attractive and visitor-friendly’ ideas to transform the eastern part of the historic Patarei Prison into a new waterfront academy and memorial complex documenting the impact of communism and fascism on Estonia and its neighbouring countries.

The Museum of the Red Terror project, supported by the Estonian government, aims to raise awareness of central and eastern European history and memorialise the estimated 100 million victims of communist regimes worldwide. The new museum will also feature a research centre dedicated to investigating the catastrophic impact of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which carved up the region into separate Soviet and Nazi spheres of influence during the Second World War.

Patarei Prison, Tallinn

Patarei Prison, Tallinn

Patarei Prison, Tallinn

According to the brief: ‘The Estonian Institute of Historical Memory is holding an international design competition to find the best designs for an international museum of the crimes of communism, which is to be established in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

‘The objective of the design competition is to find a contemporary, attractive and visitor-friendly design for the museum’s architecture, exposition and interior. This museum is one of a kind in the world. The plan is to establish it on the shore of the Gulf of Finland right in Tallinn’s city centre in the Patarei complex, which is under cultural heritage protection.’

The Patarei Prison in the Bay of Tallinn was constructed in 1840 when Estonia was under the tsarist Russian empire and was originally known as the Peter the Great Naval Fortress.

The 17,000m² Classical building was converted into a political prison during Soviet occupation of the country and held tens of thousands of prisoners prior to execution or deportation to the gulags. It was also used to detain Jews and other minorities during the Nazi occupation of Estonia.

The structure, which was still used as a regular prison up until 2002, contains various cells and execution rooms and is protected as a memorial to victims of both the Soviet and Nazi occupations of the country.

Patarei Prison, Tallinn

Patarei Prison, Tallinn

Patarei Prison, Tallinn

The new museum will be constructed in the eastern part of the historic building overlooking the landmark Linnahall and the Port of Tallinn which is earmarked for a competition-winning redevelopment by Zaha Hadid Architects.

Proposals should consider the interior and exterior of the building including its entrances and connections to the nearby seafront promenade. Circulation spaces, exhibition areas and displays will also need to be considered.

The competition is open to both architects and interior designers and an overall project budget for the scheme has yet to be confirmed. Submissions should include up to eight A1-sized sheets featuring plans, diagrams and renderings, and a written explanation.

The overall winner will receive a €15,000 prize while a second prize of €10,000 and third prize of €5,000 will also be awarded with a further €10,000 distributed between selected honourable mentions.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is 12noon local time on 24 March.

Contact details

Estonian Institute of Historical Memory
Registrikood 90013822
Suur-Ameerika 12-39
10119 Tallinn

Tel: +372 648 4962 / +372 664 5039

Visit the competition website for more information

Patarei Prison, The Red Terror Museum from Eesti Mälu Instituut on Vimeo.

Q&A with Martin Andreller

The competition co-ordinator and researcher-curator at the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory discusses his ambitions for the competition

Martin Andreller

Martin Andreller

Martin Andreller

Why are your holding a contest for a museum of the crimes of communism?

The development of the new international museum and research centre on communist crimes is being undertaken by the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory, which was founded in 2008, with the goal of investigating international crimes and human rights violations committed by totalitarian regimes, research the totalitarian ideologies that created such regimes and inform the general public about the research results.

According to the Black Book of Communism, communist regimes have been historically responsible for the deaths of some 100 million people worldwide. We Estonians had the misfortune of having multiple first-hand experiences with the nature of totalitarian regimes. Therefore, we feel that it is our task, to stand up and speak about humanity and democracy, and explain this history to benefit those who did not experience it or are unaware of its legacy.

For more than a decade the Patarei Prison (a former Tsarist era naval fortress) has stood vacant and remains the last significant historical object in Estonia that hasn’t yet been redeveloped to promote its historical value. The design competition itself is an effective way of creating co-operation between different experts worldwide, which is important in the context of creating an international museum and exhibition.

While we are creating something unique, specific to Patarei Prison, with its dramatic and complex history. It is critical that we bring together a variety of different views and ideas for the upcoming museum. We are not building this museum only for Estonians, but for the entire world, which is the primary motivation for the public international competition. We are also confident that prospective participants will also gain an appreciation of the historical significance and unique atmosphere of Patarei Prison, while going through the competition’s documents

What is your vision for the new museum?

The total area dedicated to the museum is around 5,000m² and consists of areas for both the exhibition and international research centre. A museum shop and other facilities will further augment the visitor experience. As the museum will occupy just one part of the entire building space, the detailed planning of the area will also include different public facilities in the vicinity or inside the Patarei Prison building. The museum will be located next to restaurants, cafés, think-tanks, creative labs, a hotel etc, which will also be developed in the building. In an architectural sense, we have to keep in mind that the Patarei Prison has its own historical narrative as a former naval fortress and as a prison, which needs to be included in the design process. We hope that all of this – the general building development and the museum – can be effectively combined together to support and enhance each other. This might be a simpler task if we had a new building specifically designed for a museum, but the historical nature of the building is our biggest strength and an opportunity. This is a truly magnificent possibility to create something unique. Architectural innovation and quality of design and content will be critical.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We hope that all architects and designers with fresh ideas, and who are in some ways interested or connected with the main theme of the museum, will submit a proposal. We would like to see ideas and designs sent to the competition that inspire both hearts and minds. Whoever comes up with the winning designs can be assured that Patarei Prison will stand out in their portfolio and CV. We have also allocated €40,000 for the competition prizes. The nature of this project is so ambitious that we can expect considerable media interest and exposure. In the end, we believe that this is the opportunity of a lifetime. There will be no other Patarei Prison again in the future and we are creating and developing this museum now!

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

At this early stage of the project we can’t yet discuss concrete time-frames for the entire project, and it is therefore difficult to describe upcoming steps and new possibilities in the perspective of the near future. We would like to go through the competition first and after associated decisions are made, we’ll go through the next steps and develop a more detailed schedule. One thing we have planned for this year is a large international travelling exhibition on the topic of communist crimes.

Are there any other similar conversions of historic sites into museums you have been impressed by?

It would be quite easy to list different historical places that have been brought to public use and that have impressed me, but I’m not sure how useful it is to even start comparing anything to this project. In my opinion, we have a unique project and the main goal is to keep developing it that way. We have to open up the Patarei Prison’s historical building and grounds for the public. We have to create this historical museum. We have to do it in a way that it stands out around the world. Those are the tasks at hand. So, I would like to see that we create something completely unique for the future – something new and fresh, where we generate new ideas that are completely distinct from other places or museums. Our museum will reflect the inherent uniqueness of Patarei Prison itself.