No. 46




Riigikogu Building – First Among Equals

14 December 2022


RiTo No. 46, 2022

The importance of the Riigikogu Building (built in 1920–1922) in the history and architecture of Estonia in the 20th century cannot be overestimated.

Only the Tallinn Song Festival Stage designed by architect Alar Kotli can be considered its equal. Like the Riigikogu Building, it is not just a brilliant work of architecture, but has a strong symbolic meaning in its historical context. Building a home for its Parliament was a brave undertaking for the newly independent country: there were many more urgent problems in the young state and the resources were also scarce. The Parliament Building was designed by young architects Herbert Johanson (1884–1964) and Eugen Habermann (1884–1944), and it presents a rare synthesis of traditionalism and expressionism that has no counterpart in Europe or anywhere else in the world. Herbert Johanson was also commissioned to draft the furniture designs for all the main rooms, together with working drawings.

The traditionalist features of the building are, above all, the robust overall form, the high hipped roof of red tiles and the small windows with many panes. Expressionism can be seen in the colour scheme of the façade (according to descriptions, originally steel grey, which was restored in 2012, in the meantime it was pale yellow), enlivened by the dark frames of the openings, the inverted pyramidal cornice and, most forcefully, the black granite framing of the hall windows. Expressionism is even more pronounced in the interior, where the decorative zigzag geometry is the connective element of the whole building. Here, two rooms dominate: the lobby, where a mystical atmosphere is created by the light of uncovered bulbs set into the hollow pyramids of the concrete ceiling, and the main hall, with its vaulting folded ceiling and strikingly bright colour scheme. The architects were assisted by sculptor Jaan Koort in designing the details.

The Riigikogu Building has withstood the test of time well, preserving much of its interior details and furniture, and fortunately survived the Second World War without major damage. The furniture has mainly been rearranged in connection with the changes in the organisation of the Parliament’s work. During the restoration works in 1997–1998, it was attempted to restore the original appearance of the Riigikogu building as much as possible and to modernise the building technically. The work was led by Leila Pärtelpoeg, an interior architect who approached the historic interior with respect. When the Estonian Association of Architects was celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2021, they selected the ten best architectural projects of the century. The Riigikogu Building was the first on the list – primus inter pares.