15 December 2009

Solaris - Temple of Culture or of Shopping?

Main entrance
Back side - concert hall entrance - Sakala tower

Sakala cultural center was demolished quite suddenly and under strange circumstances. After the approval of destruction was given, people gathered to protest, and the approval was withdrawn or postponed. As soon as the protesters had left the area Sakala was demolished after all. Sakala was built by the architect Raine Karp, who also made Linnahall, the National Library, the main post office and more. The extensive use of Estonian limestone make these buildings unique and important to the national history of architecture.

In opposal to the protests, the owners stated that the old Sakala was in such a bad shape that it was no use restoring it, and instead they would build the new Solaris centre - a temple of culture with only the best facilities.

The Solaris centre was opened in November, some weeks postponed as the roof fell down in some of the rooms. So is Solaris offering a better cultural venue than Sakala?
Entering Solaris through the main entrance you enter a regular shopping mall. There is just enough space for two persons to pass each other on the galleries going along the shops on three levels. There is a large birch (with green leaves in December!) filling the opening from the 0th to the 3th level, and the ground level's open space was soon filled with stands selling accessories and stuff.

There are cultural venues in there somewhere too, you only have to search for it. The Cinamon cinema is entered by a narrow staircase or by an elevator strictly only for use by disabled persons. The Artis art movie cinema is entered by an emergency-exit-like staircase hidden by the back door of the center. And the Concert hall has its own entrance from the back side. On the ground level is an area used for an exhibition.

The Solaris is pushing the limits between the public and the commercial space, offering the customers to play games in the game shop, pingpong in the clothes's shop, a lounge in the bookstore, and a view terrace at the top.

The facade of Solaris is a typical 00s shopping mall - large windows to display the goods, and the rest of the facade covered by colorful logos of the shops. The backside is more interesting, offering a mingling space, light openings for the underground levels and a wide staircase leading down to the concert hall. The old Sakala tower incorporated in the building is the only sign left of what once was here.

The Lido eating area is a famous Latvian brand, here are long desks of different food, all built in an incredible cheesy Disney-like structure of famous buildings.

As you enter the Cinamon cinema area, this is a typical cinema, offering comfortable chairs and quality screening facitilies. The Artis lounge has interesting sofas with themes from Estonian movies, and with a great view to the back side of the building. The Artis is probably meant to take over from the fantastic but old Sõprus cinema.

I get a really strong feeling that Solaris is mainly built as a shopping mall, with some cultural areas added just to get the approval of tearing down the old Sakala cultural centre. You almost have to know in advance that there are some cultural venues hidden in there. It is an interesting but slightly frightening example of commercializing culture, how to make culture as profitable as possible.