Estonia - The tympanum of London's former Baltic Exchange, last seen in public at Salvo Fair in 2006, appeared in May at an exhibition in Tallinn entitled Face to Face: The Story of the Baltic Exchange at the Museum of Estonian Architecture.
The monumental kinetic installation Face to Face: Balti börsihoone lugu by Maarja Kask and Ralf Lġoke of Salto Architects, and artist Neeme Külm, had the two massive blocks of sculpture from the centre of the pediment moving on rails away from the rest of the pediment, which told the story of a building that had gone walkabout and had 'lost its place'.
In 1992, the Exchange building was heavily damaged in an Irish Republican Army bomb attack. After the attack, the building was dismantled stone by stone; the valuable parts were numbered and put in storage with the intention of restoring the building to its historical form. Instead, however, it was replaced by a new one - the 41-storey office building known as the "Gherkin" (by Foster and Partners), by now a London landmark.
The historic building was deprived of its site, and thus, also its context - an important part of its spatial identity. It began an itinerant existence, travelling from place to place, covering long distances and seeking a new meaning and environment. The building almost found a new home on Long Island, New York or the Battersea development in London. It was an unlikely intervention by Estonian businessmen that saved the dismantled structure from its final demise of being sold as fireplace decor. The sizeable delivery - 40 numbered shipping containers with stairs, marble columns, telephone boxes with wooden panelling, stucco sea monsters and other details - arrived in Estonia in 2007. A question posed itself right away - what environment would the newcomer blend into best and how to integrate it within a new social setting?
Efforts have been made to give new life to the Baltic Exchange building in Estonia and combine its facade with several new real estate developments. Various expectations and conflicts have surfaced, causing the facade fragments to lie waiting for almost a decade in shipping containers in the port of Paldiski.
In the exhibition the fragments of the Baltic Exchange building, which has stirred a good deal of controversy in the Estonian public, make their first life-size appearance. The visitors will be able to stand face-to-face with the historic building's pediment, which has been arbitrarily displaced by terrorists, businessmen and now architects and artists. At the exhibition, this fragment of the building is at the disposal of anyone who wishes to subject it to their will.
[extract from the exhibition website]
The curators pose several salient questions: How should connections with a new environment be created? Who is to pass judgement on the value of a piece of architecture? What value is there in salvaging a building? How do we develop emotional ties with architectural symbols and what role do such ties play as a means of exerting influence in society and politics?
Artist Neeme Külm was one of the founders and board members of the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia where his role focused on planning and production of exhibitions. His own works typically consist of large and time-consuming but visually minimalist installations. He has created monumental installations for group shows in Estonia and abroad, including Gas Pipe with Maarja Kask, Ralf Lġoke and Ingrid Ruudi, 2008 at the 11th Venice Architecture Biennale.
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London's Baltic Exchange, damaged by an IRA truck bomb in 1992, was dismantled and carefully stored in warehouses in Reading prior to its intended rebuild which never happened. Most of the pieces were eventually bought in an 800tonne job lot by UK salvage dealer Jason Davies now Architectural Forum, then resold to Dennis Buggins' Extreme Architecture who bought the tympanum and other parts to Salvo Fair in 2006, then resold to Estonia with plans for a rebuild in Tallinn - which was thwarted by the 2008 banking crisis. The salvage and sale was the largest since London Bridge was sold to Arizona in the 1960s.
This is the second time the Baltic Exchange has been an art installation. In 2006 Salvo paid artist taxi driver Mark McGowan to interpret that year's Salvo Fair's theme of 'Reuse Before Recycling' to try to encourage government and the construction sector that reclaim and reuse is a better option than recycling and waste to energy. In 2008, rapporteured by Tory MEP Caroline Jackson and against the wishes of lobbyists and the Commission, the EU parliament adopted the waste hierarchy, which became UK law in 2011 and now requires all old buildings to be reclaimed as a priority - and yes, that law is far from being enforced.
More in the links below, including a cutting from SalvoNEWS in 1992 about the Baltic Exchange.
Architectural Forum is now, and the former Extreme Architecture was then, Salvo Code dealers
The story of Salvo and the Baltic Exchange
Baltic Exchange lies unreused in Paldiski
Baltic Exchange sells to Estonia via Salvo Fair and a SalvoWEB ad
Salvo Fair: Mark's 40 mile epic journey
YouTube: Book launch and IRA interview
Museum of Estonian Architecture: Face to Face
Story Type: News