EFLA Regional Congress 2011: Mind the Gap – Landscapes for a New Era

The beautiful Estonian capital, Tallinn, played host to the EFLA Regional Congress 2011.  The organizers from ELAU (Estonian Landscape Architects’ Union), who are mostly responsible for the renaissance of the profession in Estonia, showed the finest side of Estonian hospitality during the event. The location of the event was very symbolic, located just a few meters from the breathtaking medieval old town and gigantic avenues from the Soviet Era. The City of Tallinn, called the jewel of the Baltic Sea, the “European Capital of Culture“ 2011, indeed charmed all three hundred congress participants through its culture and natural setting. (What can be better for a Landscape Architect.?)

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The Congress program offered several parallel thematic sessions, containing around 70 different presentations from a huge array of topics from the field of Landscape Architecture and beyond. This was possible because of the symbolic congress’ general theme which, according to the organizers, had a very interesting but ambitious goal:

“The aim of the congress is for academics and professionals to share knowledge about how city space is created by the intertwining of various spheres. From such interaction with city environments, gaps in urban structure and urban life will appear and by exploring and understanding them, we are better prepared to create appropriate and unique environments in our cities – quality of life/quality of living.“

It was very inspiring to listen to some of the presentations and it was challenging to decide which parallel session to choose to attend.  Perhaps, the most visited and discussed were the keynote speeches which gave the floor to prominent colleagues like Jan Gehl from Copenhagen’s Gehl Architects who energically talked about the lack of human scale in the work of designers and planners. Other keynote speakers like Antje Stokman, Professor from University of Stuttgart and TOPOS 2011 Award recipient, claimed a need for more interdisciplinary cooperation in order to create more sustainable communities. Tilman Latz from the German company Latz & Partner and Mary Bowman from Gustafson Porter in London presented some of the huge projects completed by their offices.
The Exhibition of the Estonian Landscape Architects Projects was one of the spin-off events that gave us the opportunity to learn more about the country’s state of the profession.  Projects were on display from representatives from the industry as well as the participants in the Student Project Competition. Check out the first place project by Nora Hegyi and Eszter Szabo from Hungary here.
The media coverage of the event gave us the hope that a broader audience could be informed about the profession and all its facettes as there is often confusion what Landscape Architects are actually doing. The local newspapers as well as the Tallinn Television devoted a lot of space to the event, interviewed the keynote speakers and EFLA’s President, Nigel Thorne from the UK.
It is remarkable as we have to know that the profession is widely barely known in the country just a few years ago.
The evening social events gave more space to meet colleagues from around the world. Our hosts helped us to get to know more Estonian culture through food, drinks and music. The pre and post technical tours around the unique and picturesque places in Estonia also showed why we are happy to stay in the region. As the General Assembly of EFLA which took place after the Congress on 5th and 6th of November decided, the next Regional Congress and General Assembly will take place in June 2012 in the Russian City of St. Petersburg. It will be another great chance to exchange opinions following our mission to create better places. Before then let’s start closing the identified gaps and present some innovative outcomes, maybe already in Russia?

Photos by Ahto Sooaru and Haris Piplas

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