Instead of locating the museum at the site proposed in the respective competition , held in 2006 , DGT Architects chose a different plot – an old abandoned landing strip from the days of the Soviet occupation – finding it more appropriate to the assignment in thematic and conceptual terms. Into this dramatic setting they implanted an oblong glass-clad volume and provided it a slightly upward-sloping roof to embody the country's emergence from a dark past into a better future.
The design activates the empty and deserted historic site by enclosing it within a kind of sheath , making the landing strip accessible , a public space extended in a longitudinal direction by the mainly single-storey building. As the connecting element between the city of Tartu and its environs , the building spans a valley , crossing a small stream to form a bridge-like hall that can be divided up and reorganized as required.
The glass façade elements with their printed motifs are transparent from the inside , and as such form the backdrop for the exhibits while offering consciously staged views out onto the Estonian landscape. On the outside , they provide protection from the sun and lend the long and slender glass building the effect of a translucent yet opaque sculpture. To preserve the authentic character of the surroundings , the design largely leaves them untouched. Garages still existing at the site were integrated into the museum concept and transformed into shops , cafes and bars. Deeply cantilevered at its highest point , the slanted roof and two oblique facade elements form a chute-like entrance situation that exerts a very strong pull.
Thanks to its dramatic and historically evocative interpretation of the surroundings , the Estonian National Museum can be seen as a kind of sculpture that indirectly symbolizes the history of the nation and its independence in visual terms. Although Estonia regained its independence in 1991 , it has taken until today for the country's unique cultural history to be provided architectural expression – and thus the opportunity for reappraisal of the past in the form of this museum with its 140,000 or so exhibits.