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« Tuna 4 / 2018

On the Establishment of Estonia’s Monofunctional Workers’ Settlements from the Latter Half of the 1930s to the Early 1950s

Monofunctional workers’ settlements are a distinctive phenomenon of urbanisation, in which case a village or town is built to service a large industrial enterprise that is established in an area, which is either uninhabited or sparsely populated. The subsequent existence and development of the settlement also often depend on the dominant industrial enterprise. Unlike other settlements that have developed organically, so to speak, monofunctional settlements have not come into being with the function of a hub, rather they have been established with specific economic objectives. Numerous urbanistic anomalies of this kind have been established in Estonia from the 18th century to the 20th century.

The period under consideration includes the Second World War, which is the event that has torn apart the structure of Estonian society the most in the 20th century. Extensive war damages accompanied warfare, thereat most of the damages were suffered by industry. Estonia’s annexation by the Soviet Union thoroughly changed the mechanisms according to which the economy functioned: the introduction of a command economy and above all the subordination of the industrial sector to USSR-wide interests brought large-scale heavy industry to Estonia.

This article focuses on the establishment of Estonia’s monofunctional workers’ settlements from the latter half of the 1930s to the early 1950s, which can be considered the culmination of the prime of building monofunctional settlements that began in the 1920s. This era also coincides with Estonian society’s entry into the period of intensive industrialisation, which, with certain concessions, lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Considering Estonia’s social upheaval after the Second World War, there are at first glance grounds for presuming that structural conflicts can be found in the planning structure, architectural design and social practices of workers’ settlements in the period of Estonia’s independence as well as in the Stalinist era. This article is an attempt to describe this multifaceted phenomenon in the context of two irreconcilable social demarcation line in literature on the history of architecture that is drawn at the Second World War. Relying partially on previously undisclosed sources, the design and construction processes of two factory settlements – the peat industry settlements of Tootsi and Oru – are examined more closely.

Socio-economic utopias of economic prosperity and the maximum utilisation of local natural resources inspired the establishment of Tootsi and Oru, but also other Estonian monofunctional workers’ settlements designed and/or built in the 1930s to the 1950s. The prime period of the establishment and development of monofunctional settlements in the Republic of Estonia coincides with the period of rapid economic recovery and development, and also the vigorous spread of state capitalism starting in the mid-1930s. In the Soviet period, the establishment of new settlements and the expansion of previously established workers’ settlements took place primarily in the era of Stalinist dictatorship. The settlements built to support the functioning of industry established in uninhabited areas reflected rather similar planning and architectural ideas and approaches in several aspects in both the period of Estonian independence and over the course of the Stalinist decade that followed the war. At the same time, the annexation carried out by the Soviet Union and the momentous events caused by the Second World War affected the social practices of the detached monofunctional workers’ settlements less on average because industry had to function under every regime.