The Kumu Art Museum (Kumu) is a structure with symbolic meaning: it is the fulfilment of Estonians’ dream of having their own art museum. The Kumu building has a round floor plan and this has been sensitively reconciled with a complicated environment. Since its completion, it has received unanimous accolades.
The 25,000-m2 museum has an atrium that rises up through the building and seven floors, of which two are underground. The museum can accommodate more than 400 visitors at a time.
The repositories are located on the underground floors of the building, where the majority of the Art Museum of Estonia’s 60,000 exhibits are stored. Art is displayed on the three above-ground floors. Approximately a thousand works of art can be displayed on each floor.
The author of the architectural project for the Kumu building is the Finnish architect Pekka Juhani Vapaavuori (b. 1962), who won the international architectural competition held in 1993–1994 with his project “Circulos”.
The project was chosen unanimously by the international panel from the 233 projects submitted by architects from ten different countries. Along with a spacious atrium, Vapaavuori gave the building a circular shape, which alludes to the name of this project. The building is successfully positioned in the limestone slope of Lasnamäe Hill, and therefore, despite its size, is in harmony with the intimacy of the ancient Kadriorg Park. The repositories and technical floors are located on two floors below ground. The architect used such materials as dolomite, wood and copper, which are related to local natural traditions. Technically, the building conforms to all the requirements of a modern museum building. In the building, optimal climatic conditions for the conservation and exposition of works of art are ensured, and good preconditions have been created for the functioning of the museum’s various structural units.
Kumu’s architecture has three meanings, which are not only important for the museum, but also for the shaping of the environment by appreciating and being responsive to it. Firstly, during the time of Peter the Great, the park was not completed. It was supposed to have ended at the place where Kumu is now located. This was the border of the city – of one cultural area. As a sign within a larger structure, the choice of the location is extremely important, because in its second meaning, Kumu does not end something, but rather continues and connects the old developed city with a new area. Thirdly, Kumu’s architectural form is timeless. A sphere, a curved figure is always connected with eternity, with something that has irresistible force. A circle gathers and radiates energy, and it was due to the architect’s talent that a museum building that has greater meaning than just being a modern or contemporary structure was designed. The building’s architecture provides an extremely balanced exterior form and interior design.