Part 16 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month
One of the first women to practice architecture in Estonia, Valve Pormeister (1922-2002) gained wide recognition for her ecological approach to Nordic Modernism. After first studying landscape architecture at Tartu University and the Estonian State Art Museum, and briefly working in landscape design, she heeded the state’s need for greater numbers of architects in the post-Stalinist era and started designing buildings. Her earliest significant work was completed for the Estonian Agricultural Project (Eesti Põllumajandusprojekt), a state design institute, in rural areas. Pormeister’s first project was a segue way between her professions: an exhibition building in Tallinn called the Flower Pavilion (1960). Modernist in spirit, it was amenable to the rolling landscape in its tiered form stepping up the hill and use of natural materials like local stone. Potentially inspired by Finnish modernism, it led to similar garden pavilions, and then to bigger projects still tied to the earth in functional, as well as formal, ways, each of which tended toward accommodating both modernist and regionalist tendencies: a Botanic Garden (Talinn, 1963), the Kurtna Poultry Farm (1966, above), Estonian Research and Land Reclamation Research Institute pavilion (Saku, 1969), Plant Protection Center (Saku, 1975), a State Farm Technical School (Jäneda, 1975), breeding and veterinary buildings for livestock (Saku, 1977), a state farm canteen (Audru, 1978), the Institute of Cattle Breeding and Veterinary Science (near Tartu, 1984) and an addition for the Estonian Academy of Agriculture (Tartu, 1984).
Pormeister’s talents in architectural and landscape design were recognized through several state awards presented by Estonia and the Soviet SSR. On the occasion of her 50th birthday in 1972, she became the first architect in Soviet Estonia to hold a personal exhibition that, housed in the Flower Pavilion, which was complimented by a flower exhibition of her own design. Her work has been the object of great interest in the preservation movement of modernist architecture; two of her works have been listed as national monuments (the Flower Pavilion in 1997 and the Poultry Farm building and landscape in 2001).