Instead of planning an ordinary three-story apartment building according to the zoning plan, in the Tallinn suburb Tabasalu architects Oliver Alver and Egon Metusala convinced the real estate developer to build exciting modern wooden townhouses instead.

From the ordinary to the extraordinary – now three black wooden townhouses are perfectly in tune with the natural surroundings.

On a sunny day, the small Tammelehe cul-de-sac in the Tallinn suburb of Tabasalu looks like something that could be featured on the front page of the perfect residential area booklet. There you’ll find small houses with playgrounds and paths that will take you to a small, mysterious, ancient-looking park – it couldn’t be more charming.

The new black wooden townhouses shaped the landscape so harmoniously that it is inconceivable that just a few years ago the same location held nothing but wild bushes. prefab townhouses 1

That's why the birches look so thin, they got almost no sun”, explains architect Oliver Alver, pointing to the trees that grow between the houses. In the future, the preserved natural areas between the buildings will be the common property of the homeowners.

"The real estate developer initially requested parking spaces, but then we decided to keep the green area as there is plenty of parking on the street”, Oliver said.

Undeniably elegant, the green areas maintain a natural look, complimenting the black wooden exterior. Oliver also reveals the latest architectural trend: “black is now the most popular color in wooden buildings”. prefab townhouses 2

The color is trendy for a reason “black is simple and pure, and especially in these buildings both contrasts and harmonizes very well with the natural shades of the surrounding nature”, he added.

Surprisingly popular

The three townhouses are comprised of six L-shaped units, five of them planned with the traditional layout of three bedrooms, a hallway and a small bathroom on the second floor, with the kitchen, living room and terrace on the first floor. prefab townhouses 3

However, natural elements challenged Oliver to come up with an innovative solution in the very last unit.

The terrace would have been affected by the bright morning sun, so we decided to make a variation, a twist: move the terrace, living room and kitchen to the second floor at the front of the house and move the bedrooms downstairs", he explains.

In spite of the developer's hesitation about the novelty, it was well-received by buyers who absolutely loved the unexpected architectural twist to the property.

The unique sixth unit was so appreciated that it sold right away.

Homeowners can now enjoy their private terrace with all-day sunlight, with the indoor area subtly divided by large glass doors, creating an impression of a continuous outdoor-indoor living area. prefab townhouses 4

The blooming Estonian real estate market has also affected the construction processes of the buildings.

Instead of solid wood, wooden frames were used, "otherwise the building process would have taken far too long," Oliver explains. “A big plus with wooden frames is the speed of construction. The factory made the elements ready in January, and by spring the building process was continuing on site".

Love of the unusual

Building conceptual natural buildings doesn’t mean it comes without the benefits of modern living: all the units come with a ventilation system and heated floors, and in order to prevent the characteristic floor vibration of wooden structures, a layer of concrete was also added for privacy. prefab townhouses 5

"Hearing footsteps through the ceiling can be quite disturbing, that's why we decided to go for concrete floors", Oliver explains.
His passion for planning his signature wooden houses lies in his preference for keeping things natural.

Tammelehe townhouses have been tinted with natural wood preservation products, bringing out the beautiful grainy structure of the wood itself.

"I don't see any point in covering the wood with strong paint. The natural texture of the timber should be exposed”, he says.
A naturally treated wooden exterior, just like any natural material, requires maintenance, but even when neglected is capable of transforming itself into a beautiful reclaimed finish. With wood, there are no downsides.

Even though he chooses to cover all of the interior walls with plasterboard, how does the modern architect Oliver feel about using wood for interior walls? Although the older generations may still associate wooden shiplap with retro Soviet design, the younger generations don't hesitate using it.

"I don't see any problem here", says Oliver. prefab townhouses 6

Oliver explains that construction materials are highly influenced by tradition. 

Everybody uses common materials because it's easy and everybody knows how to build with them. Using materials that are not so common makes the building process a lot more complex".

He believes that using solid timber in buildings is a practice that is becoming more common all over the world, mainly for sustainability and energy-saving reasons.
Unusual projects like this make his ideas flow.

"I'm thankful to the real estate developer for providing me with such a unique opportunity. There could be more unusual wooden buildings in Estonia", says the architect, who is hoping to take up as his next project the planning of a log townhouse.

That is going to be an even bigger architectural challenge – to lose the traditional rural log house stigma and revamp it into a modern townhouse. It's going to be unique, and I predict a great acceptance of this concept”.

Real Estate Developer: Rolegur oü
Building Company: Production House OÜ OÜ
Architects: Oliver Alver, Egon Metusala
Interior Architecture: Kristi Lillepea
Contractor: Veiko Koppe
Article by: Kristel Trell
Photos by: Oliver Alver

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