Rotermann Quarter: Old is New in Tallinn


Our love affair with historical architecture began in New Orleans, Louisiana. We lived in a classic, hundred-year old shotgun house, and each day walked through the Garden District to St. Charles Avenue to catch the streetcar. With daily exposure to these architectural gems, as well as the very different but equally attractive French Quarter, an appreciation for historical buildings seeped into our psyches, and remains to this day.

Years of moving, traveling, and living in cities, large and small, also instilled an interest in the part that historical structures play in urban renewal.

Carpenter's workshop 2

So when we travel, whether domestically or abroad, we always search out restored historic districts. And in Tallinn, Estonia, this was the Rotermann Quarter.


The primary tourist destination in Tallinn is the meticulously restored and beautiful, Medieval Old Town. However, in Tallinn’s past, the central part of the city had old industrial buildings that were neither restored nor beautiful, and the Rotermann Complex was one of them.

In the 19th Century tale that’s been repeated time and again, Christian Rotermann established a very successful business between the city center and harbor. The large complex manufactured many things, but primarily was a flour and saw mill. Eventually the business faded, and like many old industrial complexes around the world, the large, brick structures were abandoned and became a blight in central Tallinn.


But in the Post-Soviet period, a group of visionary investors saw an opportunity to transform the property into a modern, unique facility to enhance the cityscape.

Shop window

So with a mix of renovation, selective demolition, and commercial development, the site is now a wonderful addition to Tallinn’s character. Today, the mixed-use facility contains condos, offices, restaurants, and upscale clothing and gourmet shops.

Rusty top building

One interesting aspect of the Rotermann renovation is the architects’ methods of preserving the old, and using it as a foundation for the new. These novel additions not only improve the function, but make unique, eye-catching buildings.

Rusty building

This unusual building has an exterior that is designed to rust, and what a nice … well … rusty color.

There’s no doubt that sometimes, demolition and replacement are the only feasible options. However, projects like the Rotermann Quarter showcase innovative alternatives that work,  giving future generations an appreciation for the past as well as the future.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

Carpenter's workshop


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

19 thoughts

    1. Anne, I loved the look this development. It was impressive how many of the old buildings they used and the innovative new builds on top. Very different and an excellent example of re-purposing. ~James

  1. Some beautiful buildings there. I don’t personally like the rust effect – it’s being utilised in some of the new buildings that have been constructed post- earthquake here in Christchurch and it is yet to win me over. I’d be intrigued to see how I felt about it if I came across it in a different city.

    1. Fi, I can believe the rust-look takes some getting used to. Any maintenance person in the world knows that when it comes to buildings, rust is bad. So it really is a counterintuitive finish for a building. But this building in Tallinn really is striking. ~James

    1. Peggy, not all of the old buildings have been renovated, so it’s easy to imagine what an eyesore they were before. The Rotermann Quarter is just outside the old historic area, so the new development must be a huge improvement for the cityscape. ~James

  2. If it possible my grandfather drove some of those streetcars you rode! On my desk is a token from the New Orleans Public Service – on the back it says Safe Convenient Transportation, it’s most likely from after they changed to buses. But, anyhow, what a rebuild! The rusty facade, I could probably learn to lived with, but that orange!! Eye catching if nothing else. The fact they can build on top of the existing structures says a lot about how well they were constructed to begin with.

    1. Laura, we absolutely loved the streetcar in NOLA and used them constantly. We lived there for two years, and I don’t think we drove our car to the French Quarter even one time. Also, one of the reasons the Rotermann project’s re-use is such a good idea is that, thanks to their solid construction, these old buildings are so hard to tear down. ~James

  3. Designed to rust? Well that is a very creative way to not fight the elements isn’t it. I do love the unique style very much.
    Now I have to ask, what is a 100 year old shotgun?

    1. Sue, thanks for catching something that I should have said in the post, and for the reminder that we have international readers that don’t necessarily know American slang. Used in this post, a shotgun is a type of house popular in the deep south, particularly in New Orleans. It’s one room wide, four rooms deep, built with one room behind the other. Not sure of the origin, but the popular explanation is that you could fire a shotgun through the front door and the blast would go straight out the back door without hitting anything. Like our house, lots of the shotguns in NOLA are duplexes. BTW, I corrected the post. 🙂 ~James

  4. I must say the urban renewal project at the Rotermann Quarter seems quite successful in combining old and new, ugly and pretty. The result is one revived quarter where people can find inspiration from, I suppose. I quite like that rusty building, also the one in the last photo.

    1. Bama, projects like Rotermann are only win-win. Any project that encourages people to live, work, and socialize in the city center helps to keep the town alive and vibrant. In addition, this project turned an eyesore into an interesting group of buildings. ~James

  5. I truly love walking into a city that has old architecture intact. But this stuff here works very well, and I do like it. I have a friend who lives in Minnesota, so I actually knew what a 100-year-old shotgun was!!

    1. BF, I enjoyed the Rotermann Quarter because it was a new, interesting twist on an old idea. In my experience, Europeans are much more likely than Americans to step outside the box when it comes to renovation, and this is a great example. ~James

      1. Yeah, I saw a “new” canal house in Amsterdam…that I would like anywhere else than in Amsterdam. But the more I see it (I go back often), the more I like it even in Amsterdam. Keith

    1. Thanks Susan. I think our favorite buildings were those where modern elements had been added on to existing buildings. Such a creative rejuvenation of a once derelict area. ~Terri

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