How can the incorporation of circularity, ecology, sustainable development and community engagement, allow us to transform a neglected Estonian micro-district into the first European Eco-City? If you imagine a typical Estonian city you’re most likely picturing a hub for business, foreign investment and technological innovation. And in most parts, you’d be right. Estonia’s approach to consolidating its digital infrastructure has given the country a truly competitive edge, making it a prime example of a fully digitized government.


This small baltic powerhouse with its vibrant tech sector has entered the top lists of countries to be home to one of the world’s most advanced intelligent cities, Tallinn.

However, that’s not all there is to the Republic of Estonia, as it’s also the center of a major paradox. With over 50% of the country covered by forest and agriculture, Estonia is one of the most resource-intensive countries in the EU and yet when it comes to its resource efficiency, not only does it rank last amongst all 28 European Member States, but its respective index score is 0 (D. Beckers, “Eco-innovation in Estonia”, 2019).

This practically means that its material, water and energy productivity are basically non-existent.

For this reason, it’s no accident that a strong political and economic interest in eco-innovation and circular economy has emerged in Estonia and as it turns out, there’s one unlikely place that has the potential to lead this transformation.

mact micro district

Micro-districts are an urban development model of the Soviet Union, where all the services were planned in order to create compact residential communities. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lasnamäe remained unfinished, leaving the area with a high deficit of these services. 

Today, it’s a place stuck in the past and Estonians are looking for ways to push it into the future.

This of course is no easy task. Aside from the harsh Estonian cold weather, the micro-district of Lasnamäe’s 150.000 inhabitants make up 31% of the total number of unemployed people in Tallinn. Its buildings are dispersed at a low density, making it difficult for pedestrians to move around and their current conditions are not only unfit for purpose but they are also out of human scale.

It’s a car-born city in need of an identity.

But what if there was a way to reimagine this city through circularity and community engagement and bring back a sense of belonging to Lasnamäe?

With this question in mind, IAAC’s Master in City & Technology and Foster + Partners Urban Design Group created a series of proposals on how to bring novel approaches to multi-functional and sustainable living in the micro-district of Lasnamäe. The Foster + Partners team was led by Andy Bow, Bruno Moser and Laura Narvaez Zertuche.

With combined expertise in research, urban design and data science the MaCT’s 25 international master’s students were put to the task of re-imagining the future of Lasnamäe by:

  1. Enhancing the district’s biodiversity through reforestation and the creation of green corridors filled with local vegetation
  2. Maximizing its resource efficiency by producing food locally, capturing water, generating energy and reusing waste.
  3. Engaging with the local community by including citizens in the transformation process and equipping them with the resources to be fully self-sufficient.
  4. Introducing new modes of shared mobility that increase accessibility and bridge the divisive gap of the existing highways.
  5. Retrofitting old infrastructure, recovering the public spaces and transforming the ground floors.

This incorporation of circularity, ecology, sustainable development and community engagement, allowed us to transform Lasnamäe into a place to work, live, play and study, and to create a 30-year vision of the first European eco-city.

Here is the work they developed:

Multifunctional Hub

Site: Mustakivi

Multifunctional Hub is a project that aim to propose a new regeneration model in the district of Lasnamäe in Tallinn. Starting from the challenges, our main goal is to include people in the design process, so that we can have a dynamic, adaptable and multifunctional neighborhood.  The participatory model will enable physical interventions with functions in relation to people’s needs and on different scales.

Visit IAAC Blog for the full documentation.

  • Project Name: Multifuncional Hub
  • Students: Diana Roussi, Kevin Aragon, Kshama Patil, Nadh Ha Naseer, Simone Grasso

Educational Hubs // From Social Capital to Spatial Capital

Site: Seli

Educational Hubs project is an action and transition plan in Seli, one of the 12 micro-regions within Lasnamäe district, in the city of Tallinn (Estonia). Our proposal aims to understand the potential of the social capital in our site, Seli, to empower a new transition culminated with the physical renovation of the existing urban fabric in the area.

Visit IAAC Blog for the full documentation.

  • Project Name: Educational Hubs // From Social Capital to Spatial Capital
  • Students: Alvaro Cerezo, Juan Pablo Pintado, Laura Guimarães & Matteo Murat

Labsnamäe // The Building of a promise

Site: Kuristiku

Labsnamae is promoting a new urban model in the district of Lasnamäe in Tallinn. The goal is to use our micro-rayon Kuristiku, as a pilot project to experiment in order to create a new economic model to fight segregation in Tallinn. We are proposing a design strategy based on circularity to create a new economy and urban model for Lasnamäe.

Visit IAAC Blog for the full documentation.

  • Project Name: Labsnamäe // The Building of a promise
  • Students: Adriana Aguirre Such, Iñigo Esteban Marina, Marta Maria Galdys, Sinay Co?kun and Stefania-Maria Kousoula

The one-minute rayon

Site: Laagna

The one-minute rayon reimagines post-soviet urban design and planning through tactics of circularity and community engagement. The proposal aims at bringing back a sense of place and belonging to a forgotten district in Tallinn, with a focus on micro economy as a tool to re-energize and activate the local community.

Visit IAAC Blog for the full documentation.

  • Project Name: The one-minute rayon
  • Students: Arina Novikova, Hebah Qatanany, Leyla Saadi

Are you interested in taking part in this research? Don’t miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study the future of cities in Barcelona, the birthplace of urbanism!

Applications 2022/23 are open until the 31st of May!
Find out more about the Master in City & Technology: