National Library of Latvia
Architect: Gunnar Birkerts Architects
Associate architect: Gelzis-Smits/Arhetips
Owner: National Library of Latvia
Location: Riga, Latvia
Anchoring the “new” section of the 800-year-old city, the library is a major cultural center firmly rooted in the 21st century.
Latvian legend tells of the Castle of Light, which represents the height of wisdom, and the Glass Mountain, in which a damsel waited for a knight to save her. With its glass cladding and transparent lantern forming its apex, the new National Library of the Baltic nation evokes those legends while standing as a beacon on Riga’s skyline.
Founded in 1919, the National Library of Latvia has made use of some 30 buildings in its history. Prior to the completion of this project, its collections were spread across six separate buildings, including one repository. The new library, at nearly 600,000 square feet, represents the realization of a consolidation first proposed in the late 1920s.
Anchoring the “new” section of the 800-year-old city, the library is a major cultural center firmly rooted in the 21st century. Situated at the terminus of a bridge spanning the River Daugava, it was envisioned by the design team as a place to store, preserve, and make accessible the country’s cultural heritage. To that end, it is supported by state-of-the-art technology that allows for easy digitization and safe storage.
With the exception of the curtain wall, the library was largely constructed with local materials. Offices are arrayed along the south elevation and protected by sunscreens, while north-facing reading rooms are bathed in natural light.
The library’s form dovetails with functionality by accommodating the various collections areas. Presented in vertical arrays in appropriately sized spaces, they all connect to the central stack core. A full wall display of books donated by Latvians as a symbolic gesture soars through the atrium and teases the massive adjacent stack area. The atrium itself, with its central stair, provides connectivity to all the public levels and serves as a unifying element that illustrates the library’s logical organization and circulation.