Contest underway for €30m modern art museum in Riga

A consultancy firm in the United Kingdom has been hired to find an architect to design a major new contemporary art museum in the Latvian capital.

The firm Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC), has been commissioned to run an "invited competition" to design a €30m Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art which will aim "to become the most visited art museum in the Baltic States, as well as a cultural and arts centre of interregional significance," MRC said in a press release.

"The museum building should become an architectural tour de force and one of Riga’s leading visitor attractions," the details of the commission say, suggestive of the familiar hope to repeat the success of the Bilbao Guggenheim.

MRC describes the process thus: "An invited – or two-stage - competition starts with a wide trawl for interest to establish a shortlist of five or six teams. In this way, basic competence and compatibility can be used to filter those unable or inappropriate to fulfil the competition, whilst letting real quality float to the surface."

"Most architects prefer the two-stage process because it limits the effort they need to make initially, and raises the odds of a win should they get onto the shortlist."

"It is a cost-effective method of developing an initial design concept and finding the right team. Furthermore, it is usually good value for money because the client can also use the buzz and creativity released by the competition to achieve other organisational goals – improve their public profile, help change management structures and habits, encourage their own team to think more creatively. It is terrific PR, often with international exposure," MRC says.

The process of finding an architect is likely to take six months, MRC chairman Malcolm Reading said and would involve “architects of international standing."

Latvian architects will be involved in drafting the competition offers, as well as in subsequent work with the winning team of architects, he said - which suggests no Latvians are likely to be among the actual headline contenders.

It is by no means the first time projects for a new contemporary art museum have been drawn up. Here is one concept from 2006 that was supposed to have been built and open by 2011 but which never got off the drawing board.

Interestingly, the new project is being financed by private rather than state money with the major contributions from the ABLV Charitable Foundation (linked to ABLV Bank) and the Ināra and Boriss Teterev Foundation, which regularly gives grants to arts projects.

According to the Inara and Boriss Teterev Foundation: "The establishment of the museum is a logical continuation of the work done to date in the field of Latvian culture and art by the founders of both foundations.

"Private initiative is hugely important to the development of society, and this step gives a powerful developmental impulse to Latvia’s arts processes, to strengthening the nation’s identity, tourism industry and the development of arts education, as well as the formation of an integrated cultural space in Riga."

The organizers promise to collaborate with the Ministry of Culture so that it will have the status of a "private accredited museum" but will be open to the public and located in a former railway works in the New Hanza City area of Riga, fairly near the existing Arena Riga sports and concert venue.

The organizers hope to have it open to the public on November 18, 2021.

You can read more about the promised project here.

So, who's your money on? Liebeskind, Hadid, Foster or Calatrava?

Whatever the result, the new museum will find itself competing - and hopefully collaborating - with Estonia's award-winning KUMU museum and Lithuania's CAC.

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