The «Castle of Light» has lost its lustre

When it was officially opened in September 2014, Latvia's new national library building was a shining example of new architecture in the historic Riga skyline.

Though opinions on the aesthetic appeal of the building designed by architect Gunars Birkerts were divided (and remain so) from the start, at least people agreed on one thing - it merited its name as the "Castle of Light" in allusion to a Latvian folk tale.

Two years on, the "castle of grime" might be a more appropriate description as a thick layer of crud has accumulated on the hulking megastructure, which is now in desperate need of a mop and bucket of gigantic proportions, reported LTV's Rita Panorama morning news show Thursday.

The Ministry of Culture (KM) has just announced a tender in which the State expressed its willingness to pay for the building to be cleaned at a cost of up to €110,000 euros a time. The building was originally intended to be cleaned every six months.

The total area to be washed, including the roof and the windows, is around 20,000 square meters, which equates to an awful lot of chamois action. 

The irregular facade of the building complicates the task, requiring hydraulic lifts for the sides and daredevil climbers for the Alpine-style roof.

The Ministry said €110,000 euros is determined as the maximum amount, but expects to pay less as the contract will be awarded to whoever puts in the lowest bid.

Meanwhile, industrial mountaineering expert Janis Prižavoits, who himself has often been on the roof of the Castle of Light, estimates that cleaning costs will be high, up to €90,000 euros.

Frosted roof tiles and the particular type of treated glass used in construction of the triangular landmark further complicate matters, Prižavoits pointed out.

But his main concern is for safety, saying that no thought at all seems to have been given to how to clean the building during the design process.

"The building does not have proper safety measures in place to enable climbing. There are places where no thought has been given about it. Therefore, it is a somewhat complicated process to move around," said Prižavoits.

To accomplish this work within a month would require 10 to 15 qualified alpinists. Putting more people onto the roof would be impossible because of the weakness of mooring points available, he estimated. 

Even then there would be a danger that the mountaineers walking on the roof could cause damage, he admitted.

At the moment no one can say how soon it will be  before the Castle of Light will again be washed - the Ministry hopes it can be done every two years, but in the expert climber's view dirt will again be visible within six months even if special dirt-repelling chemicals are used.

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