Thousands attend National Library’s open house celebrations

In anticipation of the recently completed National Library building’s planned official inauguration at summer’s end (on August 29), an estimated ten-thousand visitors thronged in this weekend to view and admire the new facilities.  The four-day event, named „The Cascades” to mark the successive unveilings of each of the glimmering sharp-edged and smooth-faced edifice’s seven floors, was the first time the building was opened to the general public.

On the first day of the Cascades, an elevator malfunction trapped 21 people between the second and third floors for approximately half-an-hour. They were freed unharmed by fire and rescue workers only after a glass wall had to be shattered to access the shaft with a ladder and oxygen supplies pumped into the elevator. The incident did not affect attendance, however, and visitors generally expressed their enthusiasm for the event.

The final day was marked by a constant flow of families with children eager to visit the Children’s Literature Center.

Approved for commission by Riga’s municipal authorities on June 6, the National Library building is the culmination of architect Gunars Birkerts’ decades-long vision of a „Castle of Light” to crystalize and carry forward Latvia’s national-cultural identity and development aspirations.  Based on a folk legend derived from Latvia’s founding national literary traditions, the Castle of Light symbolizes the rising up of Bearslayer, the folk hero who plunges into the Daugava River while locked in eternal mortal combat with the Black Knight, in the role symbolic of the Latvian people’s historic foreign oppressors.

The adoption of Birkerts’ 25-year-old design sketch for the National Library building dates to the late 1990’s, when the National Library Support Foundation launched its Digital Library Project and the UNESCO General Assembly approved the grand construction proposal.  Political controversy over what were perceived to be incommensurate cost projections during times of economic crisis threatened the project during the following decade, and ground was not broken at the site until June of 2008 (though cleared for foundation-laying since 2004).  

The National Library Project has cost an estimated 268 million euros, of which construction costs comprised 198 million euros. It will cost approximately 3.9 million euros annually to maintain the National Library building, including 142,287 euros for the cleaning of the roof, windows and facades.

Despite findings by the State Audit office that the Ministry of Culture overpaid for the project, experts overwhelmingly agree that the National Library building is perhaps the most significant architectural achievement in the region. Together with its accompanying digital infrastructure intended to link all of Latvia’s public and academic libraries in a unified network, the National Library project is expected to stand as the nation’s proudest symbol when it celebrates its centennial of independence in 2018.    

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