Occupation museum to be rebuilt for €5.2m

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After years of stalling and heated debate, Latvia's public property manager has inked an agreement for the reconstruction of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia and adding a memorial to the building, reported Latvian Radio May 29. 

In 2001, Gunārs Birkerts, the famed late architect and designer of the National Library of Latvia, gifted the museum with the so-called House of the Future project that would see a white annex added to the building, contrasting the allegedly bright future of Latvia with the black concrete building representing the past.

It would add more space to the museum for exhibitions, the museum collection and for the employees to work in. The current design is based on Birkerts' plans.

The annex will be built by Skonto būve, which is to rebuild the museum within 12 months for about €5.2 million.

Culture Minister Dace Melbārde, who attended the signing of the agreement, said that the project has taken too much time to get to this stage.

"But today we can say that the vicious circle has been broken...I hope the construction companies will approach this project diligently, because it has been stuck in bureaucratic hell for too long," she said.

Skonto Būve board member Juris Pētersons said it's possible construction will start as early as this June, and the white annex - a stark contrast to the imposing black structure that under Soviet occupation housed a museum commemorating the Red Latvian Riflemen - would be unveiled next summer. 

Birkerts' project was much contested. Last year, 20 well-known architects, lead by Zaiga Gaile, sent a letter to the Ministry of Culture among other institutions, urging to reconsider the current plans.

"Well, if the project is going ahead now, we should be glad that the location will be brought to order. That the big square facing River Daugava won't serve as a place for buses to make a U-turn...sure, it's obvious that the occupation museum really needs more space," said Gaile.

A second agreement was inked with the Taktila company for building a red wall that would serve as a memorial to victims of the Soviet occupation. It uses designs by artist Kristaps Ģelzis, architect Ilze Miķelsone and composer Voldemārs Johansons.

The occupation museum hopes it'll be able to relocate to the rebuilt premises in 2020. For the past six years, museum staff have been working inside temporary premises at a different location in central Rīga.

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