From its foundation in 1919 until 2014, when the move to the new building designed by Gunnar Birkerts took place, the National Library of Latvia never had its own home. The construction of this home had been planned since 1928, but for almost a century, the Library was forced to adapt to a range of architecturally diverse historical constructions – imposing bank buildings, apartment buildings, factories, cellars – a total of 38 addresses, none of them suitable for library operations. People moved from one place to another, but the collection was sorted and moved even more frequently.
Having to adapt to historic buildings is characteristic of the entire 20th century. When the Mežaparks neighbourhood was connected to Rīga's electrical grid at the beginning of the century, the local power station, now redundant, was rebuilt as a church. After the major agrarian reform of the 1920s, schools were opened in Latvia's manor houses; after the Second World War industrial infrastructure became available for new purposes. Despite all that, it is the new era which has turned out to be the worst, as thousands of historic buildings stand empty. The number of abandoned buildings in Rīga is growing rapidly – in the first quarter of 2019, the city listed 1290 buildings as uninhabitable. In this list, 616 structures are classified as degrading to the environment.
The exhibition introduces five historic buildings from which the library's collection and functions were transferred to the long-awaited new building in Pārdaugava. The buildings at Krišjāņa Barona iela 14 and 3, Anglikāņu iela 5, Jēkaba iela 6/8 and Tērbatas iela 75 stand out in architectural terms, but none of them had the capacity to control the effects of light, temperature and humidity on the collection. Ceilings and partitions were erected in all these premises, shelves and filing cabinets set up. The relationships between building and function were not straightforward, because the architectural elements themselves also suffered from overloading and overcrowding.
Venue: Exhibition Hall I, Level 1
The exhibition may be visited during NLL OPENING HOURS in the Level 1 Exhibition Hall. Access may be restricted temporarily during library and partner events, lectures and seminars. We apologise for the inconvenience and invite you to visit the other NLL spring and summer season exhibitions.
Curator and text author:
National Library of Latvia history researcher and text author: