A new concert hall for Riga, dark and sleek

  • 2006-08-09
  • By Paul Morton
RIGA - Even the grandest buildings in Riga 's think the House of the Blackheads or Mikhail Eisenstein's magnificent mini-mansions - are built on a small scale, which already makes the plans for the new national library, Gunars Birkerts' Castle of Light, intriguing. The building will appear like a small temple, irradiating light and knowledge on the left bank of the Daugava River opposite the city's Old Town.

Riga recently held a competition for the new concert hall, which will be located a few kilometers down the bank from the Castle of Light. Plans for the winning bid, Lineamentum, along with the runners-up are now on display at the Latvian Museum of Architecture.

"Our design is nationalist," says Andis Silis of Silis, Zabers and Klava, the architectural firm that designed it. Riga's scale has a particular look and he didn't want the Lineamentum to interrupt it.
Most of the competitors seemed to envision a single grand high-concept building. One giant multi-colored block, called the Grand Veranda, seemed like a less inspired version of the Castle of Light. Then there's the so-called Latvian Songbird, in which the concert hall is envisioned as a series of bizarre curves.

The design for Linea-mentum is, instead, a complex of small opaque buildings, no more than three or four stories high, which will separately house theaters and office spaces for the orchestra administrators. Silis says his design maintains the scale of Riga. At the same time, the skyline of the buildings in his complex fits, at least partly, with the skyline of Riga's older buildings.
He mentions, disapprovingly, a concert hall in Amsterdam in which the office space are housed in a building separate to the concert hall that clashes with the look of the complex.

Why did he give his building black walls?
"We wanted it to be different from the Castle of Light," says Silis. "In the context of the city landscape, it will appear in front of a lot of office buildings that are made of glass. We wanted it to be different."
There are practical reasons as well.
"It helps protect from the sun."

Silis says that he made the concert hall and office buildings in his complex look similar for a reason. "We don't want to see a concert hall like they have in Amsterdam, in which one part looks like a foyer and one part looks like an apartment building. We want it all together."
There will be three classical colors making up the interior: black, white and red. The red is a particularly important element. "It reflects the passion of music."

The red will appear on glass panes and will reflect the light more strongly. "We just haven't figured out the technology yet."
There are other things Silis' team hasn't figured out as well, and at the moment he is talking to theater consultants and others trying to figure out the acoustics of the hall. His team is now preparing for an even more public discussion of his planned design. And he has no idea when he'll be able to start building the thing. o

"The Concert Hall in Riga"
Latvia Museum of Architecture
Runs until Aug. 25
More info: www.archmuseum.lv