Walking the streets of Riga you don’t really want to get inside, because of the beautiful city architecture, cosy outdoor cafes and the general feel of relaxation and tranquility. When you stroll around the ring of city’s boulevards and see one of the most important landmarks – Latvian National Museum of Art, we urge you to come in.

When visiting, you not only notice the delicate balance between the old and new architecture, but also the main task of the museum “to create a visually emotional message about the development of Latvian art and its social, geopolitical and historical contexts from the end of the 18th to the end of the 20th century” – as said by Mara Lace, Director of the Latvian National Museum of Art. In other words, you will effortlessly learn the history of Latvia and will be amazed by the masterpieces of Baltic art that are worth learning more about.

Photo © Norbert Tukaj
Photo © Norbert Tukaj

The history of the building, designed in 1905 by architect Wilhelm Neumann, is quite intriguing, since international competitions for the museum construction were held in 1876, 1896, 1897. Every time there was a winner, but the development never took off. Finally, in 1901 a project for the building in the central Esplanade park was entrusted to the future director of the museum Wilhelm Neumann. “The result is the majestic Neo-Baroque edifice that, with its elements of classicism, late renaissance and Art Nouveau, corresponds with the early 20th century European tendencies in European museum building” – says Janis Dripe, architect, former ambassador and Minister of Culture.

Today, when you walk up to the museum, nothing in the building gives out the fact that it was recently renovated. The two floors that house the permanent display have fully retained their historical layout. The careful and historically based work of the modern architects allows you to enjoy the vision of Wilhelm Neumann in its glory. The central vestibule with its staircase uniting two levels, the details and glitter of the gilding, the forged Art Nouveau railings and lamps make it difficult to imagine that in the end you might find yourself in an ultra-modern simple white space that underlines the cutting-edge ideas of the architects.

The restoration designers Processoffice and Andrius Skiezgelas Architecture, lead by architects Vytautas Biekša, Rokas Kilciauskas, Marius Kanevicius, Andrius Skiezgelas, based their project on four pillars: preservation of the overall appearance and authentic details of the existing museum building; clearly expressed language of contemporary architecture and design for the ground floor, the roof space and the underground level; full and modern technical provision of the museum functions based on aesthetically balanced solutions; organic integration of new spaces.

The only way to see that the museum was renovated from the outside is to take a glimpse into the lower level of the museum through transparent glass from on the street. There, you can see offices and the temporary exhibition space. When you get inside and pass two main floors with the permanent collection, follow the gold tonality of metal, presented throughout the building. This way you will find the stairs that join the original building and the new underground extension. The lifts that take you to the roof exhibition floor are also golden, so you would not miss the moment when you get from the "past" into the modern museum of today.

“The public area with its combination of ramps and stairs, the glazing of the overhead lighting and the large space as well as the glass frame of the artwork storage area turns a visit to this underground accommodation into a positive emotional experience that will be enriched by viewing a concrete art exhibition. The stylistics of 21st century architecture unite the new, publicly accessible exhibition rooms on the roof floor. A functionally justified emotional surprise on the roof floor is provided by two wide publicly accessible outdoor terraces. They are located between the crowning cupola of the central block and the roof constructions of the end blocks, giving a marvelous view of the Esplanade and the buildings of the Riga city centre” – Janis Dripe.

“Today, the museum finds itself in a time of dynamic changes. Changes in the infrastructure and a new approach to museum displays and working with the public, the Latvian National Museum of Art consolidates further its place in Latvia’s cultural processes as a cultural institution of national importance. As the museum becomes a place for the most diverse activities, it satisfies the desire of visitors to acquire information and knowledge as well as being an enjoyable way to spend time. In accordance with its mission, the Latvian National Museum of Art offers visitors a permanent display dedicated to the history of art in Latvia” – Mara Lace. We were amazed not only by the collection, but also by the respectful architectural restoration that makes us want to come back to the museum for inspiration and another lesson of humbleness that amazing architects demonstrated in their respect for the original museum creator.

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