The building of the National Library of Latvia is a landmark of the capital city of Riga, a spatial symbol and architectural icon, created by one of the 20th-century-renowned modernists – the Latvian-born American architect Gunnar Birkerts. His metaphorically saturated and expressionist architecture has established its permanent place in the history of contemporary architecture. The unique creative style of Birkerts stems from his deep cultural roots in Latvia, his architectural studies in Germany after World War II and the first years of architectural practice in the USA learning from the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen and the Japanese architect Minoru Yamasaki.
Birkerts was invited to Latvia to design the National Library as early as in 1988. Three years later, Latvia restored its independence and the formation of a new state delayed accomplishment of Bir-kerts’ ambitious idea for 25 years. The idea, the design and technology changed as changed the times becoming a symbol of a new and free state. Thanks to its content and concurrent processes for reestablishment of the national state the building acquired a symbolic and meaningful name: the 'Castle of Light'. In 1999, the idea for construction of the National Library of Latvia received the official UNESCO patronage and support, the design and construction of the building have been evaluated by a panel of prominent UNESCO experts.
The pyramidal structure, which rises 68 meters high, is a place of cognition equipped with state-of-the-art technology where up to 8 million units of national printed materials can be stored. It has been the most significant investment in cultural infrastructure since the establishment of the Latvian state and is one of the largest cultural buildings in Northern Europe in the 21st century. The library can serve simultaneously 1,000 visitors. A 400-seat concert hall /
auditorium and transformable meeting rooms of various sizes are suitable venues for conferences, congresses and concerts. Taking advantage of modern technology, the National Library of Latvia and nearly 900 other libraries in Latvia are interlinked within the Network of Light – a single network of digital resources available on the internet throughout the country which was set up with the support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Janis Dripe studied architecture at Riga Technical University. From 1990 to 1996 he taught at the faculty of architecture of Riga Technical University. From 1993 to 1995 he was minister of culture and from 1996 to 2006 the ambassador of Latvia in Sweden. Until recently he was chief architect of the city of Riga. Indrikis Sturma-nis has been a leading Latvian architectural photographer since the 1970s. He started his career as a press photographer and then turned to his present field of action.