RIGA (LV) - Dispersed among several historical and near-derelict buildings around Riga, the National Library of Latvia has been in need of a new building for decades. Competitions were organized and decisions were made, yet nothing happened. When the borders of Latvia, at that time still a republic of the USSR, started to open up in the late 1990s and friends and relatives on either side of the Iron Curtain were reunited, the local architects' union invited its most famous 'son', Latvian-American architect Gunnar Birkerts, to draw up a design for the library – a symbolic building that would bring the nation out of the darkness.
Twenty years and several governments later, Birkerts' metaphorical vision of a Castle of Light does not look quite so appealing, and some even argue that there is no need for a library in a world ruled by Google and Facebook. Yet it is the most optimistic building site in Latvia, giving the severely hit economy a boost, and drawing new lines in the cityscape on the other side of the River Daugava. The grand opening of the library is planned for 2014, when Riga will be a European Capital of Culture.