New Urban Centre, RigaEdit profile
New Urban Centre, Riga, Latvia The design for a new urban centre in Riga, Latvia, won first prize in open international competition in 2007, and has subsequently been developed through close dialogue with Riga City Council and local stakeholders. The proposals redevelop a 46 hectare area on the left bank of the Daugava River adjacent to the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site on either side of one of the city’s main railway lines. The masterplan extends the city centre and lays the design foundations in the public realm for further expansion across more than 200 hectares. The climatically responsive designs include a new railway station, transport interchange and new public streets and squares, within which are designs for a new Riga City Council headquarters, accommodating 2300 employees in a 52,200sqm building alongside extensive new housing, retail, business and community facilities. At the competition stage a Public Administrative Complex was included in the brief, with five buildings totalling 100,000sqm for national government ministries and other state agencies. In development, this element of the brief has been substituted with a potential new urban campus for Latvian University, adding teaching, research and student facilities. The project spreads out on both sides of the main railway line that runs through the city towards the central station. The site is in a central location on the left bank of the river Daugava, immediately opposite the historic city centre, with good connections already in place and the opportunity for a new railway station to serve the immediate and wider area. Though well served by train and proposed strategic roads, there is a risk that the site will be locally disconnected by the same infrastructure that serves to connect it at a wider scale. The new proposals focus on creating strong and legible routes through the site along which the proposed new buildings are organised. In addition to the immediate site, the scheme establishes a structure for future development in the wider area. These proposals strengthen the existing urban structure while improving connections to the river edges and existing open spaces, in particular the adjacent Uzvaras Park. Landscape and memory The approach to the brief has been to propose a design rooted in place. The proposals engage with the cultural memory of the site and take inspiration from existing kitchen gardens with their low rise, fragmented forms to the south and remnants of rail tracks to the north. From this starting point, areas with different characters and identity are created, held together by the creation of key routes through the site. The newly created Museum Square becomes a focal point, positioned to the north of the site by decking over the new through road that would otherwise have isolated the project. It acts as an entrance, situated along the extension of the main Akmens Bridge and acting as a forecourt to the refurbished Railway Museum. From this square, historic railway tracks coincide with a new desire line between the City Council building and the new transport interchange. This route is designed as an enjoyable pedestrian esplanade with cafes, small shops and restaurants at ground level. It anchors built form and works as an important event space, suitable for temporary outdoor exhibitions, incorporating active rail tracks as well as those that are no longer in use. The brief for the Railway Museum called for an extensive private outdoor exhibition space. To avoid further fragmentation of the site, a compact museum area is created within the proposed grid. In addition to the private space, the esplanade can be used to temporarily exhibit historic railway carriages. The Station Square sits at a pivotal position in the public realm, providing a recognisable address for the surrounding buildings and the starting point of a second pedestrian armature that stretches towards the eastern side of the site. This armature becomes a legible connection between the different sides that are spatially disconnected by the railway embankment that bisects the site. It integrates the governmental and academic buildings on both sides into a coherent urban ensemble A new public building for Riga The relationship between civic activities and infrastructure determines and reinforces the overall design approach. The new Riga City Council building is therefore deliberately positioned in a pivotal position. A strong, unique and identifiable piece of architecture, it sits at the junction of the esplanade and the Museum Square, anchoring a new civic route and series of public spaces towards the transport interchange and beyond. Wrapped in surfaces of coloured and translucent concrete, the Riga City Council building defines the new character of the area. The roof surface folds over the building, parallel to the road. Over-scaled holes punch through to form windows, skylights and courtyards. By contrast, the east and west facades become lightweight elements of the building, allowing views and engagement to each side. The shape of the roof becomes a recognizable sign along an institutional path. It gathers the components of the design proposals together, allowing clusters of administrative and institutional activities, where public courtyards and private spaces shelter beneath one simple element. Sustainability strategies inform all aspects of the design. The building mass is broken into shallow fingers that allow for natural daylight and ventilation alongside flexibility of implementation and future change. The building serves as a demonstration of engagement with the community it serves and best practice in working environments. It brings together public servants who are currently scattered in more than thirty different buildings across the city into a modern new home. It balances symbolic representation with a modesty that shows careful regard for spending public money, particularly in challenging times. Eastern urban landscape Unlike the Riga City Council offices, accommodation to the eastern side of the site is not conceived as a single building but as a cluster of smaller entities. The nature of this area, now hosting university functions, allows for a more incremental and dispersed design approach in which activities could be accommodated in specific individual buildings with great flexibility for change and future growth.