Gunārs Birkerts, Architect of the World’s Largest Library, Dies Aged 92

Gunārs Birkerts, the prolific Latvian-American architect best known for designing the “Castle of Light”—the world’s largest library in Riga, Latvia—has died aged 92. The National Library, which was first conceived in 1988 and officially opened in 2014, has become among the most significant, and controversial, contemporary public buildings in Latvia.

Throughout his career, Birkerts completed a number of large-scale projects including the Corning Museum of Glass and the Corning Fire Station in Corning, New York; Marquette Plaza in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri; and the Embassy of the United States in Caracas, Venezuela.


The Latvian National Library (2014). © <a href=“https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Riga_Petrikirche_Blick_vom_Turm_zur_Nationalbibliothek.JPG”>Wikimedia user Zairon</a> licensed under <a href=“https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/“>CC BY 4.0</a>. Image Courtesy of Zairon

The Latvian National Library (2014). © <a href=“https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Riga_Petrikirche_Blick_vom_Turm_zur_Nationalbibliothek.JPG”>Wikimedia user Zairon</a> licensed under <a href=“https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/“>CC BY 4.0</a>. Image Courtesy of Zairon

Born on January 7, 1925, Birkerts studied at Riga Gymnasium before fleeing Latvia in 1943, from which he would later commence studies at Stuttgart Technical College. In 1949 he moved to the USA and was subsequently based in Detroit. Birkerts spent time in the offices of Perkins and Will, Eero Saarinen, and Minoru Yamasaki. He later maintained a practice in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

A comprehensive profile of Birkerts and the project of the Latvian National Library can be read on DesignCurial.

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