Restoration and modernisation of the historic Great Guild building in Rīga’s Old Town will cost around 6.56 million euros, according to the State Real Estate (VNĪ) body overseeing the project, reported LSM’s Latvian language service February 24.
In a statement to the media, Jānis Ivanovskis-Pigits, a board member of VNĪ, said: “VNĪ believes that one of the oldest concert halls in Riga is currently in need of major investment, as no major improvements have been made to the building since the Soviet era. In accordance with the requirements of EU funding, the renovation of the building should be completed by the end of 2023.”
According to the timetable for the project, design work will begin this year, with two years planned for the completion of construction work: 2022 and 2023.
Improvements will include rebuilding the stage and back-stage areas, replacing audience seating, providing an appropriate location for sound and lighting technicians and upgrading the current ventilation and lighting systems. Among other upgrades, an elevator will provide access for people with reduced mobility and more convenient handling of bulky musical instruments and stage equipment.
The work to be done in the building is planned in close cooperation with the main user – the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra (LNSO), to which the Great Guild is home. But they are not the sole users and in the past the Great Guild has hosted numerous other events including a famous NATO summit in 2006 and a conference of the International Monetary Fund in 2012 .
It is planned that European Regional Development Funds will be used, via the Ministry of Culture. The large guild building was taken over by VNĪ in 2006. Some renovations have already been carried out to the facade, but the interior fabric of the building has attracted some criticism from concert-goers as being out-dated in some respects.
According to the LNSO website , the gothic-revival style building was designed by architects Karl Beine and Heinrich Shelle and built between 1854 and 1859, originally serving as a headquarters for Rīga’s brotherhood of merchants, with Saint Mary as its patroness (the Small Guild, on the other side of the street, was the craftsmen’s headquarters, warded by its patron Saint John).
The brotherhood, active from 1354 to 1939, gathered in the Muenster Hall. According to the Guild’s statutes, its purpose was ‘to encourage social activity, courteous co-existence, festivities, charity, and soulfulness’.
The exterior of the edifice has undergone several transformations: it was rebuilt in Baroque style in 1697, but the building was considerably expanded in the middle of the 19th century and decorated in the so-called Tudor Gothic style. In the early years of the Republic of Latvia, the Great Guild was used for the Riga Great Guild Society to serve cultural and social functions. A congress hall with an extravagant wooden interior was opened in the Great Guild building in 1936 but sadly the interior was badly damaged in a 1963 fire after which the most recent substantial renovation took place.