The World Federation of Free Latvians (PBLA) awarded the world famous and renowned Latvian architect Gunārs Birkerts a lifetime contribution award for his work popularizing the name Latvia in the world through his projects and buildings, significant to the world culturally and historically, including the Latvian National Library and the planned Future House project of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.
Birkerts was born on 17 January, 1925, in Riga, where he attended Riga’s 1st gymnasium. During the Second World War, in 1943, he was summoned for labour service and sent to Germany. He studied in Stuttgart Technical University, finishing in 1949. Afterwards he moved to the USA and started his career as an architect.
At the start of his career he worked with world famous architects such as Eero Saarinen (known for the St. Louis Gateway Arch) and Minoru Yamasaki (known for the original World Trade Centre). After gaining this experience he founded his own company near Detroit. He also worked as an architecture professor at the University of Michigan from 1959 to 1990. In his working life in the USA Birkerts designed many well-known buildings including the Corning Museum of Glass, the USA embassy building in Caracas, Venezuela, and the University of Michigan’s Law Library addition. To many Latvian Americans he is well-known for designing the Open-Air Church in the Latvian Centre Garezers.
His most prominent work in Latvia is the Latvian National Library known as the “Castle of Light”. The glass building with a transparent space at the top, stands as a source of hope and knowledge in the city’s skyline. The building symbolizes the Latvian folk fairy-tale of a castle of light that represents the height of wisdom, and a glass mountain with a princess sleeping at the top (a symbol of freedom). In 2017 the American Institute of Architects awarded Birkerts a “Library Building Award” for his Latvian National Library project, saying it was “a contemporary masterpiece of modernism” in which Birkerts “plays with metaphors, poetry and understating of his native Riga. The building is powerful, allegorical and has a special strength and conviction.”
Birkerts died on 15 August 2017, at 92 years old. His future project is the “Future House” extension of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, which will be built by the Daugava River, opposite the “Castle of Light”. With this award the PBLA hopes to gain more support for this project from the Latvian government and public, in order for the project to be accomplished during the celebration of Latvia’s Centenary.