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Creating a Vision for the University of Latvia Botanic Garden

RIGA, LATVIA
3 October 2007

Julia Willison reports from a meeting in Riga, Latvia 

 Video interview with Latvia
botanic garden directors

For four intense days at the end of September, five architecture teams battled it out to produce a vision of how the University of Latvia Botanic Garden will look in the future. 

The teams, each with three participants, from Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Germany and Latvia consisted of architects, landscape architects and urban planners.  Their challenge was to create a visual proposal for the University of Latvia Botanic Garden, taking into account the garden’s activities in research, recreation, education and public awareness.

Competitions Rule

Day one of the workshop consisted of the competition brief. 

This involved presentations from a range of stakeholders: Anta Sparinska (Director of UL Botanic Garden), Gederts Ievins (Professor of Plant Biology), Maija Bundule (Lecturer from the Centre of Scientific Research), Maris Abele (Director of the Institute of Astronomy), Peteris Blums (specialist in wooden architecture), Mara Liepa-Zemesa (Town Planner) and two visiting experts, Dr Leif Schuman (Director of Helsinki Botanic Garden, Finland) and Julia Willison (Head of Education, BGCI). 

Following the presentations, the teams were taken on a tour of Riga city centre to gain an architectural and historical context, followed by a tour of the botanic garden where teams met with the various head of the garden sections.

During the afternoon of day two an open forum was held for the teams to meet the presenters from the previous day and ask them questions.  The teams then had until Sunday midday to work on their designs and submit them to a jury comprising 10 judges from a range of disciplines and institutions. 

Fast and Furious 

This type of competition is unusual in that it was run over a very short period of time – just four days.  Architectural teams throughout Europe were invited to enter the competition.  Five teams were selected and their expenses paid to attend the workshop.  Concise information about the project was given to the teams before they arrived in Riga. 

On the first day of the workshop they were given a briefing pack and listened to presentations from various stakeholders.   There was an open forum on the second day and the teams had access to key members of staff working in the botanic garden.  For the rest of the time, the teams developed their concepts and visual briefs which they submitted on the final day for judging.

Facing the Future 

Looking forward, the main tasks of the University of Latvia Botanic Garden are to:

  • accumulate, conserve and study the gene pool of local and foreign plants
  • set up displays and collections of plants as a basis for scientific research, public awareness, recreation and cultural events
  • ensure academic progress
  • engage in activities of public awareness and popular science
The results of this architectural competition will enable the University of Latvia to compile a portfolio of visual ideas that they can use to develop the garden’s future.   

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