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VNĪ: revitalisation is complex and challenging, but there is space for sustainable solutions


Revitalising deteriorated spaces is a complex and very challenging task, but its results are very inspiring. It enables the return of renovated areas to public use, with interactions between historical heritage and modern, sustainable solutions. According to VNĪ board member Jeļena Gavrilova, the company is currently working on the restoration of a number of degraded sites, with a total budget earmarked for this exceeding ten million euros.

 ‘From the point of view of sustainability, the best building is the one you haven’t built, so whenever we bring deteriorated sites back to the community, we must preserve and restore as much of the existing structures as possible. Their renovation is very challenging, though, as the actual scope and complexity of the task reveals itself only once the construction has started, and it’s very difficult to predict the date on which these projects will actually be completed,’ VNĪ board member explained.

Preliminary surveys and inspections are critical in revitalisation projects, but even these measures never detect all the problems that designers and builders have to face during the renovation. Although VNĪ sets stricter requirements for the preliminary surveying of buildings than what the construction standard for technical inspection calls for, the actual condition of the buildings can only be determined during the dismantling and reconstruction itself. For example, a survey showed that the building for the upcoming Makerspace Riga had a mixed brick and dolomite foundation; it has actually turned out, however, that a large part of the foundation consists of dolomite masonry. This means re-planning the measures for strengthening and waterproofing the foundation and spending more resources and time.

Foundations can cause the biggest concerns, as they are often found to be much weaker than the surveys conclude, requiring significant changes to the renovation designs. Another typical problem encountered during reconstructions is the compatibility of old and new utility lines. However, in these cases, modern building modelling technologies make it easier to predict potential problems. Because general inspections and surveys of buildings intended for renovation do not reveal the exact composition of the existing building structures though, they are of little use in determining how durable the structures to be kept are.

‘Interestingly, whenever we work with buildings in a relatively poor technical condition, we can assess how well these properties were maintained in the past. If a building has been well-maintained, it is easier for us to restore it for public use, even if it has stood empty for a long time. Here we can clearly see the importance of regular technical inspections, making it possible to detect early what parts and systems of the building are more exposed to deterioration,’ Gavrilova explained.

In its pursuit of sustainable construction practice, VNĪ looks more and more for opportunities for reusing dismantled materials in its projects. For example, in the historic quarter at Miera iela 58A where the construction of the TAB FAB education, culture, and creative industry centre is taking place, it was originally planned to line the façade of the the Creative Industries Business Incubator (CIBI) building with bricks from dismantled structures. Their condition was not good enough, so the façade is now being built using the cobblestones removed on the grounds. This will not only preserve the historical quality of this space, but also give the TAB FAB quarter a unique and attractive visual identity.

‘Given the many “unknowns” that we discover rebuilding historic buildings, the process has to be approached creatively, making the most of the existing materials, revealing previously hidden textures, and using them in unorthodox ways. The Soviet-era silicate brickwork and the reinforced concrete panel slabs we uncovered inside the Cinema School are witnesses of their time and offer a visual story of historical succession. The CIBI building has a different story: its façade will be built using the recycled cobblestone left over from the reconstruction of a nearby road. By complementing the historic structure with exposed modern ones we improve and highlight the attractive features of both,’ architect Uldis Lukševics, head of architectural firm NRJA, explained.

The former tobacco factory quarter has a well-preserved historic industrial space, its old buildings are protected national heritage sites, even though some time ago, it was considered to be one of the most deteriorated areas in Riga. Years of work have been invested in revitalising the quarter and making it available to the public. The construction of the concrete walls and steel structures of the National Film School’s shooting set space have already been completed. A number of construction tasks have been done renovating and improving the structures of the future building of the National Film School, which includes laying the masonry of the partition walls, with ongoing work in the basement, on the façade finish, and the installation of the windows. The construction of the outdoor utility lines has begun, with the installation of the heating system starting soon.

Like TAB FAB, the Riga Makerspace prototyping workshop compound is a clear example of how deteriorated areas can become creative, innovative, educational spaces. Six modern prototyping workshops, located in the building of the former Riga Consumer Industry Technical School, will help students of the Riga School of Art and Design and the Art Academy of Latvia learn practical skills. The list of tasks completed as part of the project is impressive, including the installation of utility systems and various construction activities aimed at creating a high-quality and state-of-the-art infrastructure. The bricks dismantled in this project are recycled to repair masonry in some locations.

You can find the photo gallery here.

About the TAB FAB education, culture, and creative industry centre

The purpose of the TAB FAB education, culture, and creative industry centre is to develop a modern and inviting urban space in the quarter of a former tobacco factory in the Miera Street neighbourhood, and provide a place for creative industries where people can learn and work, developing and implementing their ideas. The first stage of the project is to include the reconstruction of the buildings and the adaptation of premises for the study process needs of the Latvian Academy of Culture, including the National Film School and the creative industry business incubator. Study premises for the Latvian Academy of Culture will continue to be built during the second stage of the project. The project has raised 5.1 million euros (without VAT) in ERDF funding. The total cost of the construction is 5.6 million euros (including VAT). SIA Marels Būve, in conjunction with the NRJA architectural firm and the Latvian Academy of Culture, performs the construction. The completion of the project is expected in early 2024.

About Riga Makerspace

The Riga Makerspace prototyping workshop compound is being constructed in the building of Riga Consumer Industry Technical School, at A. Briāna iela 13. Following the vision of the Krasts architectural firm, the project will encompass the renovation of 1,500 m2 of public space in Riga, with the construction and renovation of 3,600 m2 public building area. The project includes the renovation of the building of the technical school, the insulation of the attic floor, basement floor, semi-basement, roof and a section of the terrace base, the replacement of doors and windows, the rebuilding of existing utility lines and construction of new ones, and the construction of a new building. The construction, revitalisation, and energy efficiency improvement are conducted by the general partnership P un S Būvniecība. The total cost of the construction is 9.4 million euros (including VAT). For the development of the Riga Makerspace prototyping workshop, the Ministry of Culture has raised funding through the Growth and Employment European Union fund activity programme and through the national budget (including the COVID-19 funding intended to stimulate the economy through investment in construction) . The completion of the project is expected in 2024.

VNĪ currently successfully works on the implementation of 44 national-scale projects, 24 of which are in the stage of construction. The total implementation budget of the projects exceeds EUR 336 million. VNĪ provides professional real estate management and administration for 365 building and structure properties, comprising 1100 buildings with a total area of 0.95 million square metres, as well as land beneath structures with a total area of 607 hectares, and 3536 land properties with a total area of 907 hectares. SRE is one of 23 Latvian companies that received the highest platinum award in the Sustainability Index evaluation of the Institute for Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, demonstrating good governance and sustainability of its operations. The company was founded in 1996 and the Ministry of Finance is its sole shareholder.