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Competition: Riga Circus, Latvia

Riga Circus has launched an open international contest to restore its historic venue and remasterplan its surrounds in the heart of the Latvian capital (Deadline: 25 May)

Open to all architects, the competition seeks innovative proposals to restore and enhance the deteriorating landmark 1888 entertainment venue which occupies a prominent site within the historic city centre.

The domed Art Nouveau building was designed by Latvian architect Janis Fridrihs Baumanis, and is thought to be the oldest circus building in Europe.

Riga Circus, Latvia

Riga Circus, Latvia

Source: Image by Pirags

Riga Circus, Latvia

According to the brief: ‘The construction idea should include architectural and functional solutions for the renovation and expansion of the Riga Circus as well as masterplan development proposals and landscaping solutions for the territory …

‘The aim of the competition is to obtain a high-quality architectural solution, a functionally well-developed and economically justified sketch design that meets the requirements set out in the brief.’

The Riga Circus was created by German circus artist and director Albert Salamonsky, who had also created similar venues in Moscow and Odessa. The 1,700-capacity hall was the city’s first purpose-built entertainment facility and harnessed innovative construction techniques to create its iconic domed roof.

Following the Soviet invasion of the Baltic states during the Second World War, the circus was nationalised and remained under the supervision of the USSR Ministry of Culture Circus Department until 1991. Today the venue is supported by the Latvian Ministry of Culture and hosts regular performances every week.

Riga Circus, Latvia

Riga Circus, Latvia

Source: Image by Kleivas

Riga Circus, Latvia

Competition entries will be judged 40 per cent on architectural quality, 20 per cent on sustainability, 20 per cent on masterplanning, and 20 per cent on improvements to the surrounding context.

Judges include Janis Dripe from the Latvian Ministry of Culture, Juris Dambis of the State Heritage Protection Inspectorate, Tom Kokins from the Latvian Architects Union, and Riga Circus creative director Mārtiņš Ķibers.

The overall winner will receive a €15,000 prize while a second prize of €10,000 and third prize of €7,000 will also be awarded along with three additional prizes worth €1,000 each. The three top winners will then be invited to negotiate for the design contract.

How to apply


The registration deadline is 5pm local time on 25 May and submissions must be completed by 5pm local time on 4 June

Contact details

Dace Kalvāne
Rīgas Cirks
Merķeļa iela 4

Tel: +371 29480702
Email: ,

View the contract notice and visit the competition website for more information

Roundhouse case study: Q&A with John McAslan

The executive chairman of John McAslan + Partners discusses lessons learned restoring the iconic Roundhouse venue in Camden, north London

How did your project restore and enhance Camden’s historic Roundhouse?

When the roundhouse it was built in the 1860s, it was redundant within a decade because the technique of repairing railway engines changed, and then it had 100 years or so of partial use until it became a theatre in the 1960s, with people like Jimi Hendrix playing there. It worked within the shape of the building, showing a circular multi-columned building could work perfectly well in a new use. By the time it was purchased by our client he wanted to turn it into a place where young people could make music and theatre. He started with meanwhile uses and we were commissioned to create an environment for theatre and events.

Roundhouse by John McAslan + Partners

Roundhouse by John McAslan + Partners

Roundhouse by John McAslan + Partners

The rawness of the building was something we felt was important to hold on to. It had to work for many propositions, for example transferring 3,500 standing to seated accommodation or in-the-round performances. The building didn’t have any support space so the Louis Khan idea of served and servant was deployed, hold on to the drum as delicately adjusted as possible with a mezzanine, while opening up the vaults and adding a wing for the other accommodation. The idea of restoring the building allowed it to be fit for purpose for performance but the enhancement was the supporting wing, which housed the accommodation you couldn’t fit in the main building. That was the basic principle.

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

We stripped the original building back and expressed the rawness of the original brickwork, then repaired and patched the cast-iron columns; there was principally a concrete frame which married with the brickwork of the existing. The extension was like a curved industrial panel and louvre system which was quite raw and simple with low-cost finishes, and this helped with retaining and expressing the rawness of the original. We used a lot of very big physical models to explain the interventions, such as a 25-scale part drum of the original, the entrance void and the new part of the wing. We used these models to figure out how new and old could work together.

Roundhouse by John McAslan + Partners

Roundhouse by John McAslan + Partners

Roundhouse by John McAslan + Partners

What advice would you have to contest participants on restoring the Riga Circus?

You just want to get back to the original and let the original be itself. Keep it raw and authentic; that is what we did at the Roundhouse. Keep it simple and let the original shine through.

Roundhouse by John McAslan + Partners

Roundhouse by John McAslan + Partners

Roundhouse by John McAslan + Partners

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