Ropax Ferry Terminal Competition in Riga



1st Place: Zaha Hadid Architects – night view from river – Render by Negativ


Arriving to board a ferry boat or cruise ship used to be a rather mundane experience. If you had luggage, you might be able to drop it off upon boarding, assuming that the boarding operation was sophisticated enough. In any case, the arrival experience was nothing to look forward to. I recall boarding the SS United States for a trip to Europe in the late 1950s. Arriving at the pier in New York, the only thought any traveler had was to board that ocean liner as soon as possible, find one’s cabin, and start exploring. If  you were in New York City and arriving early, a nearby restaurant or cafe would be your best bet while passing time before boarding. 


   With travel aboard transatlantic liners now a distant memory, cruise ships, some having the appearance of enormous floating hotels. are the current vacation experience for many. And they are not just docking at major ports on the world’s largest bodies of waters. Increasingly, they are becoming omnipresent at the ports along the Mediterranean as well as along Baltic coastal routes, where they can be seen along the coasts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany and the Baltic countries. Located on the Baltic Sea between Estonia to the north and Lithuania to its south, Latvia’s capital and port city, Riga, has sent a signal that it wants to capitalize on this phenomenon, and upgrade a terminal experience for the purpose of  accommodating those cruise ships.


   The first step toward establishing a more tourist friendly presence and simultaneously upgrading the area along that section of the city’s riverfront was to stage a design competition. International design competitions were nothing new for Riga, having staged a competition for the revitalization of the city’s Rail Terminal in 2016. The focus in this case is the repurposing of an existing shipping warehouse into a new 20,000 m2 ferry and cruise ship terminal. Because this is a reinforced concrete structure, it would place certain limitations on interior design, taking passengers on a linear journey to their destination. At the moment, the outside adjoining area has been used for container storage. That is all to change, for those participating in the competition were asked to design the entire area around the building and adjoining riverfront. Finally, the site would be converted to serve as a “multi-modal transport hub,” assuming this building would also serve a multiplicity of functions for the community—beyond its passenger processing requirements.


The Competition
    The competition itself was announced as a sketch competition. Because a cruise terminal was the main subject of the competition, the client was looking for firms that could document a history of at least one similar project from the previous five years. Before a RfQ was released, three firms were invited, each of which was to receive €10,000 for participating. They were:
Berenblum Busch Architects, Miami, Florida
Osaühing R-Konsult, Tallinn, Estonia 
• ALA Architects, Helsinki, Finland


In response to the RfQ, seven additional firms were added via a shortlisting process.
• Zaha Hadid architects, United Kingdom
• The Manser Practice, United Kingdom, in cooperation with Lelde Bergmane and SIA ”ārt.elpa”, Latvia
• Association of persons SIA “AB3D”, SIA “Grupa93”, SIA “Veido vidi” and SIA “BRD projekts”, Latvia
• Association of persons “CMB&WMA JV”, wich consists of SIA “CMB”, Latvia and SIA “William Matthews Associates”, United Kingdom
• Gerber Architekten International GmbH, Dortmund, Germany
• UAB Cloud architektai, Vilnius, Lithuania
• Vectorprojects Kenya, Kenya


Evaluation Criteria
   Aside from the compensation received by the the invited firms, the client set aside 35,000 Euros as prize money to be distributed to the top three premiated designs. To evaluate the designs, the following were suggested as ranking guidelines to the jury:
• The layout of the territory of the Competition Object, taking into account the organization of transport flows, including a traffic circle solution and organization of passenger flows (from 0 to 30%)
The quality of the functional and architectural solution of the passenger terminal, the originality of the idea, the accessibility of the environment (from 0 to 30%)
The ability of the layout of the territory and the passenger terminal to accommodate all the required spaces defined in the Designing Program, and its compliance with the specified purpose of use. (from 0 to 20%)
• A concept of landscaping and greening of the public open space of the Competition Object (from 0 to 20%)



1st Place: Zaha Hadid Architects –  aerial view of site ©Render by Negativ


The Jury
• Ms. Jūlija Bērziņa, Chairperson of the Board of SIA “Riga Ropax Terminal”; 
• Mr. Edgars Zalāns, leading architect/planner at LLC “RIGA PORT CITY”; 
• Ms. Māra Kalvāne, urban planner, representative appointed by the LATVIAN ARCHITECTS’ ASSOCIATION; 
• Mr. Henri Chauveau, Director of Development of an international construction company; 
• Mr. Uldis Lukševics, architect, representative appointed by the LATVIAN ARCHITECTS’ ASSOCIATION; 
• Deputy jury member – Mr. Uģis Kaugurs, architect
• Deputy jury member – Mr. Pēteris Ratas, architect, representative delegated by Riga City Council City Development Department; 
• Deputy jury member – Ms. Inguna Jekale, architect, representative delegated by the State Inspection for Heritage Protection; 
• Deputy jury member – Ms. Inese Dābola, representative delegated by the Neighbourhood association Pētersala-Andrejsala; 
• Deputy jury member – Mr Gvido Princis representative delegated by the Freeport of Riga Authority. 
• Non-voting coordinator of jury – Ms. Dace Kalvāne, architect, Board Member of the Latvian Architects Association.


The jury deliberations resulted in the following ranking of the top five finalists:
1st Place 
Zaha Hadid Architects, London, U.K.
2nd Place 
R-Konsult, Tallinn, Estonia 
3rd Place 
Berenblum Busch Architects, Miami, USA
4th Place (Finalist)
ALA Architects Ltd., Helsinki 
5th Place (Finalist) 
The Manser Practice, London, U.K.


   Although announced as a sketch competition, four of the five top-ranked firms went so far as to include several high quality renderings in their presentations. The fifth place entry, The Manser Practice (London), was the only entry in the top five that treated illustrations as a simple sketch process. The client’s program obviously provided the designers with a lot of flexibility in some areas.
1. There was no specific height required. Additional stories could be added to the existing three-story structure. 
2. Certain elements such as passenger circulation to the eventual boarding area had to be addressed; but additional amenities could be suggested. As a result, two of the top five finalists added additional stories at the top of the structure as hotels, ALA Architects (Helsinki) and The Manser Practice (London); Zaha Hadid Architects added one additional platform on the top story, as did R-Konsult (Estonia). Berenblum Busch Architects (Miami) was the only firm to stick with the building’s original three stories.
   The treatment of the existing brutalist warehouse differed from entry to entry. Zaha Hadid’s entry opted for total enclosure, with the added top platform as a partially open area. R-Konsult and ALA both featured the use of the existing buildings support structure to suggest transparency, with the latter featuring it more promenently, while Barenblum Busch Architects opted for a strong facade treatment as design statement. -Ed


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The Covington Gateway Competition – A Visit with the Winning Architect and Covington City Planner


One thing about competitions, and having the fortunate experience I’ve
had, I’ve really learned that being ambitious for your client and society
is hugely important.  – James Cheng



This is Thursday, April 11, 2024, and I am in the office of emersion DESIGN with architect James Cheng and J.T. Spence, the latter the former planner of the City of Covington, Kentucky, who was responsible for initiating the Covington Gateway Competition in 1993, won by James Cheng. -Ed


Architect James Cheng (left)                    Prof. John T. Spence (right)


COMPETITIONS: A question I almost always start off with: At what point in your early life did you decide to become an architect?


James Cheng: It really all started when I was in junior high and high school and really loved my art classes. So I told my dad, who was a chemical engineer, that I wanted to become an artist, and he said, there is no way I’m going to pay for you to become an artist. He had just come back from New Orleans where he saw all these starving artists painting and trying to sell their paintings. So he suggested that I try architecture. We did have a family friend who was an architect. So he had me talk to him, and my dad then found a program for rising high school seniors at Cornell—a little like a summer camp for architecture. This happened to be a wonderful fit for me; but I would not have known about it otherwise at the time. Having been involved in the Arts community, such as the Contemporary Art Center, I can see how difficult an artist’s life is. So I feel really fortunate that I ended up in the architecture profession.


COMPETITIONS: After Cornell, was the Covington competition the first one one you ever entered?


JC: No, I believe I entered a competition for Spectacle Island with some friends; and then there was a small house competition.



Model of Covington Gateway competition winner ©James Cheng


COMPETITIONS: As for the Covington competition, besides our announcement of it, it was pretty well publicized, even internationally. At that time the National Endowment for the Arts had begun to support competitions and may have provided some support for the Covington competition.



Covington Gateway competition diagrams ©James Cheng


J.T. Spence: Jeffry Ollswang (competition adviser) may have somehow been involved with that; but the City of Covington was responsible for the entire support of the competition. It was well publicized: we did posters and mailings, and we received 110 entries globally, from Australia, Japan and seven countries.


JC: I often went to the DAAP library (University of Cincinnati) and may have seen it in COMPETITIONS magazine there.


COMPETITIONS: We never met when you won the competition in Covington. But I was quite familiar with it as we had published an announcement about the competition in our magazine and I was present when the entries were set up for judging. I wondered that the Mayor of Covington never showed up for the events I attended, and thus thought this might be an unfortunate omen for the further development of the project.


JTS: That’s not as impactful as you might think, because Covington has a weak mayoral form of government. Moreover, our mayor had just returned from spending two weeks at the Mayors’ Institute of Design (in Washington) with its founder, Charleston Mayor, Joseph Riley. So he was very supportive of the idea of a competition. It was the other four elected officials that had no outward appreciation for what it meant. So I think they were less motivated to have the Mayor get credit for something in the city and (give the appearance of) diminishing their leadership role in the city.


COMPETITIONS: I was very aware of the mission of the Mayors’ Institute of Design. We were in continuous contact with the people who were running it at the time.


JTS: They gave us a very different vocabulary about what we were trying to get across to the elected officials, which was a vision of Covington’s future.


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