Lithuania’s capital city has remained fairly under the radar as a design destination, but this will undoubtedly change with the debut this week of the MO Modern Art Museum, the first privately funded modern and contemporary art museum in the country, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. “This is a classic European town which hasn’t been marred by Soviet intervention, so it retains a quality unlike many other cities that the Soviet Union destroyed,” observes the much-lauded architect, who originally hails from Poland. The museum is situated at the border of the Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the new, gleaming white “articulated box” contains over 4,000 works of art by 226 Lithuanian artists, dating from the 1960s to the present day. It was amassed in a relatively short period of time by financier and philanthropist Viktoras Butkus and his wife, Danguole Butkiene, who saw an “urgent need” to create this collection and make it available to the public. This is a first for the country, as it is not a state-owned museum. It is also the first time Libeskind has incorporated a spiral staircase into a design. “I always avoided it because they always look the same,” he says of the architectural element, “but this is geometric and angular—it was an epiphany.”
Visitors to this city of about 500,000 may also experience an epiphany of sorts while wandering the streets, with their varied architectural styles from the baroque of the Old Town to the numerous Gothic churches to the brutalist structures built by the Soviets. Here, we present a design roadmap of Vilnius, a city that, Libeskind comments, has changed more in the past five years than it did in the previous 20, with more to come.