Art Nouveau appeared as an architectural style in Riga at the turn of the 20th century, when the city experienced a construction boom and its population was growing. Half of the buildings in Riga’s city centre are Art Nouveau edifices.
The largest concentration of these buildings are in the so-called Quiet Centre, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
And the largest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the Quiet Centre is on one street: Alberta iela. Motifs with various flowers and plants appear often on the facades of Riga’s Art Nouveau buildings. it makes the city look like a decorative urban jungle.
The praise of nature is one of the main foundations of the Art Nouveau philosophy.
That's why you'll find water lilies, roses, poppies, bluebells and many other flowers adorning many of Riga’s stately buildings. Even more prevalent are trees – or parts of trees – in the form of leaves, branches, pine cones and acorns. In Riga’s buildings, the oak is widely represented.
The sacred oak
It was a sacred tree to the Ancient Greeks, Slavs and Germanic people, as well as in Latvia, where the oak was a symbol of courage, strength, independence and long life.
On the facade of the building at Smilšu iela 2 in Old Riga, the figures of a man and a woman on both sides of an oak tree represent the ideal of unity between humans and nature. With regard to fauna, the most depicted Art Nouveau animal in Riga is the owl.
This nocturnal bird has been a symbol of intelligence and wisdom since ancient times, including in Ancient Greece, where the bird either represented or accompanied Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom. An owl and the goddess Athena are on the facade of the ornate building at Teātra iela 9 in Old Riga, where the embassy of Italy is now located.
The original owner of the building was a book and antique salesman. Some real estate owners used the facades of their buildings to denote their profession and social status.
On some building facades (as at Smilšu iela 2 and Šķūņu iela 12/14 in Old Riga) masonic symbols such as the square and compasses express the notion of God as the architect of the world. Stylized versions of the sun also appear, symbolizing life and the dawn of a new era at the beginning of the 20th century.
Hamburgas Street 3
This small mansion with an ornamental pediment shaped in pattern of the “Swiss cottage style” and is unique Art Nouveau in Riga. The building exhibits a masonry bottom floor and a wooden attic floor.
The mansion was built by the Riga House Construction Company, a publicly traded company. Members of the Baron von Campenhausen family have lived here.
Later, the building housed a division of the children’s library and the Latvian Applied Arts association, while later division members of the Latvian National Independence Movement gathered here.
Additionally, the Mežaparks Development Association was founded here.
|Address||Hamburgas Street 3, Riga|
Hamburgas Street 5
A wooden duplex with a high ridged roof stands out for its very rich elements of plasticity and effective wooden arches covering of the roofed end terrace.
In the thirties, the division of the Riga XII Prefecture Department, whose task was to police Mežaparks, was located there.
|Address||Hamburgas Street 5, Riga|
Hamburgas Street 7
A long wooden duplex with a high ridged roof with built in accommodation. In the 1930's it housed the office of Central artillery warehouse and the warehouse manager’s apartment as well as the Central Artillery officer’s mess.
|Address||Hamburgas Street 7, Riga|
Hamburgas Street 9
A two-story residence built on top of a hill, notable for rich architectonic decor in the eclectic style, unique in all the Mežaparks area.
This majestic building towers atop a steep dune, yet it has always been mysterious and unapproachable. The building with the eclectic facade decoration, complicated structure with a tower and the use of lattice elements.
|Address||Hamburgas Street 9, Riga|
Strēlnieku iela 4a
One of the most extravagant examples of Art Nouveau in Riga is in the ‘Quiet Centre’, 4a Strēlnieku Street, in a building designed by Mikhail Eisenstein.
It has a rich ornamental facade. It was built in 1905. The building is an example of an eclectic, decorative direction of the style, abundant with different constructional elements in the facade’s design.
The wealth of ornamental details can be clearly appreciated on a closer look, with its combination of traditional historical forms and Art Nouveau motifs.
The former private school was a dormitory in Soviet times. In 1993/1994 it was renovated for the needs of the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. The facade was renovated, while in the interior some specific details were saved.
|Address||Strēlnieku iela 4a, Riga|
Vīlandes iela Riga
Vīlandes iela 1-3
The beauty of the buildings at Vīlandes iela 1 and 3 captivate with their fascinating power. Both buildings were designed by Rudolf von Zirkwitz, a Baltic-German architect. Over his career, he designed approximately 25 apartment buildings, six of which are located on Vīlandes iela. Vīlandes 1 and 3 were built in a mix of the Eclectic and Neo-Baroque styles. These buildings are like music expressed in stone and contain incredible attention to detail.
Images of plants, animals, faces, and characters coil around the facades, making each structure a piece of art. The buildings were originally built as residential rental apartments that complied with the high living standards of the 19th century.
This neighborhood was undoubtedly a higher-class part of the city at that time, and many celebrities and wealthy people had their homes here. The building at Vīlandes 1 stands on the corner of Elizabetes iela and is one of the most splendid buildings on Riga’s boulevard circle.
Benefiting from foreign investment, the impressive corner establishment was erected in 1899. It is an example of the Eclectic style with Neo-Baroque decorative elements and a very heavily decorated exterior. The entrance hall is decorated in the Art Nouveau style and regarded as one of the first examples of Art Nouveau in Riga. Inside the building there are also a number of interior objects of high historical value that have been preserved to the present day.
It's also known that quite a few prominent people resided in the building at Vīlandes 1, much like in other luxurious properties of the Quiet Center. Famous names who have lived here include Mikhail Bulgakov’s wife Jeļena Nirenberga (Elena Nurenberg), Latvian opera singer Mariss Vē̄tra, and the painter Jā̄nis Brekte. Today the building has been officially designated a historical monument.
In an effort to continue to preserve its value as living historical heritage, in 1995 the iconic property was renovated by the architects Gints Vaivars and Gunārs Lūsis-Grīnbergs. A couple of years ago the splendid building’s facade was refurbished once again. The calling card of Vī̄landes 1 is its impressive corner tower topped by a tall weather vane. It stands proudly as it welcomes its metropolitan residents every day.