Experts in architecture and art deem that construction of Art Noveau buildings was especially remarkable in Riga – 40 percent of the buildings in the centre of Riga are in the style of Art Noveau, hence Riga is justly considered the capital of Art Noveau architecture. To preserve the architecture of the Old Town, wooden buildings and Art Noveau to next generations, the Historic Centre of Riga is included in UNESCO World Heritage List.
There are about 800 Art Noveau buildings in Riga, most of which are concentrated in the centre of Riga, especially in Alberta Street and the so called Quiet Centre or embassy district, where each building is worth seeing.Thus, when walking in Riga, do not only look at the pavement or shop windows, but look up and see the surprising architecture!
These are the most interesting Art Noveau buildings!
- 7 Audēju Street, Old Riga (A. Aschenkampf, M. Scherwinsky, 1899). The first art nouveau building in Riga featuring typical stylised floral (irises, blossoming trees, cattails) motifs and masks.
- 9 Audēju Street, Old Riga (K. Pēkšēns, 1900). The building features an interesting sun motif, typical for art nouveau, which symbolises the flourishing of new life.
- 9 Teātra Street, Old Riga (H. Scheel, F. Scheffel, 1903). This building is adorned with mythological characters, Athena and Hermes. The building is crowned with figures of Atlases supporting a globe fashioned out of glass and zinc and illuminated at night.
- 2 Vaļņu Street, Old Riga (E. Friesendorff, 1911). Attracts attention with its entrance portal with expressive sculptural mouldings. Copper forgings of figures from the ancient Greek mythology, Asclepius (god of healing) and the Moira Atropos (goddess of fate) symbolise the course of human life, well-being and labour.
- 2 Smilšu Street, Old Riga (1902). The building is one of the best examples of the Riga art nouveau architecture: the façade is adorned with an image of a peacock, one of the symbols of beauty and self-confidence in art nouveau. The Herma underneath the bow window is considered the most beautiful female image in the art nouveau architecture of Riga.
- 8 Smilšu Street, Old Riga (H. Scheel, F. Scheffel, 1902). A building abundantly decorated with masks, hybrid creatures, plant elements. Both portals are adorned with the typically art nouveau image of a melancholy woman with her eyes shut. The ornament in the entrance hallway is considered by experts to be a classic example of art nouveau ornamental forms.
- 15/17 Tērbatas Street, Centre (K. Pēkšēns, 1905). The building is one of the first examples of national romanticism in Riga, featuring an expressive silhouette and an architectural finish consisting of varied construction materials. According to the customer’s idea, the travertine used to finish the façade was gathered from the debris of the Staburags rock.
- 47 Brīvības Street, Centre (E. Laube, 1909). An outstanding monument of national romanticism, featuring a dynamic composition of mass, bow windows arranged at different heights, steep and stressed roof planes, tall gables and cone-shaped upper cornices on the corners.
- 10a and 10b Elizabetes Street, Centre (M. Eisenstein, 1903). The buildings are “clothed” in unusually abundant and lavish art nouveau ornaments. The leaf spring motif woven into several decorative elements of the building at 10a recalls M. Eisenstein’s place of employment: he was the head of the Traffic Department of the Livonian Governorate. Especially noticeable at 10b are the composition of masks, peacocks, sculptural heads and geometrical figures on the upper cornices of the façade and the blue tiled façade areas at the top-storey level. There is also a sumptuously ornate stairwell.
- 4 Alberta Street(M. Eisenstein 1904). The most elegant and artistically most original eclectically decorative art nouveau building. The eye is drawn to the three Medusa heads placed above the cornice with their mouths agape in the middle of a scream (a similar motif was used in the Secession Building in Vienna). The façade is scattered with figures of eagles and lions and reliefs of winged lions. The winged relief of a woman’s head at the centre of the building symbolises the sun and protection.
- 4a Strēlnieku Street, embassy district (M. Eisenstein, 1905). This building is an example of the eclectic and extremely decorative direction in art nouveau and close up it dazzles with an abundance of ornaments in which the arrangement of shapes in historic styles are interspersed with various combinations of art nouveau motifs.
- 10 Vīlandes Street, embassy district (K. Pēkšēns, 1908). A national romantic building with an asymmetrical façade combination, finished in variously coloured and textured plaster. Pay attention to the reliefs with classical storylines: dancing maidens with garlands and grapes. The building entrance is shaped like a keyhole.
Art Noveau lovers should definitely visit the Riga Art Noveau Museum situated in the apartment of the architect Konstantins Peksens in his designed building on 12 Alberta Street. The apartment – from the stairway resting-place till the dishes in the living room – is a perfect example of Art Noveau.Here you can study the expression of Art Noveau in Riga and learn a lot of surprising facts.The globally acclaimed Art Noveau expert architect Janis Krastins lives and works in Latvia.
Art Noveau (Jugendstil in Germany, Art Noveau in France, Modernismo in Spain, Sezessionsstil in Austria, Stile Liberty or Stile Floreale in Italy) emerged in Europe in the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and continued its success till World War I. Art Noveau in Latvia is closely related with national romanticism, thus some of the building have not only the ornaments characteristic to Europe, but also references to Latvian traditions.The designers of the national romanticism buildings Eizens Laube and Janis Fridrihs Baumanis are still considered as pioneers of national culture.Art Noveau is characterized by an ornamental style, based on bent lines, asymmetric composition and rhythms of irregular lines, the main motifs are nature, references to the antique art and mythology.In architecture Art Noveau expresses itself in the functional construction and generously decorated facade of the building, achieved by using all parts of the building, starting from the shape of window and door openings, bays and finally the relief, sculptures, lines or areas of ornaments and stained glass.However, Art Noveau is not only interested in the front façade, but rather the overall character, hence “Art Noveau architecture” also involves the interior, the shape of cutlery and even the wardrobe of the inhabitants.