When thinking of Latvia, one is reminded of vast forests and nature. And it’s no wonder because 52% of all the territory of Latvia is occupied by forests. But what about the urban environment? In this article we will take a look at the most popular architectural styles located in the cities of Latvia!
From castles and manors to farmsteads and modern buildings - wooden architecture has always played a key part in Latvian history and it has always managed to adapt to the tendencies and human needs of all time periods.
One of the most important examples of Latvian ancient wooden architecture is definitely Āraiši Lake Fortress Archeological Park. It’s the only reconstructed fortified settlement from the 8th -10th century in all of Europe.
It’s a unique place not only because of the place it’s located, but also because of the archeological discoveries made there and the cultural and historic landscape of the region of Vidzeme.
If you wish to experience a more recent history of wooden architecture, a good choice would be the city of Jūrmala. The wooden buildings, located in both the city center and outside of it, were constructed as summer lodges in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. These wooden houses are one of the greatest sources of pride for Jūrmala and their idiosyncratic decorative towers and glass verandas are still around today.
Yet it wouldn't be fair to say that the era of wooden architecture in Latvia is over. Far from it - it seems that it’s currently experiencing a sort of renaissance. To see it for yourself, visit the restored buildings at Kalnciema Quarter or the wooden dwelling houses at Ķīpsala.
If you would ask a typical Riga-dweller what is the most unique quality of Riga, there’s a large chance the answer would be: Art-Nouveau buildings. And for good reason, too - at the beginning of the 20th century, 40% of all buildings in Riga were in the style of Art Nouveau. This style of architecture is characterized by symbolic and mythological imagery in the decorations, curvy lines and bright tones.
The very first Art Nouveau building constructed in Riga in 1899 is located at Audeju Street 7, but a significant portion of diverse Art Nouveau buildings can be found at Quiet Center of Riga, especially at Alberta Street.
The legacy of the Soviet Union in Latvian architecture is controversial, for obvious reasons. While thinking of Soviet architecture, the first thing that pops into mind are the grey panel buildings, but this style of architecture is actually much more diverse.
One prominent example is the building of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, which is considered to be the first high-rise building in Latvia. Built in the 1950s, this 21-story building marks the first time that collapsible reinforced concrete constructions were to construct buildings in the USSR.
Another building that signifies the legacy of the USSR is by no means less noticeable. It’s the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. Originally intended as a museum for Red Latvian Riflemen, it was closed in 1990 and revealed for the second time 3 years later - now as the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. Currently, the building is under reconstruction, but it’s planned to once again be open to visitors very soon.
A rich cultural history is not the only thing Latvia can be proud of - the country hosts some marvels of modern architecture as well. For nearly ten years the panoramic view of Riga is adorned by the building of the National Library of Latvia, also known as Castle of Light. Even though it was intended to be built in the 20th century, the Castle of Light with its architectural versatility and dynamics is doubtless a modern building - and one of the most important Latvian cultural buildings of the 21st century at that.
But Riga isn’t the only Latvian city that can be proud to host impressive buildings of culture. The Concert Hall “Great Amber” of Liepāja leaves an impression to everyone who has the luck of visiting the city. The reddish façade can be enjoyed from within the building - thanks to the red-tinted glass, the light is colored inside the building as well. The “Great Amber” is a laureate of various architectural competitions, the Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award being one of them.
Latvia also hosts some buildings which tower above the rest. Yet height has nothing to do with it - these are the buildings which are the prime examples of their respective architectural styles, elevating them to a new level altogether.
One of such buildings is the Latvian National Museum of Art, one of the best examples of historicist architecture in Latvia. Revealed in 1905, the museum has served as a home for the most important works of Latvian artists throughout the 20th century. The building was reconstructed in 2016 and it’s been welcoming art lovers and other visitors ever since.
Another notable building is a part of the Latvian National Museum of Art - Riga Bourse. It’s located in the Old Town, the very heart of Riga, and it’s the best example of Venetian Renaissance palazzo style architecture in all of Latvia.
In conclusion, we have to take note of the kind of building that every major European capital grants a role of the utmost importance, in the context of urban planning - we, of course, are talking about opera houses. The history of the Latvian National Opera house begins in the 19th century when it was first constructed as a city theatre. It’s a spectacular example of eclectic classicism, with characters from Greek mythology posed on the north-eastern part of the façade.
But what exactly is more beautiful - the buildings described above or the art you can experience within them? We invite you to find out the answer for yourself!