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The legacy of Soviet architecture is usually considered drab and monotonous, but at the same time it is a historical testimony to the relations between the government and society in the Soviet Union. And first impressions may be deceiving – there is something unique to every decade.
Post-War Period – Monumentalism
There are examples of the so-called Stalinist architecture in many major cities of Latvia, just as in any other former Soviet republic – in Russia such buildings were first constructed in the 1930s, whereas construction of these kind of buildings in Latvia started right after World War II – they would become either important public facilities or apartment buildings where the Soviet elite lived. Monumentalism is the most characteristic feature of these buildings.
The new buildings were meant to inspire awe and admiration, and at the same time embody the idea that the Soviet Union would exist forever. All of that had to be attained without excessive luxury, seen as a vice of the bourgeoisie of the past.
The Building of the Academy of Sciences
The most prominent of buildings constructed in the capital of Latvia in the 1950s is the Academy of Sciences.
An exceptional example of the early period of Soviet architecture. Today, there is an observation platform at the top of the building, 65 metres high.
The town of Seda is located in Northern Vidzeme, Strenči Region. Yellow apartment buildings constructed in the 1950s, adorned with Stalinist symbols, stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the town. It is in Seda where concentration of Stalinist architecture is the highest in Latvia.
Legacy of Construction Boom of the 1960s
People from the other Soviet republics were being moved to Latvia in the 1960s to build hydropower plants, various factories, and work at Soviet national security authorities. All of them had to be provided with some place to live. That is when development of new neighbourhoods began in many cities and towns of Latvia.
Several monuments were unveiled in Latvia during the second decade since the country was occupied by the Soviet Union. One of them is the Salaspils Memorial Ensemble, created to commemorate victims of the Nazi concentration camp in Salaspils.
A noteworthy facility, for not just science but also as an impressive gem of the 1960s architecture, is the Astrophysical Observatory in Baldone. The largest operating telescope in the Baltics is located here.
A bit off the beaten tracks, there are the so-called military towns, built specifically for the military and to provide housing for those working in the military.
Below are the most notable Soviet military complexes in Latvia:
- Skrunda Radar Station, the main task of which was to control the cosmic space over Western Europe and North America, and to “intercept” ballistic missiles should any be fired at the Soviet Union;
- Irbene Locator, which was in charge of spying on NATO countries’ communications;
- Zeltiņi Nuclear Missile Base, where storage hangars, launchers, bunkers, and a system of underground tunnels were built, as well as apartment buildings.
As the Soviet Union collapsed and the Soviet army began to withdraw from Latvia at the beginning of the 1990s, life in the military towns came to a halt. At the moment, the abandoned buildings can only be viewed from outside for safety considerations – except for the Irbene Locator where guided tours are available.
1970s – Striking Samples of Modernism
The building of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia was constructed in the 1970s. Originally the building housed the Latvian Red Riflemen Museum that served the purposes of the Communist Party’s propaganda, especially in terms of bringing up the younger generations in the spirit of communism.
Many of the facilities constructed in the 1970s were clearly influenced by modernism in architecture, in particular the Daile Theatre and the Dubulti Railway Station’s building in Jūrmala, where contemporary art exhibitions have been on show since 2015.
Last Decade in Soviet Architecture – the 1980s
The capital city of Riga would be hard to imagine without these buildings, all constructed in the 1980s.
- TV Tower in Zaķusala,
- Suspension Bridge (Vanšu tilts) over the Daugava River,
- Congress Centre,
- Monument in Uzvaras Park.
Also in the 1990s, construction of the Sigulda Bobsleigh Track complex was completed.