Riga´s Art Nouveau architecture

Building on alberta str. 4 by Mikhail Eizenshten: key-hole like window embasures is an interesting feature.

Insight into Riga’s architecture at the turn of 19th and 20th centuries.


“The pearl of the Baltic”, how they used to call it in the Soviet times.

“The eastern Hamburg”, how the practical people used to call it even earlier, Because of its large seaport and the dynamic economic atmosphere.

“The little Paris”, how romantic people used to call it because of the eleganceof its boulevards and eclecticism, wealthy bourgeois, its love for arts and architecture, also Jugendstil.

Maybe Riga has a kind of appeal that captivates people to the extent of willing to rename it. These attempts really do mark a special interest on it, a wish to describe the city from different points of views. But Riga already has the name, so I would not call it otherwise than just

There is a saying that Riga is always under construction, its building is never complete. This process possesses some kind of intangibility. Even though we would like to lay the foundations for you to grasp some features of one very important period of this endless process. And we do really hope that our short review could give you an inspiration to visit Riga, the Jugendstil metropolis.

We would like to acquaint you with some of the most interesting architects who were building Riga at the turn of 19th and 20th centuries. Meanwhile the spatial structure of the Old city, which is the core of Riga, was taking its shape during the centuries, the most fundamental building of the territory of the city centre and thus the formation of its contemporary image was done exactly at that period. We would like to acquaint you with some of the most interesting architects who were building Riga at the turn of 19th and 20th centuries.

Mikhail Eizenshtein.

A personality of extraordinary temper and artistic inspiration. He felt building material absolutely precisely combining its colours and structures in a neat way. Fecondity of his imagination found expression in creation of numerous buildings. Facades of these buildings represent exuberant set of decorations in which ornamentals of Jugend interlace with forms of different historical styles. For example, a house situated on Elizabetes street, 33 reproduce collection of architectural

In this building on Elizabetes 33 Eizenshtein merged architectural elements of last 1 000 years.

Light blue and white colours and figures of women – characteristic details of Eizenshten’s art.detail of the building on Strelnieku str., 4

Sphynxes are guarding the entrance to the building on Alberta str. 2a.

His works in general show us unusual riot of elements: stylised flowers, garlands, half-naked women-syrines, screaming masks, wild animals, such as lions, figures of sphinxes and monsters. Amid all of this he adds to the geometrical composition of his buildings balconies of varied forms, oriels*, bizarre window embrasures, for example like a keyhole (Alberta str., 4). Creations of M. Eizenshtein are like the embodiment of scream about the crisis of Arts of that period of time. Masks, seen on his buildings appear to us screaming in horror and yearning for new.

Screaming masks on the building on Alberta str. 2a, by Eizenshtein.

Nowadays the building on Strelnieku str., 4a.is a home for students of economics. Stocholm School of economics.

Mikhail Eizenshtein did not pay attention to the layout of rooms and to the functionality of inner space, emphasizing only the exterior of the buildings. At one time his works were under critic- Rigans said that his use of decorations is the enormity. But in the long run people realised
The beauty of this always flowering garden made in stone.

Buildings to be noted are: Elizabetes str., 10a and 10b, 33; Alberta str., 2a, 4, 6, 8, 13; Strelnieku str., 4a.

Eizenshtein Mikhail

(1867-1921, Germany). Civil engineer, revered Latvian architect whose 18 dwelling houses have been built in Riga at the turn of 19th and 20th centuries. Father of a famous Russian film director Sergey Eizenshtein.

Wilhelm Bokslaff.

A talented architect who combined in his art rational tendencies of Jugend and features of Eclecticism. Thoroughly considered and functionally well-founded plan of his works create a balanced character of inner spatial structure that shows through the exterior of his buildings. W. Bokslaff was sensitive towards then spatial environment of the city- details, scale and functional-like volume modelling of his buildings correspond to the temper of the surroundings. For example, he enriched the look of Old Riga. Even a big house as one at Jauniela str., 25/29 does not break the initial ambience Of The Old city as its façade is visually divided into three parts.

Detail of the marvelous building on Jauniela 25/29. Definetely worth of seing.

Eclecticism of Bokslaff’s design shows itself by rich use of ornament, plastics of facades, details and proportions derived from gothic architecture and also by the even rhythm of window embrasures. He is courageous enough to blend gothic motives with symbolic of Jugend- masks, flowers, fruits, garlands, also using metallic materials. He interprets decorations in the utilitarian way (it is the rational trend of Jugend). For example, ventilation system pipes represented as turrets (building of Latvian State Academy of Arts, Kronvalda boulevard,)

Architectural heritage of Bokslaff is quite interesting and revered. He also expressed himself in National Romanticism stylistic movement. For example, according to his project water tower was built in Agenskalns in 1910. Because of the technical reasons it has changed its initial look in 1930ies.

Buildings to be noted are: Audeju str., 7; Jauniela str., 25/29; Brivibas str., 6; Amatu str, 4; Kalpaka boulevard, 13.

Bokslaff Wilhelm Ludwig Nikolai

(1858, Riga-1945,Poznan). Architect and art critic. Graduated from Riga Polytechnic Institute in 1885. Since 1892 had his own architectural office. Designer of numerous country houses and more than 20 dwelling houses and public buildings in Riga.

Constantine Pekshen.

Constantine Pekshen is a remarkable architect, whose unusual potential of creativity found its shape in numerous buildings that are impressive by their simplicity, still exquisite. The specific features of his art include refined use of decorations, diversified palette of stylistic trends, his unique ability to alter forms, plastics and architectonic structures – all forms of artistic expressions are subordinated to the architectural unity of his works, where tradition meets innovation, and symmetry meets asymmetry. Exotic details, ornaments from Latvian national culture, motives inspired by the nature of his motherland, wide range of geometrical lines and figures, expressive and dynamic details, forms of Moorish, Roman and Gothic architecture, contrast of volume modelling and colours as well as relevant use of building materials,- everything is earmarked to flow together in one whole and carry out harmony.

Simple yet harmonious creation of Constantine Peksen.

Throughout his career he performed a lot of variations – sometimes it is hard to believe that it is the same architect who is the designer of such different buildings. One of those has the character of a business-like reliability, as the apartment house on Elizabetes str, 13 (1904). Another type disposes towards a kind of a playful lightness, as the house on Strelnieku str, 6, (1902), while in the third one those characteristics are blended together- for example the dwelling house on Avotu str, 1 (1904). Although Constantine Pekshen could be described as the polyhedral of artistic expression, he did indeed find his own forms, which can be can be seen at once in his works- these include for example well-balanced use of ornament and shapely forms of oriels and turrets, rising upwards to the Baltic skies.

Furthermore, I should highlight the works that. C. Pekshen created jointly with the greatest Latvian architect E. Laube. Buildings, projected together by these architects are merely peerless. It is like two painters merging the unique features of their art in one picture, and in the course of this process discovering new approaches, new forms and new textures. Mostly their co-creations were designed in national Romanticism. Their co-creations are situated at: Marijas str, 26 (1905) with the relieved written English saying, translated into Latvian: “Mans nams ir mana pils” (“My home is my castle”); Terbatas str, 33/35 (1906), Terbatas str, 15/17, (1906); Kronvalda boulevard, 10, (1907) and Alberta str, 12,(1903).

Natural materials and rich forms. Co-creation of Laube and Peksen. Detail of the building at Kronvalda 10.

Peksen’s aspiration towards the sky and Laube’s strong forms are combined in this building on Kronvalda 10.

Buildings to be noted are: Avotu str., 1; Elizabetes str., 13; Vilandes str, 10; Strelnieku str., 6; Terbatas str., 14; Brivibas str., 46, 170, 172; Slokas str., 31.

Pekšens Konstantins.

(1859, Mazsalaca, Latvia-1928, Kiesing, Germany). One of the most prominent Latvian architects, pioneers of Jugendstil. Constantine Pekshen graduated from Riga Polytechnic Institute in 1885. Since 1886 had his own architectural office. Designer of approximately 250 buildings in Riga, Jelgava and elsewhere. Pekshen was also a prominent public figure, owner of central heating systems Installation Company. Died in Germany, where he was going for the cure. Buried in Riga.

Eugene Laube.

He was n architect of a subtle insight into the expression of tectonic logic through colour and texture. Works of Eugene Laube tend to stress the dignity of Latvian national culture. He was flaming creators and steadfast protector of National Romanticism in Latvia.

Though, in course of his career he felt the natural evolution of architecture and with time let the tendencies from other architectural styles flow orderly into his works.

In his art every concept of local traditions is turned into a phenomenon- renewed vision in the framework of the developing city. His works represent a swing of stability, purposefulness of general outlines in the entirety of the buildings and steady forms, at the same time admitting playfulness in the monumental appearance of the houses. Means of artistic expression used by E. Laube are: picturesque volumes, derived from Latvian national wooden architecture, ornaments in relief “dissipated” on all the surface of the facades, stylised Latvian floristic elements, abstract and geometrical motives as well as ethnographic designs, corner turrets, window embrasures and doorways varied in forms and proportions.

Laube appealed to use building material accordingly to its character and denied all imitation. He uses colours of Latvian nature: grey, black and dark green. Although through the combination of different methods of decoration and relevant use of texture he achieved certain colourfulness which impacts. In the hand of Eugene Laube strong influence from Finnish architecture can be noticed. Even though Finnish buildings are more heavily loaded then Latvian ones.

Buildings to be noted are:

Lachplesha str., 51, 70,70a and 70b; Gertrudes str., 23; Alberta str., 11; Brivibas str., 33, 47.

Laube Eižens. (1880, Riga-1967, Portland, USA). Graduated from Riga Polytechnic Institute in 1906. 1906-1907- Pekshen’s assistant. Since 1907 had his own architectural office. In 1920ies-1930ies he was doctor of architecture and dean of the faculty of architecture In Latvian University. In 1944 immigrated to the United States. 83 stone dwelling houses and public buildings in Riga.

Aleksandr Vanag.

In his art he was the most successive upholder of National Romanticism stylistic movement in Latvia. In 1904 together with his friend and colleague E. Laube he visited Finland, where he met Finnish architects G. Lindberg and K Vasasherna who were projecting the house in Riga on the corner of Pumpura and Alunana streets. Supervising the construction of this house was the first step of independent creative course of the architectural career of Aleksandr Vanag.

Natural and authentic National Romanticism in the interpretation of Eugene Laube. Detail of the building on Alberta str. 11.
Detail of the column of the building on Chaka str. 23. Quality of decoration was important for Alexander Vanag.

He stands out among Riga’s designers as extremely active and fruitful personality. His buildings possess expressively massive character and associate with primitive power, business-like temper and indigenous seriousness of Latvian mentality. Although he uses features of the architecture of the architecture of other cultures of the world too. For example, stylised Egyptian columns (building on Blaumana str., 31). He combines these kind of elements with ethnographic patterns from Latvian national culture. Dark-grey tonality of his works is enliven by the white and pastel shades of ornamentals and different architectural details as oriels*, doorways and the asymmetric modelling of volumes.

Chaka street 23. By Alexander Vanag.

Solution of the use of colours and materials is eminent from the point of view of A. Vanag, as well as the quality of decoration. Some of his buildings are preserved without being renovated for almost 100 years, still do not lose their attractiveness (for ex. Brivibas str., 58).

Buildings to be noted are:

Chaka str., 23, 64, 70; Blaumana str., 31; Alauksta str., 7; Brivibas str., 58, 158; Kr. Barona str., 62, 64.

Vanags Aleksanders.

(1873, Madona region, Latvia-1919, Riga). Studied in Riga Polytechnic Institute from 1891-1898. Worked at Pekshen’s office from 1890-1905. Since 1905 had his own architectural office. 71 stone dwelling houses are built in Riga according to his projects.

Pavils Dreimanis.

We would like to acquaint you with one special work of this remarkable Latvian architect. One of the designers of Central market of Riga, which used to be the largest market in Europe in the 1930ies, he jointly with Riga’s garden sculpture designer Richard Maurs, who worked in concrete, created a marvellous dwelling house just on the edge line of the Old Riga.

Architectural ensemble on Ausekla Street 3 is the first Riga municipal multi-apartment house. Three wings of the building enclose a large yard and conclude the perimeter of the block. Formerly inside the yard there used to be the swimming pool, sandboxes, grass-field in the summer and the skating-ring in the winter. The works of a famous Latvian sculptor Richard Maurs adorn the yard and the facades of the building. Sculptural ensemble of the house consists of the fountain sculpture “Little Elephant”, which used to give water for the swimming pool; two relieves “Little Musicians” by the sides of the big arch of the house. Also, the symbol of Riga Art Deco- the sculpture “Nightguard of Old Riga” by the side of the little arch on Ausekla street façade of the building. All these sculptures are the unique and exceptional samples of Latvian Art Deco, which is rather rare in Riga.

In August 2002 “Little Elephant” from Ausekla srteet 3 was brought to the Latvian National Museum of Arts. There he will stay until the renovation. In Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture animal figures and plant decorations were a very important elements.

The initial look of the yard has been destroyed. Swimming pool, sandboxes and the grass field have disappeared because of the construction of the bomb-shelter by the soviet institutions inside the yard in the 60’s. Fortunately, the sculptures and relieves have remained, but now they are in a terrible condition and require renovation. The yard has lost its initial meaning, losing the swimming pool and having the hill under which there is a former bomb-shelter instead. Due to negliegence of local institutions the ansemble is not yet renovated. But the yard still attracts children.

*Oriels- form of architecture, confluence of a balcony and windows at the outer wall of the building, destined to enlarge inner space.

A house, created by an architect is not only a building, but as well the transmitter of the energy to the surroundings. It means that architecture carries out not only the exterior character and aesthetic values, but also the inner climate and temper of the site and thus influences people’s minds and mentality.
Acquaint with the architecture will help you to get closer to understanding layered and cross-cultural essence of Riga.

Unfortunately, all depth of Riga’s architecture can not be expressed in words. The only thing what you can do is to come, see, feel and ENJOY it