One of my favourite styles of architecture is Art Nouveau. Riga, the capital of Latvia, has more than 800 buildings in the Art Nouveau style. At the time, around 40% of all buildings in Riga were built in this style. Characterised by references to mythology, asymmetrical composition, and richly decorated expressionist facades, the buildings are ornate, and yet deeply functional. For me, it’s a perfect break from the ultra-minimalist graffiti covered oversized concrete dens of brutality that I normally lust after.
Art Nouveau Riga has many example of unique artistic architectural elements. Highlights include particularly devilish goat skulls, robotic styled masks, and cartoon-ish entrances. However, the business of the Art Nouveau style, and rejection of all things plain, provides enough architectural details to keep any aficionado looking skywards. Often, it appears that the buildings are simply overflowing with decorative elements. Lions, sphinxes, dragons, faces, and more, adorn the facades of these extremely fanciful buildings.
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The entire historical centre of Riga has been designated as a UNESCO heritage area, and the extensive collection of Art Nouveau architecture was a deciding factor.
Art Nouveau Riga – Where Form Finally Met Function
The imagination of the Art Nouveau architects in Riga was boundless. The styling continues from the mass of the building itself, through to the windows, entrance portals, smaller stylistic facade elements, and it is said even down to the wardrobes of the residents themselves.
Clearly, the economy of Riga was experiencing a boom period in the decade that the bulk of these buildings were constructed – around the turn of the 20th century. A hundred years later, and visitors to Riga continue to be fascinated by the striking and somewhat whimsical elements of Art Nouveau.
With a humanistic scale rarely exceeding five levels or so, the structures not only express individual personality, but as a complete collection provide an enormous amount of defining character to the city of Riga itself. In this case, the sum does equal far more than the individual parts.
Art Nouveau is considered a philosophy of arts and architecture, dating from around 1890 – 1910. Various European countries embraced what was considered a very modern, and youthful, movement. Although Riga may be one of the stand-outs for surviving examples, Art Nouveau styling is found from Russia to England, and many points in between.
Indeed, the profound impact of Art Nouveau can be felt worldwide. Considered an important stepping stone to the Modernism of the 20th century, Art Nouveau was a transitional element in architectural history that bridged a gap between extreme mid-century function and antiquity inspired neoclassicism.
Where To Find Art Nouveau in Riga, Latvia
Although Art Nouveau – Riga style – can be found all over the core of the city, there is an amazing concentration around the streets of Alberta, Elizabetes, and Strelnieku. This is also known as the “Embassy District”. A stroll around the block can be done in less than an hour, and provides a memorable introduction to the Art Nouveau architectural style.
As an aside – with only two nights here in Riga, Latvia, it was a particular stroke of good fortune that in-between a self guided tour of the Art Nouveau architecture, the city was alive with celebrations for National Independence Day. Celebrated on November the 18th each year, this day commemorates the proclamation of the very founding of the Latvian nation in 1918.
So, congratulations Latvia.
Save me a beer, I’ll be back out on the cold streets in just a moment.
For those of you not fortunate to be here in Latvia on this auspicious occasion, I hope you enjoyed reading the article on Art Nouveau Riga.
I certainly enjoyed checking out this incredible collection of buildings on the streets of the impressive Latvian capital.
PS, Further reading on Art Nouveau can be found here on wikipedia.
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