Art Nouveau Architecture Walk, Riga

Art Nouveau Architecture Walk (Self Guided), Riga

An architecture lover in general and that of Art Nouveau in particular will find plenty to look at in the quiet center of Riga. Jūgendstil (Latvian: Art Nouveau) architecture makes up roughly one third of all buildings in the heart of Latvia's capital. In fact, the city boasts the highest concentration of Art Nouveau structures anywhere in the world.

Constructed during a period of rapid economic growth, most of Riga's Art Nouveau dates between 1904 and 1914. The style is most commonly represented in multi-story apartment blocks.

As elsewhere, the Art Nouveau movement in Riga was driven by a desire to express greater individuality, with a touch of local flair, whilst creating a more rational kind of architecture than that prevalent during the 19th century. Stylistically, Riga's Art Nouveau can be fitted into four main categories: Eclectic or Decorative; Perpendicular or Vertical; National Romantic; and Neo-Classical.

However, such categorization is not always mutually exclusive, as many Art Nouveau buildings in Riga are a combination of several styles. The earliest ones, built before 1905, were of this exact type. Arguably the most famous of them – designed in Eclectic style – are a row of houses along Alberta Iela (Albert Street), architected predominantly by the Russian civil engineer Mikhail Eisenstein (father of the legendary film director Sergei Eisenstein). Similarly important in this respect are Eisenstein's other creations, such as the multi-story house at 4a Strēlnieku Iela and those in Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street).

Still, the best place to start one's voyage into Art Nouveau Riga is the Rīgas Jūgendstila Centrs (Art Nouveau Centre) which highlights the key aspects of this movement. If you're keen to learn more about and find your way around the prominent sights of Art Nouveau architecture in Riga, take our self-guided walking tour!
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Art Nouveau Architecture Walk Map

Guide Name: Art Nouveau Architecture Walk
Guide Location: Latvia » Riga (See other walking tours in Riga)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.3 Km or 0.8 Miles
Author: helenp
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Riga Art Nouveau Centre
  • Strēlnieku Iela (Strēlnieku Street) 4a
  • Alberta Iela (Albert Street)
  • Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 13
  • Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 8
  • Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 2
  • Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 2a
  • Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 1
  • Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street) 33
  • Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street) 10A and 10B
  • Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street) 13
  • Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street) 3
1
Riga Art Nouveau Centre

1) Riga Art Nouveau Centre

Rīgas Jūgendstila Centrs (Riga Art Nouveau Centre) is the only institution in the Baltic States where you can get a complete picture of the historical heritage of Art Nouveau in an authentic environment highlighting the fruits of this art movement.

The Centre is one of the youngest museums in Riga. It is housed in an early 20th-century apartment where, after a thorough inspection of the premises, an authentic early-1900s interior has been recreated to reveal the facets Art Nouveau to their fullest: from home planning to the minute details, such as door and window handles.

The multi-storey edifice, in which the museum is located, was completed in 1903 as a private residence for the prominent Latvian architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns; the blueprints were done in collaboration with Eižens Laube. The building’s trademark is a grandiose central spiral staircase.

The exhibits – pieces of furniture, tableware, paintings & sculptures, clocks, attire, embroidery and other household items from the early 20th century – came directly, or indirectly, from the homes where they once played an active part in daily life. Also adding to the atmosphere are the lovely attendant ladies, dressed up in Art Nouveau style.
2
Strēlnieku Iela (Strēlnieku Street) 4a

2) Strēlnieku Iela (Strēlnieku Street) 4a

This extravagant multi-storey edifice in the ‘quiet center’ of Riga is a perfect example of how Eclectic Art Nouveau can sometimes get rather extreme.

The astonishing building at 4a Strēlnieku Street illustrates an extremely decorative trend in Art Nouveau, boasting a fantastically rich façade, saturated with plastic constructional detail. The abundant use of ornamental elements, combining traditional historical forms with Art Nouveau motifs, is particularly dazzling when looked at up close.

The property, formerly a S. Mitusov private school, was designed by architect Mikhail Eisenstein and was built in 1905. During the Soviet period it was used as a dormitory.

In 1993-1994, the building was renovated for the needs of the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. The façade was thoroughly restored, while the interior had only some of its original decoration preserved.
3
Alberta Iela (Albert Street)

3) Alberta Iela (Albert Street) (must see)

Alberta iela is a street in central Riga known for its Art Nouveau buildings. It was built in 1901 and named after Bishop Albert who founded Riga in 1201.

Many of the apartment buildings along the street were designed by the Russian architect Mikhail Eisenstein who was particularly active in Riga at the beginning of the twentieth century. The architectural style makes use of structural and decorative elements of romantic nationalism common to northern Europe at the time.

Konstantīns Pēkšēns and Eižens Laube, a teacher and his pupil respectively, were prominent in building design on the street at the same time. Other authors of buildings of Alberta iela include Baltic and Baltic German architects Paul Mandelstamm, Hermann Hilbig and Heinrich Scheel.

Since April 2009 Pēkšēns' former residence at number 12 has housed the Riga Art Nouveau Museum. A number of institutions of higher education are located on the street or adjacent; the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, the Riga Graduate School of Law and the College of Business Administration. The embassies of Belgium and Ireland are also located on Alberta iela.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
4
Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 13

4) Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 13

Among the most famous Art Nouveau buildings found in Riga there is one particularly fine, at 13 Alberta iela (Albert street). Designed in an eclectic and decorative Art Nouveau manner, this residential building is a brainchild of the architect Mikhail Eisenstein.

Essentially a block of flats, it was built in 1904 for the State Councillor Andrey Lebedinsky. Evidently a very rich man, Lebedinsky also had a number of other apartment houses built throughout the city to Eisenstein's design – among them Alberta iela #4 (in 1904), #6 (in 1903) and Elizabetes iela #10b (in 1903).

The central risalits (projections) on the façades are crowned, above the eaves, by sculptural reliefs, saturated with multi-stage pediments. The latter are filled with masks of various expressions as well as dragons, cartouches, straight and curved lines, circles and other geometric figures.

The central mask – one with a radiant tiara – is a symbol of freedom, sun or victory. Especially common in Riga's Art Nouveau architecture, and richly presented here, are the female images. There are two huge masks with half-open mouths.

Other common Art Nouveau symbols include a peacock with an open tail, a knight's head (protector of feminine beauty), and a huge variety of ornaments. The typical Art Nouveau line pattern is seen in metal handrails on the balconies.

In 1998, the building was acquired by the Soros Foundation and donated to the Riga Graduate School of Law. For that purpose, it was renovated, from 1999 to 2002, with both façades carefully restored.
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Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 8

5) Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 8

Known as Leo Pole’s Apartment House, this building is yet another jewel of Art Nouveau architecture in Riga. It was also designed by Mikhail Eisenstein, built in 1903.

Being one of the most expressive examples of Eclectically Decorative Art Nouveau style, this multi-storey edifice boasts a wealth of decorative finish on the façade. The most ornate part of it is the central risalit (projection), reminiscent of a tree. At the top of it is a lion’s head, symbol of strength and power.

The façade is rhythmically divided by pilasters, each decorated with expressive mascarons of women’s heads, which symbolize beauty. Decorative reliefs – masks of scary beasts and frightening monsters – are used to adorn the windows and intended to protect those inside. The glazed blue bricks, making up the façade, create an excellent background for fabulously sculpted elements in white plaster.

The house has a U-shaped floor plan, with two flats on each floor. The drawing rooms are facing Albert street, while the other rooms line a long, dim corridor and overlook the inner courtyard. The staircase is also very exuberant.
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Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 2

6) Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 2

The Apartment House of Captain Vladimir Bogoslavsky at Alberta Iela 2 is the last representative example of Eclectic Decorative Art Nouveau in Riga, and was created by Mikhail Eisenstein in 1906. The property's layout is identical to that of other houses found in this street.

It is also the only building in which Eisenstein had used dark red and blue glazed tiles to decorate the façade. The latter abounds in geometric ornaments, none of which stands out, however, and is accentuated by the central avant-corps, which is surmounted with an attic – needed only for the placement of decorative elements: window apertures, mascarons and others.

The sky and the clouds seen through the attic apertures create a marvelous effect and add a totally new dimension to the building. Eisenstein planned to include two groups of sculptures in the attic, but only succeeded in setting up one – it has not survived.

The frontage carries two bay windows. The entrance gate is dominated by mascarons in the form of female heads. The half-naked female figures with torches in their hands and the sphinxes guarding the entrance illustrate the vividness of Eisenstein's imagination to which Riga owes much of its present appeal.
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Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 2a

7) Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 2a

Similarly to Alberta Iela 2, the 2A building is also an Apartment House of Captain Vladimir Bogoslavsky. Constructed in 1906 to a design by Mikhail Eisenstein, this is one of the last eclectically decorated Art Nouveau buildings erected in Riga.

Although architected in the manner identical to that of the neighboring homes in Albert street, this building is characterized by a false floor that not only allows the entry of more natural daylight, but also provides an additional space on the façade for decorative elements: geometric and stylized ornaments. Accenting the façade are the bands of glazed red tiles.

In line with the Art Nouveau tradition of using Egyptian motifs, this building has two sphinxes at its main entrance, symbols of security. Also, above the entrance, on each side there are female figures holding torches, symbolizing purification and the strength of fire.

Sir Isaiah Berlin, a Russian-British philosopher and historian, had spent the first years of his life here, from 1909 to 1915; attesting to this is a commemorative plaque, engraved in Latvian, English, and Hebrew. From 1916 through the 1930s, the property had belonged to a Latvian landlady named Lube. As of 1997, it has been listed by UNESCO as the World Heritage and is a part of the Historic Center of Riga.

Presently, the building serves as a private apartment block.
8
Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 1

8) Alberta Iela (Albert Street) 1

Alberta iela 1 is one of the first ever Art Nouveau buildings constructed in Riga. This house dates back to 1901 and marks a transition from Eclecticism to Jugendstil. The architects, Heinrich Karl Scheel and August Friedrich Sheffel, of the legendary “Šēls un Šefels” (Scheel & Scheffel) construction firm, were among the city's Art Nouveau pioneers.

Lately, the building has regained its original splendor – the decorative elements in both the apartments and stairwells, as well as on the façades, have been carefully restored.

The tasteful refinement and testimony to the affluence of the façade – richly adorned with multiple reliefs, featuring Art Nouveau ornamental expression, complete with the ceiling ornaments and cut glass – form one of the most beautiful monuments to the residents of Riga at the dawn of the 20th century. Among those who lived here once was the Latvian writer Zenta Mauriņa.

Today, the property is included in both the UNESCO World Heritage list and the State Architectural Monument list.
9
Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street) 33

9) Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street) 33

Easily noticeable from afar, much due to its colorfully decorated façade, this building is the first attempt by the architect Mikhail Eisenstein to make use of the Art Nouveau ornamental motifs that had just come into fashion at the turn of the 20th century. The property was built in 1901.

It looks as though Eisenstein had resorted to elements of almost every previous historical architectural style known to him: from Romanesque to Renaissance to Baroque, and on to Classicism. Among the applied adornments here are certain decorative masks, stylized plants and geometric forms, typical of Art Nouveau, brought together in a saturated, rhythmic and eclectic overall composition.
10
Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street) 10A and 10B

10) Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street) 10A and 10B

Standing next to one another, at the corner of Elizabetes and Antonijas streets, are the two of Mikhail Eisenstein’s most iconic buildings in Riga. Completed in 1903, they are perhaps also the most recognized pearls of local Art Nouveau.

Although Konstantīns Pēkšēns was the initial mastermind behind this project, it is Eisenstein who eventually took it over and is credited for adding to the typically eclectic design of 10A building an unusually extravagant façade (complete with colorful set of Art Nouveau ornamentation).

Among other elements seen on the façade is the impressive, large window aperture in the shape of a keyhole on the upper floor. Another distinctive feature, intertwined in several decorative elements, is the stylized carriage spring motif. This was Eisenstein’s subtle way of mentioning his day job at that time – as the head of the Public Transport Department in the Vidzeme province.

The 10B building next door (once an apartment house with shops, belonging to the State Councillor Andrey Lebedinsky) is also rich in ornamentation. Dressed in blue ceramic tiles, the façade on two upper floors here offers a wonderful background for stucco decoration: masks, peacocks, sculptured heads and geometric figures. The monumental mascarons, rising two floors high above the central avant corps, complete the sumptuous attic.

The façade's design was based on the sketch made by the Leipzig architect Georg Wünschmann and artist Hans Kozel, published previously in St Petersburg.

The incredibly long female faces seen at the top of 10B (whose expressions seem to make anyone ruminate the meaning of life) are among the most photographed sights in Riga. Equally impressive in this respect are the oddly-shaped windows and smiling sun face under the balcony at 10A.
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Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street) 13

11) Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street) 13

An elegant Art Nouveau accent within the eclectic outer perimeter of the Ring of Boulevards in central Riga's densely build-up area, this creation of architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns saw the light in 1904.

The strongly articulated building is crowned with several gables, whose contours are reminiscent of the stylized German Renaissance. The surfaces, in turn, are richly adorned with decorative reliefs in the manner of ornamental Art Nouveau, adding a great deal to the overall appearance.

Similar reliefs are also found in the decoration of several spandrels. The fact that the window apertures are different on each floor indicates that the apartments inside are also of different plans and sizes.
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Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street) 3

12) Elizabetes Iela (Elizabeth Street) 3

The Elizabeth Street #3 building in Riga is a five-storey apartment block constructed in 1899 to a design by architect Kārlis Johans Felsko and sculptor Augusts Folcs.

Originally, this beautiful Art Nouveau house belonged to a wealthy merchant Artūrs Butovics, to whom it represented a rather valuable asset – located in the prestigious embassy district, close to the Old Town, the Daugava river and the city's yacht club.

Eventually, the property had changed hands several times and at some point, during the Soviet period, housed a hotel named "Lighthouse" (prior to 1969 it was known as the hotel Daugava). Back then, inside the hotel there were also a café called "Baka" (40 seats) and a clothing repair shop.

A comprehensive (several years-long) restoration, after Latvia's independence, saw the building regain its original splendor – exquisite silhouette with the bright façade, rich in plastic ornamentation, and the well-kept, green courtyard.

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