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Postmodern urban space in Riga

June 26, 2010

By Elina Bikulcha

“The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently.”

(Umberto Eco)

Riga is considered the capital of Art Nouveau in Europe, but it also has great examples of other architecture. Thinking of modern Riga as of quintessence of different styles and movements it is interesting to draw attention to postmodern elements in the city.

Postmodernism is a movement which appeared in late 1960s as a reaction to modernism and its values. There is no one specific definition of the term and this question is debated among the representatives of the style themselves. An informative and entertaining definition of postmodernism is here.

Ideas of postmodernism became common in Riga by the end of 20th century. One of the reasons for this is a tendency to renew values, which were important in Latvia before the USSR period. For example the creation of the “Occupation museum” in the Old Town, the development of different projects to enlarge this building (G. Birkert’s plan to build one more part of the museum which would be white and would symbolize the bright future).

A local expert Janis Lejnieks considers a building at 36 Dzirnavu Street a symbol of postmodern architecture in Riga, which combines renewed elements of “wood classicism” with modern glass construction. It is also a symbol of postmodernism because of its story, which can be found here.

Dzirnavu Street 36. Foto by Indriķis Stūrmanis.

A young architect and Fulbright scholar from the University of Pennsylvania Gabriel Burkett has his own opinion on the postmodernism elements in Riga. Burkett has been staying in Riga for 9 months; he is observing the architecture in Riga and studying people’s different ways of life and its influence on architecture. Burkett is not sure if the building at Dzirnavu Street is the best example of postmodern architecture in Riga. “It might use local materials (like the wood on the facade), and it also uses horizontal bands, appliquéd as a sort of decoration – the layering of simple forms could also be considered vaguely postmodern. Those are elements somewhat characteristic of postmodernism, but they don’t stand out so much here. It is missing any really obvious signs of postmodern style, like mixture of historical elements,” – Burkett says.

Burkett thinks that “Rigas Makslas Telpa” in the Old town, situated on Kungu Street is a good example of postmodern architecture.

Rigas Makslas Telpa, Kungu Street. Photos by Elina Bikulcha.

The young architect also agrees with Dr. Lejnieks that very striking postmodern examples are apartment houses in Marupe, built by architects A. Skujina and A. Marinska. The balconies of the apartments are decorated with Latvian ornaments, which is in tradition of postmodern eclecticism.

Creators of “Lido” restaurant on Krasta Street used symbols of country architecture – windmills as a picturesque element. Lejnieks says that it is as a postmodern tendency, because old values are combined with new technologies and modern architecture. Burkett thinks that this is an example of regionalism.

Although Riga is not a place to find many “postmodern only” examples, there are still some postmodern features, which prove the importance and the specific role of this style in Latvian architecture.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Dmitrij permalink
    July 11, 2010 15:36

    Quite interesting article

  2. September 29, 2010 00:02


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