Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Art Nouveau in Rīga - Alberta Street

Rīga is well known for its Art Nouveau architecture, which was especially popular in Europe between 1890 and 1910. The Latvian word for Art Nouveau is Jūgendstils, from the German word Jugendstil. Inspired by natural forms and structures such as the curved lines of plants and flowers, architects were freely creating without the constraints of the established standards. Since medieval times Rīga had enjoyed the prestige of a rich and influential Baltic city, but at the turn of the century it faced unprecedented economic development; along with an increase in the quality of life came the trends that were sweeping the rest of Europe, such as Jūgendstils.

In Spain the movement was known as Modernisme, and its most famous architect is considered to be Antoni Gaudí. His work includes the Sagrada Família basilica, Park Güell, Casa Milà and Casa Batlló; for more on Gaudí please read my post A Gaudí Day.

Although prime examples of Art Nouveau can be found all over Rīga (and even farther afield, such as in Liepāja, Daugavpils and Jūrmala), one neighborhood has an especially high concentration of Jūgendstils earning it the title of Riga’s Art Nouveau district. This area is mainly concentrated around two streets: quiet Alberta iela and the busier Elizabetes iela. Several self-guided walking tours can be found online, such as this one, which I found conveniently easy to download and glance at while out with the boys. We cut over on Antonijas iela, and before turning on Alberta iela we admired the dragons guarding the door at Antonijas 8 (Peksens, 1903).

Alberta iela 2, Eisenstein, 1906. The Art Nouveau of Alberta street is mainly the legacy of one architect, Mikhail Einstein. Of Swedish and German-Jewish descent, Eisenstein was first an engineer, but through fatefully was awarded a contract to build multiple apartment buildings, many of which are on Alberta iela. Eisenstein brought human, mythical and even zoological elements into his designs. Sometimes considered “Romantic” Art Nouveau, the femme fatale theme often found in his décor is thought to be a reflection of his marriage.

Alberta iela 2a (Eisenstein, 1906) is lavishly decorated, including an additional story that is purely decorative with large windows showing only sky…

Alberta iela 4, Eisenstein 1904, renovated in 1998.

Alberta iela 8, 1903, also Eisenstein. Eclectic decorative Art Nouveau, the plan resembles layouts published in German architecture journals at the turn of the century.

Alberta iela 13 (1904) was a collaboration between Eisenstein and Lebedinskis. In 1999/2000 the façade as well as the ornate interior of the building were renovated, and today it houses the Rīga Graduate School of Law and the Rīga Art Nouveau Center.

After turning the corner, Eisenstein’s Strēlnieku iela 4a is visible. This 1905 building was rebuilt in 1994 and today houses the Riga School of Economics.

Eisenstein designed a total of 19 buildings between 1897 and 1911. A more subtle “Vertical” Art Nouveau with an emphasis on vertical lines emerged after 1907 when Eisenstein’s elaborate creations drew some criticism from the architectural community. Both colleagues and the press distanced themselves from the eccentric architect, and after divorcing his wife he eventually left the city, never to return. The dominant European architectural and decorative style of Art Nouveau was eventually replaced by Art Deco (and later Modernism), and Eisenstein passed away in Berlin in 1921.

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