Glass and Stone Rīga
Full of historical references, Rīga provides an interesting starting point for contemporary architects. A bank building by Lithuanian architect Audrius Ambrasas, the National Library building by Latvian-American architect Gunārs Birkerts, an unusual project for a daycare centre for the homeless and disadvantaged by Miks Lejnieks and Ilze Neidere, to mention just a few, and with future plans of a grand concert hall and contemporary art museum. A legend says that Rīga shall never be ready.
Scattered throughout Rīga are simple yet beautiful wooden buildings of a variety of styles – from sheds to mansions, through baroque and classicism and even Art Nouveau. About 4000 wooden buildings still stand in Rīga, more than in any other European country, 500 or so of them in the historic centre, with the oldest ones from the 18th century. Many have in recent years been renovated in thoughtful and creative ways.
Art Noveau Rīga
Rīga is particularly well known for, and proud of, its wealth of Art Nouveau buildings. More than a third of central Rīga, around 800 buildings, is Art Nouveau, which is more than in any other European city. Next to the cosmopolitan Art Nouveau, a local national romanticism also flourished – slightly less decorative, with more of a Nordic thoroughness and often using local materials, for example, travertine. The prominence of these buildings, in addition to other gems such as wooden architecture, earned Rīga UNESCO World Heritage status.
Sleeper Suburb Rīga
The outskirts of Rīga take you back a few decades, as the areas are lined with Soviet estates – areas of town which consist of a series of identical buildings placed in geometric patterns. The biggest ones are Imanta, Purvciems, Zolitūde, and others. Functionalism was the prime principle in the design of these buildings – aesthetics were not important – their purpose was to provide affordable living space for a rapidly increasing urban population, nothing more. To this day, most city dwellers live in these estates, most of which have not been regenerated.
Rīga is home to numerous parks and green spaces. The most ‘wild’ is probably Mežaparks. This historic region of Rīga is situated on the banks of the lake Ķīšezers, and next to a far-stretching forest park. Historically a very affluent area, Mežaparks is lined with stunning villas. It is also home to the Rīga Zoo – the oldest in northern Europe, and a large open air concert hall which every 5 years houses the Nationwide Song and Dance Celebrations. It is a popular destination for lounging by and swimming in the lake, as well as cycling or rollerblading through the vast forest park grounds.
Old Rīga is the historical and geographical centre of the city. It covers a relatively small inner area of 13th - 18th century fortifications where unique monuments of medieval architecture, which have survived two world wars, are concentrated. Unlike the rest of central Rīga, which is arranged as a grid, Old Rīga is a maze of small, narrow, often cobblestoned Rīga roads, which weave in an unpredictable manner.