It’s been a long time since I’ve visited a city I thought I might live in. No matter how fleeting the thought, it was there. Riga might have its problems (what city doesn’t) – it’s a curious mix of old style and new money with the former making up for the bad taste of the latter – and yet it’s decidedly attractive.
Famed for its Art Nouveau, it’s thought that 40% of the buildings in Riga are in this style – the most of any city in Europe. The style was at its peak of popularity when Riga experienced a financial boom and the building regulations were relaxed – the architects of that period had a field-day. There were a couple of places I wouldn’t mind living opposite. For instance, I don’t think I’d ever tire of looking across Alberta iela at this building.
And some I wouldn’t mind living in. Imagine looking out this window every morning – mind you, from what I remember, the view is a building that houses the Design Company Frank & Stein. That could wear old pretty soon.
Elsewhere in the city, it’s hard not to stop and gawk – literally. There is so much of interest to look at. Walking the streets is like being on one long treasure hunt – just when you think you’ve found the most amazing building, you find another, even more beautiful.
Yet as you walk through the city and out to the suburbs, there’s a curious mix of old wooden buildings trying in vain to hold their ground in the face of modern development. Splashes of tired, resigned colours offer a more subtle balance to the screaming attention-seeking oranges and greens of the new builds.
Some are just crying out for a little attention as the valuable real estate around them is sold off to developers and private individuals with plenty of money and very little taste. I’ve bitched about this before taking Gozo as a case in point. And I was still bitching as I walked the streets of Āgenskalna priedes, a suburb across the Daugana River much neglected by the guide book. It was here, though, that I actually stopped, considered, and then applauded this creative melding of old and new.
There are some hideous examples of new trying to look old – I wonder if there’s an architectural equivalent of the idiom ‘you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear’? Although I number two architects amongst my close friends, I don’t claim to know anything at all about their profession. Like art itself, I simply know what I like… and don’t like. And I found this type of ostentation offensive. A strong word, perhaps, but honestly… if you have that much money, build your castle in the country. Miles from anywhere.
This didn’t work for me, either. Although the intent to blend in was clearly visible, I wanted to scream ‘Have some confidence! Be yourself! Don’t try to ape yer man next door!’ But then, in fairness, when this does happen and when the new monstrosities appear, I’m the first to bitch and moan about them. Strange… when I’m so easily pleased most of the time. When I looked back at some of the many photos I took, I noticed that I am more fascinated with old, run-down decrepit buildings than I am with the newer ones. Give me peeling paint over a gloss veneer any day. I wonder what I’m projecting? Perhaps there’s material there just crying out for analysis.
Yet the juxtaposition of old and new still fascinates me and I wonder if anyone else really gives a toss?