The Architecture to Visit During the Riga Biennial

Detail of Rigas architecture
Detail of Riga's architecture | Photo Elena Spasova. Courtesy RIBOCA

Art & Design Editor

As Latvia celebrates its 100th year of independence, we take a look at eight unique architectural venues that have been taken over for the first Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art.

Former Faculty of Biology, University of Latvia

Located in between Old Riga and the Art Nouveau district in the picturesque Kronvalda Park, is the grand former Faculty of Biology of the University of Latvia. Built in 1898, architect Johanness Kohs chose a Neo-Renaissance style for what would become one of the Soviet Union’s scientific powerhouses. Although the laboratories, wood-panelled libraries and auditoriums lay empty, it still houses two working museums – of zoology, and the history of chemistry and botany. The former institution has ideally been commandeered as the main venue of the biennial with works throughout the expansive complex.
Address: Kronvalda bulvāris 4, Rīga

Former Faculty of Biology of the University of Latvia
Former Faculty of Biology of the University of Latvia

1. Art Station Dubulti

Art Gallery

Art Station Dubulti_photoAnsisStarks (2)
Photo: Ansis Starks

Built in 1977, this rather extraordinary modernist station at Jūrmala was based on the designs of Soviet architect Igor Jawein. Art Station Dubulti is the only art space in Europe that continues to operate as a railway station. Just 15 km outside of Riga, this is actually the last venue of the biennial, featuring work by Viron Erol Vert and Sissel Tolaas in The Sensorium curated by Solvej Helweg Ovesen.

Art Station Dubulti with coloured intervention by Viron Erol Vert

Apartment of Kristaps Morbergs

The architect and entrepreneur Kristaps Morbergs donated a number of his properties to the University of Latvia, including his apartment on the Riga Boulevard circle. Overlooking Freedom Square, the residence still retains a number of its Art Nouveau features including a striking stained-glass window, ornate tiled furnaces, parquet flooring and embellished ceiling ornaments. It also has Riga’s first ‘shower cabin’ with its polychrome-glazed tiles.
Address: Zigfrīda Annas Meierovica bulvāris 12, Rīga

Interior of Kristaps Morbergs’s apartment with stainless and art nouveau wood panelling, Riga
Fireplace in Kristaps Morbergs’s apartment, Riga

2. Sporta2 square

Art Gallery

Sporta2 square_photoAnsisStarks
Photo: Ansis Starks

Located in a new district of contemporary Riga, Sporta2 square has rejuvenated the former Laima chocolate and sweets factory into a creative hub that houses start-ups, co-working spaces, studios and kim? Contemporary Art Centre. Transforming the area into an emerging art, business and technology district, three of the former factory spaces make for ideal venues for showcasing art, which includes Marco Montiel-Soto’s impressive video installation, Permanent storm for a tropical constellation (2017).

Visitors to RIBOCA at Sporta2 square

3. Art Centre Zuzeum

Art Gallery

Art centre Zuzeum_photoAnsisStarks
photo: Ansis Starks

Latvian Art collectors and patrons, the Zuzāns family have founded the Art Centre Zuzeum in a former cork factory to house part of their 5,000-strong collection. Located in a UNESCO protected area, the building was designed by the Baltic-German architect Edmund von Trompovskis in 1910. Its yellow bricks and spiring chimney are typical of 20th-century industrial architecture, when Riga was the third largest industrial city in the Russian Empire. The celebrated Latvian architect Zaiga Gaile has been brought on to lead the renovation of the 6,896 metre square site into an art space.

Art centre Zuzeum

4. Kaņepes Kultūras Centrs

Art Gallery

Kaņepes Kultūras Centrs_photo by Andrejs Strokins (2)
Photo: Andrejs Strokins
Designed by the Baltic German architect Rudolf Heinrich Zirkwitz, another graduate from the Riga Polytechnic Institute like many of the architects creating Riga’s landmark architecture, this building was built in 1895. Initially Baltic German and Russian aristocrats used it for they social events until the first independence when it became the home of the Jāzepa Mediņa music school. It had been empty for some time until in 2012 when the Kaņepes Kultūras Centrs (KKC) moved in. Wanting to bring the historical building back to life for the Riga people to enjoy, KKC have created a successful alternative space for culture and entertainment.
New commission by Petra Bauer & Rebecka Katz-Thor in Kaņepes Kultūras Centrs

Former Bolshevichka textile factory

As with many cities around the world, former industrial buildings make for ideal artist studios. Such is the case with this former textile factory as Latvian artist Andris Eglītis has renovated one of the outhouses into an impressive studios, which actually is being used as one of the biennial venues. The factory opened in 1913 and produced footwear. During the First World War it became the site for a military hospital. In 1941, its purpose changed yet again and it became a weaving workshop and spinning mill, taking the name of Bolshevichka. However, since 1990, the building has lain empty.

Address: Ganibu dambis 30, Rīga

Exterior of Bolshevichka, Riga
Inside one of the floors of the Bolshevichka factory


Another area of Riga undergoing redevelopment is Andrejsala. Once a member of the Hanseatic League, Riga was an important trading port which played a crucial role during the Russian Empire. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the once prospering port which is on the banks of the Daugava River is today just a reminder of a former glory with its abandoned warehouses. As Andrejsala is transformed into a destination for culture, its post-industrial backdrop is the perfect location of works in the biennial that explore obsolescence.

Address: Andrejostas iela 29, Rīga

The gratified area of Andrejsala

Want to see more culture in Riga? Read about the first Riga Biennial

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