REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. The rise and fall of the Academy of Sciences.

Just a month ago some unofficial information was passim flooded around the net motivating to lease rooms for offices or meetings, or a car park at The Latvian Academy of Sciences building. This constant overall lack of enthusiasm or (any) near-future strategy of the biggest building in Rīga broke our hearts especially when we saw the first skyscraper in Latvia just sinking deeper in misery daily for almost 10 years while giving alternative tours around the near Moscow suburb.
Yet this story is much longer and gloomier - the story of the best potential in Rīga for all sorts of multi-functional multi-cultural events and workspaces struggling and fighting back over an idea of being the worst for it.

riga, science academy, soviet riga
THE GENESIS
The fairytale of this quarter is much older, and it is only fair to tell it from the beginnings to pay respects to its absent history. The place, where the Academy of Sciences was built, once was a very affluent "Russian Merchants' Yard", maintaining a vital trading and dwelling life from mid 18th century until the late 1940s. This wooden architectonic complex of 1817 with massive wood colonnades was a national heritage of classicism during WWII already, yet the reigning Soviet nomenclature, taking over the country entirely in 1945, had other plans.

The near Moscow suburb (also called Lastādija) was secretly envisioned to be the first block of the new Stalinist "Baroque" architecture in Rīga representing glory, might and supremacy of the antique styles fused with socialist ideas embodied in the whole Soviet regime at the time - this architectonic ensemble, similarly to Minsk, Belarus, would represent the new era, yet it only lasted for around 10 years and left a small complex of buildings at Dzirnavu iela 151 and a clean representation of Stalin's "Baroque" at Riepnieku iela 2. Thus the old Russian Merchant's Yard was torn down piece by piece (getting rid of its Orthodox community was an extra motivation) to reveal a lot for the biggest piece of the neighborhood - then-planned Collective farmer's house.

THE CONSTRUCTION
Put into construction in 1951, it would represent a congress space for kolhoz or "Soviet shared farming" - for professionals visiting Rīga from all the Baltics to develop the bright future of the Soviet agriculture. Although there was a joke circulating the city "If all the farmers come to Rīga, where would they put their carriages", the building was continued representing the traditional SOviet steeple standard similar to "Seven sisters" in Moscow or the "Palace of Culture" in Warsaw and would have a Josif Stalin's, the country leader's for roughly 30 years, statue planned on top. All elements combined made it being called the "Stalin's birthday cake" - the erection was planned to be finished in 1958 as his 80th birthday present.

But then, alas, Stalin, died on 5 March, 1953. Everybody cried or, at least, pretended to do so. An urban legend tells a story of some kindergartens putting onion rings on children's eyes so they could join in. Very soon there was another secretary general of USSR Nikita Khrushchev, who launched his "On the development and manufacture of precast concrete for construction" in 1954. That was the first step of building a different Soviet Union physically and metaphorically - architecture was ordered to be cheaper in costs, faster, more rational, (so Stalinist constructions would not fit in).
Meanwhile Josif Stalin himself was denied in 1956, when Khrushchev gave the "Secret speech" at the XX congress of the Communist party, denouncing Stalin's dictatorship and his violent purges, and denying his politics in general by announcing the building of a new Communism.

Also the idea of the Collective farmers' house suffered severely - farming became much more less important than racing against USA in technologies, physics, astronomy, or science in general, and the new concept rescheduled the skyscraper to being finished as Academy of Sciences. The overall excitement of the space race during the early 60's even lead to an absurd idea by Arvīds Pelše, then the 1st secretary of Latvian Communist party, of Rīga being renamed "Gagarin" honouring the most known person in the USSR and the West then - Yuri Gagarin, the first human to journey into outer space.

riga, soviet riga, science academy riga
The Academy of Sciences building was finished completely within a time period from 1958 - 1960 still symbolizing the true soul of Socialism - Western shapes with national ornaments within a gravy of socialist agenda. It was 104 metres high (now having a red star on top), with around 1500 rooms, a large, extremely beautiful concert and conference hall, even with a 320-space hotel on top floors.
To celebrate the great event an empty bottle of vodka was hidden under the LSSR emblem - it contained a rolled-up piece of paper with an inscription made by a carpenter's pencil saying that two bottles of vodka had been drunk to celebrate the completion of the building1.
THE NOW
Times went by, the USSR collapsed in 1991, and Latvia regained its independence. Some sort of denying of Soviet architecture began during the next following decade or so, and the Academy of Sciences building was put under a microscope. Surprisingly to many, the overall opinion toward this piece of architecture was generally neutral or even positive. Maybe, through the decades of Soviet policies, the content of the building remained logical, scientific, mainly protected from most of communistic propaganda. But maybe there should be many thanks given to Osvalds Tīlmanis, the designer of the skyscraper, who, once being a head architect of Rīga before WWII and also during the construction of the Academy, thought responsibly of all buildings being a part of one shared panorama, hence the pyramidal, Baroque spire coinciding with Old town from any viewpoint and perfecting-up the silhouette.


THE FUTURE
What's next? CAPITAL R has a plan, but does the Scientific society have any? The only true investment (more mental rather than monetary) was to open an observation deck at the 17th floor, revealing a stunning 360° view of Rīga. Then in 2014 the freshly renovated 750-space concert hall was reopened running only for 1 year and ended up with major disagreements between the Academy and the tenant, and a trial. Meanwhile most of 1500 rooms are still empty, the concert hall erodes like it used to, there is still a terrible post-Soviet cafe looking more like a "camp" artwork, and much of the occupied rooms are taken over by astrologists and other pseudo-scientists. The Academy has no strategy, no brand, but it does have a heinous web page.

Our plan is to see the Academy of sciences as a multi-cultural, multi-functional palace of life one day. The building is perfectly located, the rent is super cheap, the rooms are spacious, high-ceiled, perfectly made for creative industries. The building has a status, fame and history, and it has an enormous potential of becoming a joint destination of tourism, culture, education, creative industries, living.

We see the Latvian Academy of Sciences building as a megahub of offices for creative industries, workshops and studios for artists and agencies, coworking spaces, galleries, museums, theatres, restaurants and bars, even a hotel/hostel and, of course, the concert hall. We see it clearly. Does the Academy do?



MORE INFO
When: The observation deck is open every day from 09:00 - 22:00. ALWAYS double check during winter months
Where: Akadēmijas laukums 1. Lastādija - the near Moscow suburb.
How much: 5 Euros per adult. Buy tickets at the main hall from the person of duty. 
How: The Latvian Academy of Sciences building can be reached by bike in 10 minutes from Old town or on foot within 15-20 minutes time.
What else: The Central market pavilions are a-must! So is Moscow suburb itself famous with its wooden Imperial Russian architecture and the fast-fading Jewish history. Many enjoy visiting the river Daugava promenade 5 minutes afar.

CAPITAL QUESTION
What do you think will happen to The Academy of Sciences building?


1 Rudovska, Maija. Latvian Academy of Sciences building. 2009

Comments

  1. It's awful what's been happening to the academy, similar story to Linnahall up in Tallinn. I wonder how many generic glass towers will go up in Skanste and elsewhere before people realize what a treasure we have here. Another gem which is unforgivably wasting away is the Agroprojekts building at the end of Dzirnavu iela along the Daugava: https://pamesta.lv/2018/03/26/agroprojekts/

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    Replies
    1. Yes, sure Joseph! Let's see what Free Riga will do to the Agroprojekts house! They have contacted the owners to try out possibilities of opening something similar to what we have described here! Fingers crossed!

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