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Dr. Krzysztof Nawratek (University of Sheffield, UK) and Dr. Oskars Redbergs. EXHIBITION REVIEW.

February 11, 2016 7:33 am

Dr. Krzysztof Nawratek (University of Sheffield, UK) and Dr. Oskars Redbergs. EXHIBITION REVIEW.

Learning from Riga
Krzysztof Nawratek (University of Sheffield, UK)

Exhibition ‘9 Conditions of Riga’ is an interesting and ambitious project. It’s purpose is to tell a story of new Latvian (or rather Rigan) architecture, built since the re-establishment of Latvian independence in 1991. However, the strength of this exhibition is not the quality of the presented projects (some of these projects are excellent, but some are – to put it mildly – controversial). It’s strength lays in an attempt to find a new, original and precise language to tell this story.

‘9 Conditions of Riga’ presents buildings, however, it would be a mistake to see this exhibition as a collection of pictures of interesting or/and significant buildings erected recently in Riga, in a slightly perverse way, the most important aspect of this exhibition is that it must be constructed by the visitors themselves. You have to create your own narrative based on the elements given by the exhibition’s curators to fully enjoy it.

The thesis which is behind this exhibition is not generally well received by architects, it is an approach that rejects the importance of the architect as a creator and that completely ignores the culture that treats architects as celebrities, rather focusing on various conditions that allow certain structures to be built.

This approach itself deserves respect and attention, but ‘9 Conditions of Riga’ offers something even more fascinating. Instead of using language and typologies tested in other cities and countries, curators have the courage to create their own language and their own typologies. They consider Riga as a city where mechanisms of neoliberal economy operating in the context of post-socialist city are fully presented.

‘9 Conditions of Riga’ is then established as a project not dissimilar to Robert Venturi’s and Denise Scott Brown’s ‘Learning from Las Vegas’ or Rem Koolhaas’ ‘Delirious New York’ – this exhibition is a project which aims to develop a fresh critical language able to describe post-socialist architecture in the context of neoliberal economy.

At this point, there are two obvious questions: Why Riga? Should not we rather analyze Warsaw, Tallinn, Prague or Moscow? The other question would be: is the typology proposed in this project versatile enough to be used to analyze the architecture of other post-socialist cities?
In my opinion, the answer to the first question is meaningless. Each of the cities of the former Eastern Bloc have distinctive features and probably each of them can be consider as an interesting architectural laboratory. So if you ask – why Riga? I would ask – why not? To answer the other question, one should take a closer look at two of the categories examined in this project. These categories (conditions) – ‘New Pastoralism’ and ‘Amplifications’ – look similar at first. Both conditions relate to historical buildings and while looking at the examples of presented buildings it is sometimes difficult to figure out why does a certain building belong to this and not to the other category. This confusion is possible only if one focuses on the building solely as a de-contextualized artifact. However, if one starts to consider architecture as a process – not only analyzing the context in which buildings arise, but as a movement of thought and the tension between the idea and its materialization, the proposed typology becomes clear and convincing.

The adoption of such a perspective – narrative of architecture as a movement of thought in the broad socio-economic context is a great and promising achievement of this exhibition. I sincerely hope that it is the beginning of a much larger intellectual project. We sure should learn from Riga.