In Riga’s construction history the end of 19th century and beginning of 20th was a period of hitherto unknown development: at that time it acquired the shape and form that is unique to this Baltic metropolis. These buildings taken together were the basis for including a great part of Riga’s center (435 ha) in the list of World Cultural Heritage in 1997.

Reinhold Schmaeling (1840 – 1917) occupied the important post of the architect of the city of Riga for 36 years (1879—1915). Over this long period, he proved himself to be both a productive and creative personality and a capable and friendly bureaucrat, making good use of his excellent education and international outlook regarding city development.

After graduating, with a gold medal, from the St Petersburg Academy of Art in 1869, he spent four years in Italy and Germany, creating a portfolio of sketches and drawings of architecture. This work was rewarded by an academic title.  

In 1879 Schmaeling was invited by Riga City to become the city’s chief architect. In the period he occupied this post, Riga grew rapidly and substantially becoming the undisputed multicultural and cosmopolitan metropolis of Western Russia: an important port, a railway junction, and a trading venue.

Stylistically this period in Riga’s architecture was dominated by eclecticism and art nouveau (Jugendstil). The architectural ensembles along the boulevard ring acquired their final shape, so did the unique collection of art nouveau buildings that number in the hundreds.

Schmaeling’s activity coincides in time with the era of British-born engineer and entrepreneur George Armistedt as Riga’s mayor: Armistedt was behind the great scale engineering and social programs in Riga.

Schmaeling was the architect of over 100 public buildings, apartment houses, and technical constructions. Three hospital complexes, two markets, over 20 schools, and five fire stations are a part of his creative legacy.  

Stylistically Schmaeling’s architecture belongs to eclecticism, yet several works demonstrate elements characteristic of art nouveau.

There are several dozen of buildings (primarily schools) whose exteriors show a successful combination of red brick and light plasterwork. Several of Schmaeling’s works demonstrate the influence of neo-Renaissance, including the building at 60 Dzirnavu Street where the architect’s apartment and private office have been preserved now housing the present day city architect’s office.

The vast complex of Riga Hospital Number One was started by Schmaeling’s predecessor Johann Daniel Felsko, but as of 1902, it was added to by Schmaeling’s projects: the expressive main building that faces Bruņinieku Street and women’s clinic on Šarlotes Street.

The Latvian National Opera contains much evidence of Schmaeling’s talent: he headed the restoration work of the then Riga Theater Number One after it was gutted by fire in 1882.

Schmaeling’s creative and administrative work was a positive contribution to Riga’s development in a formative period in its history.

Jānis Dripe

design: tundra