Design Ecosystem in Riga

{ 🇱🇻 } – Latvia: Slowly Coming Into Its Own

Central Riga. Photo by Kristaps Ungurs.

Latvia’s capital is still widely undiscovered. This Baltic state — Vilnius and Tallinn, the capitals of the other two, Lithuania and Estonia, whose design scene we already examined in previous issues of our magazine — has been discovered by more and more people in recent years. But the city’s resurgence after the initial troubling years post-independence (Latvia was one of the Soviet Union’s constituent republics) didn’t only interest its economic sector, but its creative one as well.

Latvia: A Country’s Resurgence

Latvia was a country that for long has been under the shadow of the Soviet Union, although it was never really happy about it. To explain why, we need to go a little bit back in history. Latvia, as well as Estonia and Lithuania — collectively known as the Baltic countries — were annexed into the Soviet empire only in 1940 following an occupation.

At the time, the Baltic countries were enjoying a standard of living that was higher than that of the rest of the former USSR. The three countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia retained their above-average quality of life even during their early Soviet period, but inevitably, due to the Soviet Union’s effort to harmonise the conditions throughout their whole territory as well as the planned economic system, it didn’t that long before these countries started to stagnate and lose their higher standard of life.

All three Baltic states regained their independence in 1991, ending many decades of Soviet rule. Like all former Soviet republics, the newly-independent Republic of Latvia struggled in the first period of national sovereignty but is now among the ones doing better, along with its two Baltic neighbours.

The State of Design in Riga

The design scene in Riga looked very different a decade ago compared to right now. If you happened to make your way to Riga in, say, 2010, you wouldn’t have found much of a design scene to speak of. Fast forward to today, and you’re bound to come across examples of the city’s successful venture into the world of design.

One of those examples is the Riga Design Walk, an event that took place for the first time in October 2020. It was a big success, as the facts that “most spots had already been fully booked during the first two weeks of registration, and the walks were attended by a total of about 500 people” prove. The design walk in Riga was organised by SEGD (Society for Experimental Graphic Design), a non-profit professional association consisting of over a thousand members from 35 countries.

Another recent initiative was the Design of Latvia 2020 brochure, produced with the support of the Government of Latvia itself. The brochure was “a comprehensive design guide based on the Design Strategy of Latvia 2017-2020. Its main aim is to facilitate the understanding of the current situation and processes in the design of Latvia in a more interdisciplinary and informal context which transcends traditional sectoral boundaries”.

The fact that a comprehensive design strategy was outlined at a national level with the support of the country’s government testifies to the importance that design has reached in this small Baltic nation.

The Jaunā Teika development in Riga. Photo by lilzidesigns.

Design Education

The choice available for those wanting to undertake studies in the various fields of design isn’t still as developed as it perhaps should.

Perhaps the only way to come to study design in Latvia if you’re not Latvian is currently offered by the Art Academy of Latvia (AAL), established in 1921. The AAL’s Faculty of Design has departments of functional, environmental art, metal and fashion design. Being a member of several exchange programmes, such as the EU’s Erasmus+, Swiss-European mobility and the Nordic-Baltic frameworks KUNO and CIRRUS. Additionally, the AAL has established bilateral agreements with other universities and academies in different areas, so in case your home institution doesn’t participate in any of the aforementioned programmes, you might still come to study at AAL as an exchange student.

Where to Work From?

At the time of writing, the situation is still far from being solved in the European continent when it comes to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This means that the options available for those willing to work remotely are highly reduced at best. Having said that, if you find yourself for any reason during this rather unusual time, you might still be able to visit some cafes and co-working spaces — but be aware that restrictions get toughened and eased very quickly.

If you’re looking for laptop-friendly cafes, then our top recommendations are Piens, on Aristida Briāna str. 9, Miit, on Lāčplēša str. 10, K|I|D, on Tērbatas str. 41/43 and, last but not least, Gauja, also on Tērbatas str. If you’re more of a co-working space type of person, then make sure to check out People Work (Ernesta Birznieka-Upīša str. 21), Mill (Krišjāņa Barona str. 136A) and the aptly-named Coworking Riga (Artilērijas str. 3-k2).

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Gianmarco Caprio / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Content creator, editor and community manager at Phase.