the Building

THE SSE RIGA BUILDING

The SSE Riga main building, erected in 1905-06, is located on Strelnieku iela 4a in Riga’s renowned Jugendstil/Art Noveau district. The district is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage due to its “outstanding universal value by virtue of the quality and quantity of its Art Noveau/Jugendstil architecture, which is unparalleled anywhere in the world…”

Built as a German School for boys during the first period of rapid economic expansion in Riga, the building survived the hardships of the 20th century and rose like a Phoenix from the ashes in 1994; now with English as the language of instruction and preparing both female and male students for the region’s second period of rapid economic expansion.


The Building and the Architect

The SSE Riga building is a remarkable structure and an architectural monument of national significance in the heart of Riga’s Jugendstil (Art Noveau) district. The Jugendstil developed as a reaction against the imitation of historical styles, which were considered remnants of the past at the end of the nineteenth century. It introduced a distinctively new artistic expression bearing unusual figurative decoration on the façade of buildings. However, the Jugendstil was much criticised by contemporaries for its highly elaborate nature and around 1910 national romanticism was back in fashion.

At the turn of the 19th century Riga was one of the largest cities in the Russian Empire. Between 1897 and 1913 it experienced an economic boom. The population of Riga grew by 88% reaching 530.000 people just before the outbreak of the First World War. The growth was accompanied by a boom in construction. Architects and builders were highly professional and the buildings were of a very high quality. The architect contributing the most to the Jugendstil expression in Riga is Michail Eisenstein (1867-1920), father of the famous film director Sergei. The Eisenstein family moved to Riga from St Petersburg in 1897 and lived in Riga until 1917. During the years in Riga Michail Eisenstein designed 19 buildings, most of them in the Jugendstil, among them the School’s building at Strelnieku iela 4a. The decorations on Eisenstein’s buildings tended to be dramatically expressive, and the School’s building at Strelnieku iela 4a is no exception. Janis Krastins characterizes Eisenstein’s architecture as one that “dazzles or repels, which laughs in its abundance and suffers from exhaustion, which sparkles or
smolders”.

The School’s building was designed and constructed in 1905-1906 as the Mitusov Private School Building. In her book on Eisenstein’s architecture in Riga, Solveiga Rush writes the following about the School’s building. “It is a symmetrically arranged six-story building of yellow stone, masterfully contrasted with brilliant blue tiles. As seen in other Eisenstein’s works, the stringcourses and deeply riveted stonework accentuate the horizontal orientation and provide a striking play of light and shadow. The projecting bays and massive brackets supporting the columns further add mass and volume to the façade. The sculptural decoration is rather understated and consists of highly idealized females placed against the columns. The clinging draper clearly defines their youthful forms. Over their heads they hold wreaths, a symbol of victory or unity. They are contrasted with stately maidens in mythical Viking boats projecting from the piers. The boats are in the shape of bald eagles, another symbol of the sun, strength and victory. The oars project from holes on the side of the boat suggesting that they are intended to be rowed across the sky. … Directly above these images are figures of eagles from whose chests dangle circular wreaths – further restating the associations with sky and victory. The tower above the parapet displays atlas figures whose head and raised arms support the cornice and the roof. The capitals of the piers and columns consist of stylized rams’ heads symbolizing masculine wisdom, power and strength”.

The First School at Strelnieku iela 4a.

Through the grandson of the principal of the German Albertschule, Prof. Dr. Jürgen von Ungern-Sternberg, the School has received some notes and reports on the German School for Boys that was the first to move in after the School building was brought to completion in

1906. Originally the beautiful house at Schützenstra
be 4a was meant as a girl’s school and pension (hence the two staircases), but the rent set by the Russian landlord was too high, and instead the German society bought the house and set up a school there. Its first principal was Bernhard von Hollander. After 11 years on Schützenstrabe 4a the School moved to the Riga Stadtgymnasium in 1917.

The school, a primary and secondary school for boys, soon enrolled well above 300. The problem was to keep the students until the end, since in the then Russian province they had to take the secondary school certificate in Russian. The main technique used was concentrating the studies in the first seven years with German as the teaching language, the curriculum being repeated in Russian language in the last year.

Many students left school to go into business or other professions not requiring higher education. Others went to schools abroad or moved away from the area with their parents. Death also took its toll. Mr. Hollander lost two of his own children while living in his apartment in the School, and some students succumbed to scarlet fever.

The financial situation of the School was critical and tuition fees had, of course, to be charged. There were, however, many charitable gifts to the School. In the School building, there was room for a museum, the German School Museum, with a library for the teachers as well as maps, scientific models and the like.

Renovation and Reconstruction

In March 1993 the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers approved the proposal to establish the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga and to assign the building at Strelnieku iela 4a for the purpose. In December the same year, the Swedish construction company Skanska began the reconstruction and work. The architect was Bengt Rönnhed at the Tengbom architect office. The reconstruction work included restoring the façade of the building and a number of its rooms to their original condition. This involved using local artisans to repair and replace damaged ornamentation, to do stucco and wall stencilling, whilst a Swedish company took care of the repair work on the eight large sculptures which sit atop the building’s towers. All restoration work was carried out in cooperation with Latvia’s State Inspection of Monuments. Other parts of the School were rebuilt to comply with the demands of a modern educational institution. For example a dilapidated old building in the courtyard was pulled down to make way for the George Soros Auditorium and the student cafeteria. In the new parts of the building the idea was to combine “Swedish light” with Latvian traditions. The Latvian touch is further enhanced by the collection of contemporary Latvian art which is exposed throughout the building.

The Building Today

Since it was reopened as a school in 1994, the building has not only been the second but the “first home” to many students coming early morning and leaving around midnight. In the feed back from students on the study process at SSE Riga, the building and the atmosphere created by the combination of old and new architecture are always mentioned as one of the most important factors when the study environment at the School is discussed. Students and visitors alike appreciate the atmosphere created by the light that flows into the building as well as the consistent use of colors, in particular the “SSE Riga green” color that can be found on walls, doors, window frames, furniture etc.

In the early 2000s, the Peter Wallenberg Building was added to the educational complex that houses SSE Riga and the Riga Graduate School of Law. The SSE Riga Library as well as several lecture halls are located in the Peter Wallenberg Building.

A Short History of the Building

  • 1905: Stepan Mitusov, an administrator from Russia bought the land on Strelnieku iela.
  • 1905: The Riga Board of Building Construction approved the project designed by Michail Eisenstein.
  • 1906: Municipal Health-officer Dr. Nagurskis reported to the Sanitary Inspection that the newly built dwelling house was completed and ready for tenants to move in, with the exception of rooms for the school and the basement.
  • 1906-1917: The German School for Boys was located in the building.
  • 1919-1944: Some parts of the building were used as apartments.
  • 1928: The Riga Municipality decided to buy the real estate at Strelnieku iela 4a for 137.000 Ls.
  • 1928-1939: The building housed a German primary school for boys.
  • 1935-1939: An Estonian primary school occupied the ground floor.
  • World War II: According to eyewitnesses the building was used to house Russian prisoners of war.
  • 1944-1950: A Russian grammar school was started in the building.
  • 1950-1956: The building housed the State Technical College.
  • 1957-1993: The building is used as a student dormitory for the College of Building Construction.
  • March 11, 1993: The Latvian Cabinet of Ministers approved Mr. Piebalgs’ proposal to the Ministry of Education to establish the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga as a non-profit association and to assign the building at Strelnieku iela 4a for that purpose.
  • December 8, 1993: Skanska began renovation and rebuilding work.
  • September 19, 1994: SSE Riga moved into the renovated building.
  • November 8, 1994. The building was officially inaugurated in the presence of H.M. the King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf and the President of the Republic of Latvia Mr. Guntis Ulmanis.

Literature

Janis Krastins, ”Michail Eisenstein”, Zvaigzne, nr 10, 1989.

Solveiga Rush, “Mikhail Eisenstein, Themes and Symbols in Art Nouveau Architecture of Riga 1901-1906”, Neptuns, Riga, 2003.

UNESCO World Heritage list, Riga, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/852.