RIGA - A grocery store is not your typical architectural wonder. But this year, Latvia's top architects have proved that even a sprawling supermarket can have aesthetic value.
On March 8, the Latvian Architecture Association awarded the Kubs architecture firm first place in this year's national architecture competition for their 2003 design of the new Rimi hypermarket on Krisjana Valdemara Street.
The prestigious competition, now in its seventh year, is divided into seven architectural categories. An award is given a to the best design in each. Following the recognition given for accomplishments in these categories, an eight-member jury - composed of previous winners and representatives from newspapers and architectural magazines - then awards a grand prize. Before winning the entire competition, the Rimi Hypermarket design received first place in the best new building category.
According to LAS President Juris Poga, the contest provides "a nice possibility to show the public the level of Latvian architecture."
Poga claims that the quality of Latvian architecture has now reached that of Europe. Even more important, the amount of real estate development in Riga and Latvia's smaller cities is also growing rapidly. This news is motivating both architects and realtors.
"We had problems in the contest's first years because the level of building was so low," Poga said. "But in this last competition we collected 50 projects, the most entries ever. These projects came not only from Riga, but also from Ventspils, Sigulda, Liepaja, Aluksne and cities all over Latvia. This is good because we can see that economic activity and new buildings aren't only in Riga, but in other parts of Latvia as well."
Last year, shopping centers dominated architecture and development in Riga. However, now this trend currently seems to be giving way to the development of large housing complexes.
The 2003 contest winner is an appropriate reflection of last year's trend and a surprising testimony to the level of Latvia's architectural innovation. The unique design combines a historic industrial factory and its brick water tower with a 6,0000-square-meter modern, glass and metal structure. This inventive combination of old and new played a big part in the jury's final decision.
"The Rimi center is in a historic part of Riga," Poga said. "It's an absolutely different way to build a supermarket, which is usually a very simple building. The historic water tower adds a completely new quality."
The director of the project, architect Zane Kalinka, agrees that the brick water tower was the captivating characteristic that helped her project win the competition.
"This building was 6,000 square meters and only one floor. Therefore, it needed an accent," Kalinka said. "So we decided to keep the old water tower as a vertical accent and a character mark. We integrated it into the modern complex and kept the trees. We hope to make the tower into a bar and in the summer time there will be a cafe in the surrounding terrace."
Socially, this project is helping to boost the economy and the real estate value of this neighborhood.
Real estate and architecture have a direct and significant effect on each other, said Poga. When a new and architecturally appealing shopping complex such as the Rimi hypermarket is built, it provides a social center point for the neighborhood and improves the area's quality of living. If the modern structure is tastefully designed, it can also enhance the overall attractiveness of the neighborhood. Thus, real estate value goes up.
"When this Rimi was built [last March] the neighborhood became a nicer region and the prices of the houses around it went up," Kalinka said. "Before, when there was the old factory, this was a very bad living area. The Rimi center helped improve the area and the customers really needed this shop."
According to Poga, the current trend to integrate modern structures with historical buildings is rather controversial. There are two conflicting opinions over this idea - the first arguing that architects can successfully combine modern with historic, the second that any modern development in a historic area is bad. The Rimi Hypermarket is a strong example against the latter argument, Poga and Kalinka claim.
Both real estate and architecture are at a high point right now and the market will be even better when Latvia joins the EU, Poga expects.
"I have seen winning projects all over Europe," Poga said. "The work of Latvian architects and the level of the projects this year are absolutely at the European level. It's very good news for us."