Interview: “Kliversala – from historic transit artery to a delightful urban environment”

September 16, 2021

We had a chat with the architect of Kliversala Quarter’s new development “Blue Marine”, Aivars Kagainis and Pro Kapital Latvia’s Sales Manager, Una Pilmane about the future of Kliversala but also about the urban city planning in general.

What is special about Riga and perhaps Baltics in general compared to well-established cities like Milan, Rome, London? 

Una: Throughout history, many places from all over the world, have lived completely different lives over time. Whether it’s Rome, Milan, or any other city we know. It is, however, more characteristic of the Baltic States that the awakening of the urban spaces after regaining independence, has taken some time. Meaning that our real-estate market is still relatively young and if you look around – we still have much to do. Have you ever thought that the seaside area of Tallinn in the city center is still largely inaccessible to people with the help of infrastructure, having been occupied by the industries for a long time? Gradually, this is also changing, and many new areas are being awakened in the urban space, such as the Kalaranna District, which will open the sea to the city downtown in the form of residential real-estate and infrastructure. And it was only a brief decade ago, when one of the most tranquil and beautiful places, right on the border of Vilnius Old town, was occupied with an old, neglected factory building. Like Vilnius or Tallinn, there are such areas in Riga, which either through architecture or location offer a true value. Surely, no one needs an introduction to the Daugava River, which rises in the Valdai Hills of Russia, flows through Belarus and then Latvia into the Gulf of Riga of the Baltic Sea. Perhaps the Kliversala Peninsula, located on the left bank of the Daugava, does not need to be introduced as well, but are you familiar with why this specific peninsula is that rare across Europe? Right here in Riga!

Klīversala is located in the most picturesque and beautiful part of the center of Riga, with only 15 minutes walk from the old town making it one of the most unique areas across Europe. This area has preserved its beauty through centuries and holds a rich history. Many people don’t know that Kliversala was a vital transit artery, with Jelgava train station and the biggest shipyard in Latvia in the 19th century. Later, it’s known as the true oasis for the artists.  However, after World War 2, Kliversala was an industrial area and was surrounded by fences, which is the reason many people remember this area closed for the public, not for its historical glory.

The area here hasn’t been closed for years, but we don’t see many people here. Only residents. Perhaps it’s somewhat like Tallinn seaside area – if there is no infrastructure, people won’t find their way into those areas. That’s something you wouldn’t necessarily find in those cities which have a long and stable history architecturally but also socio-politically.

It’s surely a promising area but what does that mean for people? And what does that take for a developer?

Una: The land plot of Kliversala is almost five hectares and is located within the UNESCO heritage protection area. Thus, this area is unique for many reasons and the development of this area leaves an important urban spatial imprint. We do understand that responsibility.

Aivars: Both in terms of urban space and location, Kliversala is a real dream – you are literally at the heart of the city – close to the center, the old town but also important transport hubs, schools, kindergartens. On the other hand, you’re like in a small town – it is quiet, beautiful and to be honest – it is difficult to find such views over the water to the old town from anywhere in the world. From the planning point of view, the area is relatively empty which allows to look and plan this area as a whole and enables to bring a logical street network and a quarter structure here. It is common in European capitals that the street network of the cities is already well established. Understandably it’s also characteristic to smaller plots that it only fits a house or two and does not enable any common logic of a quarter.

Una: We plan to develop Kliversala as an integral area that binds together the feeling of a metropolitan, modern architecture and well-considered living environment. This beautiful area will be the new center of urban city life, creating a dynamic balance for people to enjoy. Our first development project in Kliversala is the River Breeze Residence, which is known for its unique architecture. Following phases foresee 7 thoroughly planned residential buildings that are planned to have restaurants, boutiques, or offices on the first floors creating a lively city vibe. With great opportunities comes great responsibility and I think from the societal point of view, this is the only mentality a developer should have when it comes to area developments. Especially with an area such as Kliversala.

Where do you see urban development going in the future?

Una: I think we should be looking at it from a whole new perspective – from building houses to creating spaces for human wellbeing. Looking at the future of our cities, the intersection of climate change and urban planning is increasingly about human wellness. From a design perspective, cities are in a unique position when it comes to climate change – something we cannot ignore. The real benefit of building Kliversala Quarter from the ground up is an opportunity to create a greener, healthier built environment. It doesn’t only mean greenery but more broadly finding new ways to use our existing car-driven infrastructure and prioritizing micro-mobility, safety, and walkable neighborhoods.

Aivars: Indeed. Urban planning has the potential to become a key factor in developing and implementing adaptive responses in urban systems. To combat climate risks, urban planning must increasingly be driven by human health and well-being. Thus, what has become the centre of the mindset when planning Kliversala, is open space, clean air, and connection with other people. For one, Klīversala is planned as a car-free environment, with underground parking. But more importantly, there will be equally innovative solutions for parking bicycles and prams, as well as for arranging playgrounds and sports grounds. We have made a significant contribution to developing sensible, energy-efficient solutions, that would have as neutral as possible long-term footprint.

Una: Of course, we want the Mediterranean milieu here to be beloved by the people and to attract investment to Riga as well. On the other hand, we find it important to maintain the delicate balance between the natural inhabitant and nature with what we believe will enrich Riga architecturally. There is no question, Kliversala has all the potential in the world to be the future hotspot of Riga, making this unique area attractive and approachable for all segments. But it’s important to acknowledge, we are not building houses, we create space for human wellbeing that would last a lifetime. Those that would withstand the changing conditions that present new challenges to any city in the world. If we think about where we started this discussion – the “youth” of Riga or other Baltic cities in sense of urban development compared to other cities in old Europe, it will give us an advantage here. To create just the kind of urban space that can create a more favorable ground for these changes.