Daile Theatre, 1959–1976, by Architect Marta Staņa (1913–1972)
A monument to mid-century modernism, Marta Staņa’s striking Daile Theatre is an important cultural venue and one of the most famed buildings on Rīga’s main thoroughfare – Brīvības Street. It is easily recognisable by the stylised flames on its top-level relief.
The building is a temple to theatre, which plays an important part in local culture. Indeed, theatre’s importance to Latvians may well be the reason that such a bold design was permitted in the first place.
The decorative relief is the work of sculptor Ojārs Feldbergs (1947) and represents the theatre’s logo – an eternal flame to guard the temple. It is the crown on top of the theatre’s principal facade, which features the entranceway and stilted, glass-fronted foyer. Behind it are the main hall, actors’ quarters and administrative unit, which face the Bruņinieku Street side of the block.
A State-protected Cultural Monument of Local Importance since 1998, the Daile Theatre is the result of one Latvia’s most noteworthy architecture competitions. Held in 1959, the competition was unusually transparent for its time and could be entered by both established architectural practices and individuals.
Although no single winner was announced, the jury chose Marta Staņa’s and Tekla Ieviņa’s (1915–1997) joint effort as the most suitable, giving credit to the quality of the graphic design. The sketches and drawings themselves remain artistically significant to this day. Architects Imants Jākobsons (1934–1993) and Harolds Kanders (1927–2004) also stepped in to assist.
The design included a main hall with 944 seats and two smaller halls. Because the theatre was purpose-built, the acoustics and technical aspects of the stage received proper attention.
As it took a while to get all involved parties on board with the idea of building something so modern and monumental, actual building work started in 1966 and was completed in 1977 when, on 30 October, the actors organised a parade from the theatre’s old home to its new home on Brīvības iela 75.
Originally founded in 1920 as the Daile Theatre of the Rainis and Aspazija Folk Centre with director Eduards Smiļģis (1886–1966) at its helm, the theatre lived in a building on Lāčplēša iela 25, which was completely unsuited to its needs. Smiļģis dreamt of moving to a more appropriate space and was a key figure in making this happen.
After a successful series of guest performances in Moscow, it was agreed to provide a new home for the theatre. However, since his removal from the post in 1964, Smiļģis was never actually involved in the building of the new quarters, and neither was any other representative of the theatre.
Architect Marta Staņa was born in Strenči. She became an architect at the age of 32, having completed her studies and started to work as professor Ernests Štālbergs’ (1883–1958) assistant at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Latvia.
Due to a movement against modernism architecture, Staņa and Štālbergs were forced to leave the university in the late 1940s. Staņa proceeded to teach at Riga School of Liberal Arts (now the School of Design and Art) and the Academy of Arts. She also took on the role of architect at a fishing kolkhoz in Zvejniekciems.
Staņa participated in numerous architecture competitions and her bold designs didn’t go unnoticed. Among others, she submitted designs for the National Theatre of Budapest in 1965. Having passed away in 1972, Staņa never saw the completion of her Daile Theatre. She therefore never learnt of the difficulties caused by the poor quality technical solutions, noise levels and drafts.
To this day, Staņa remains a key figure in the history of Latvian architecture. She’s commemorated by a permanent exhibition dedicated to her life and works, which can be seen in the theatre building itself. In 2013 the Riga City Architects Office joined forces with local publisher “Neputns” to release a book about Staņa − “Marta Staņa. Vienkārši ar vērienu” (Marta Staņa. Greatness in simplicity).
Lejnieks, Jānis. (2013). Marta Staņa. Vienkārši, ar vērienu (Marta Staņa. Greatness in Simplicity). [Rīga]: Rīgas pilsētas arhitekta birojs; Neputns. (in Latvian)
Jānis Lejnieks on Daile Theatre building in Latvian Culture Canon, 2008. (in Latvian)
Jānis Lejnieks on Daile Theatre building in Latvian Culture Canon, 2008.
Banga, Vita. (2007). Arhitekte Marta Staņa: Dailes teātra kolīzijas: [pretdarbība M. Staņas teātra projekta realizācijai]. No: Borisa Vipera piemiņas lasījumi (11.-13. lpp.). [Rīga: b.i.].
Banga, Vita (scenārijs), Slagūne, Dace (režija). (2004). Arhitekte Marta Staņa [videoieraksts]. Rīga: Latvijas Televīzija.
Banga, Vita. (2012). Marta Staņa un Dailes teātra kolīzijas. No: Kristiāna Ābele (sast. un red.). Personība mākslas procesos (198.-212. lpp.). Rīga: Neputns; Mākslas vēstures pētījumu atbalsta fonds.
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Ģelzis, Andrejs. (2019). Dailes teātris – koncertzāle. Latvijas Architektūra, Nr. 143, 70.–71. lpp.
Lejnieks, Jānis. (2005). Marta Staņa. Romantisma romantiķe: [par arhitektei M. Staņai (1913-1972) veltīto t.p. nos. izstādi Latvijas Arhitektūras muzejā]. Latvijas Architektūra, Nr. 4, 108. lpp.
Lejnieks, Jānis. (2018). Fronte tēva pagalmā. Latvijas Architektūra, Nr. 140, 4.–5. lpp.