Eisenstein's Architecture

AUTHOR Mikhail Eisenstein

Mikhail Eisenstein

Mikhail Osipovich Eisenstein was born on September 5th, 1867 in the town of Bila Tserkva, in the Kiev province, in a Jewish merchant family. His father was a merchant, and his mother - a housewife. He had four brothers and a sister.

In 1887, Eisenstein graduated from the Kiev Secondary school and enrolled to the Civil Engineering Institute of Saint Petersburg. From 1893, Eisenstein was appointed as a civilian engineer at the Baltic State Property Administration in Riga but was soon appointed to a new position - Chief of the Traffic Road Department. In 1894 he was drafted into the army, and in 1895 he was given the rank of ensign.

A few years after graduation, Eisenstein married Yulia Ivanovna Konetskaya, a daughter of a wealthy Petersburg's merchant of the 1st guild, and she brought a large devotee to the new family. Shortly after the wedding, in 1897, the newlyweds moved to Riga, where great career prospects opened up for Eisenstein. In 1898 they had a son, Sergei, who later became a famous film director.

Architecture was a hobby and a passion for Eisenstein, in which he became especially interested after moving to Riga. According to the available data, he designed 19 buildings in Riga. Most of his buildings were profitable houses and were located in the central area of the city.

In 1909, he divorced with Yulia Konetskaya. After that Yulia went back to Petersburg and took most of their belongings with her, leaving Eisenstein and their son in an empty apartment. Divorce has brought peace in the heart of the architect, inspiration has left him, and in his last three works we no longer observe the extravagance that was before.

After the outbreak of the 1st World War, Sergei Eisenstein volunteered to the front and almost ceased to maintain contact with his father. Mikhail Eisenstein, on the contrary, refused to accept the October Revolution and emigrated to Berlin. In Germany, he married a second time, to Elisabeth Mihelson, the owner of a boarding house for the elderly and the poor, with whom he spent the rest of his life.

Eisenstein died in 1920 at the age of 53 from a heart attack and was buried in Berlin at the Tegel Orthodox cemetery.

Interesting facts from M. Eisenstein's life 

Everyday hobbies of Mikhail Eisenstein included horse riding and tennis. According to the memoirs of his son, there was only one horse in Riga that tolerated Eisenstein - "a giant Peak with a bluish semi-gel on one eye".

Also, the circle of his entertainment and interests included opera and theatre. Mikhail was a high society man, and evenings with the participation of noble people of Riga - artists and deputies of the Riga City Council - were often held in his apartment. Such events helped Eisenstein stay close to many high-ranked people in Riga, which contributed to the growth of his career.

Initially, the architect's last name was Aisenstein, but in order to better integrate into the society of that time, he decided to change it to Eisenstein. When exactly Mikhail changed his last name is not precisely known, but for the first time under the name Eisenstein, the architect appeared in 1902 in the list of persons who completed the course of the Institute of Archaeology of St. Petersburg.

For his work and service, Mikhail Eisenstein was awarded the orders of St. Anne and of St. Stanislav.
Another Eisenstein's field of interest was archaeology. Particularly, Eisenstein was interested in the history of the ancient Baltics, and therefore in 1900 he enrolled into the St. Petersburg's Institute of Archaeology.

Mikhail Eisenstein worked closely with the mayor of Riga, George Armitstead. Together, they expanded a system of railway tracks and organized a railway communication with the main cities of the Russian Empire: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw and Vilnius. Also, in 1904, George Armistead adopted a new set of Riga's construction rules, which helped Jugendstil bloom in Riga. For example, one of the rules suggested, that one fourth of the construction costs should be spent on decorating the building, which popularized the decoration of the facades of houses.


Despite his high position of the Chief of the Traffic Road Department of the Province of Vidzeme and fairly high income, architecture was a passion of Eisenstein, and at the end of the 19th century he began working as a private architect. The projects of M. Eisenstein's houses were ordered by wealthy residents of Riga, including state adviser Andrey Lebedinsky and captain Vladimir Bogoslavsky.

The very first architectural project of 29-year-old Eisenstein was implemented at Strelnieku street 19 in 1897. It was a three-story house in the neo-Renaissance style, executed without any special decorative elements. His next two buildings were made in a similar style and did not stand out from the neighbouring buildings.

Starting from 1901, the style of the architect has changed dramatically, and he began designing houses in Art nouveau style, creating his most extraordinary and recognizable masterpieces. It is believed, that the architecture exhibition in Paris in 1900 influenced the work of the architect. There is no exact proof that the architect himself visited this exhibition, as he could be inspired by the catalogues of the exhibition itself, where the popular works of that time were illustrated. There is also a theory, that his work was strongly influenced by turbulent and restless relationships with his wife, Yulia, and the architect directed his emotions to work.

One of the master's most recognizable works is the building on Albert Street 4, where ArtPlatz Gallery is now located. The house was built in 1904 by order of Andrey Lebedinsky and is a prime example of an eclectic decorative Art nouveau. Eisenstein managed to fill the facade with various decorative elements, but at the same time did not overload it. The facade is made in beige colour. The original elements are windows of four different shapes, small and large balconies and sculptural decorative elements. Also, the facade is decorated with gorgons - female monsters from ancient Greek mythology. The building is guarded by lions, who stand on the roof on pedestals and each look in different directions. In addition to the facade and the layout, the architect also created the interior of the house. Interesting fact, that the house has 40 ovens, 20 of which are original in their design.

Other famous creations of Eisenstein include buildings on Elizabetes street 33 and 10b, Strelnieku street 4a and other buildings on Alberta street.

Despite the fact, that architecture was only Eisenstein's hobby, it had brought him fame. You can hear both enthusiasm and criticism about his work, but undoubtedly, against the background of his facades, other houses seem ordinary and simple. He was talented, ambitious, hardworking, attentive to details and had an extraordinary personality. Eisenstein was far from the most productive architects of Riga of that time, but in the short period of his work, he created magnificent masterpieces that still adorn Riga and made the city one of the capitals of architectural modernism in Europe.

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