Modernist Heritage in Danger: Complex “Bulgaria” in Sofia

The building of “Bulgaria” complex is one of the most valuable objects in the Bulgarian architectural history. The project of the architects Ivan Danchov and Stancho Belkovski dates back from 1934 – the time between the First and Second World Wars – and is indicative for the peculiar peak in the cultural development that the Bulgarian society reached in the 1930s. The private “Civic Cooperative Insurance Company”, that funded the building, created an unique edifice, which has its unprecedented value for the society with its hall – even today it is the concert hall with probably the best acoustics in Bulgaria. This is an object, created by educated private owners, aware of the balance between pursuing the economic benefit and voluntary support of social and cultural causes and activities that would not serve on a market principle.

The building is valuable for a number of reasons. Al the interiors delicately designed – the staircase in the winter garden is a perfect sculptural composition of convex and concave curves leading to the gallery under the openable skylight. All the used cladding materials in the halls of the hotel and the concert part are described in the project by the architects themselves. In the equipment       of the building are used some new and rare technologies such as the descending into the underground windows of the restaurant and the openable skylight at the winter garden which are well preserved artifacts testifying the high technical developments of Bulgaria between the two world wars.

The main facade of Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd. (behind which the hotel part is housed) is laconic but perfectly proportioned and meant to be in harmony with the earlier building of the Civic Ompany at the corner with “Georgi Benkovski” str. The last two authentic floors of the hotel step back from the plane of the main façade. The volume over the entrance is discreetly revealed – a delicate accent that can be clearly seen today by observing the building from north sidewalk on the boulevard as well as from the garden of the Royal Palace. Any upgrading of these two last floors would compromise the proportions and destroy the delicate design of the architects.

In the years after 1944 the complex was divided into separate parts (the hotel part was separated from the concert hall), and the authenticity of some of the interior spaces (the lobby) was violated. The inner connections has been lost. Luckily, with few changes, the facade of the building is preserved and is a proud witness of Bulgaria’s 1930s cultural upsurge. It is our responsibility to preserve the inherited value and not to repeat the mistakes of the totalitarian period that has left its mark on our valuable architectural objects.

Having all that in mind, the members of the Bulgarian Modernist Architecture team believe that knowing the history in its most authentic form is extremely important for the development of Bulgarian culture. The cultural and historical heritage carries its material and non-material memory and the Modern Movement heritage – the memory for the years of unprecedented donations in Bulgaria, both for social and cultural causes.

At the same time, architecture – especially the objects of the modernism – is an art that works in absolute terms – from the entire volume of the building to its smallest detail. In other words, buildings are valuable both in their volumes and in the design of floor mosaics or door handles. Architects designed them with the clear awareness that each element of the building is important and it is not accidentally on its place.

We are convinced that any changes in the exterior (and interior) of the building – and in particular on the main façade from Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd – are that are not set in the original architectural blueprints are inappropriate. Preserving the original look of the building is the way we can show respect for our past, the uniqueness and specificity of Bulgarian culture, our ancestors, to whom we owe the opportunity today to have what we have.

Preserving cultural heritage today is a moral duty of every owner of a valuable architectural object. Any upgrading, alteration or destruction of the precious samples of our past, which undoubtedly is the “Bulgaria” complex, is a manifestation of disrespect for our past, Bulgarian culture and, in general, the world human legacy.

Our opinion is that the project for upgrading the hotel part (transformation of the last two floors in mansard) of Bulgaria complex is an inappropriate attack on the Bulgarian culture. The project have to be redesigned in order to preserve the authentic design, proportions and layout of the exterior and interior of the building as provided by the original blueprints of arch. Ivan Danchov and arch. Stancho Belkovski.

We appeal the owners of the building to reconsider their ideas and to adapt their project to preserve the authenticity of the building as a valuable object of cultural heritage. This would be a worthy act, showing respect for Bulgarian history.

As experts in the field, we tend to provide expert judgment and opinion on concrete ideas completely free of charge.

In the design and in the control of the project have to be included architects – experts in the protection of the cultural heritage, with research and practical experience in the sphere of the specific architectural style – modernism.

 

Vassil Makarinov – art historian, creator of the Bulgarian Modernist Architecture Group and author of the exhibition of the same name

Theodor Karakolev – journalist, co-author of the Bulgarian Architectural Modernism Group and author of the exhibition of the same name

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