SOFIA

Mass construction (pre-fabricated, pre-stressed concrete) panel-block apartment buildings in Bulgaria – monolithic relics of the communist era where there was a great shortage in housing and a requirement for labour workforces across various industries in cities, and a desire by the regime to instil a collectivistic ideology in the population.

“a very simple means of solving housing crises. It didn’t involve ‘informality’, it didn’t entail ‘letting developers build’, and it had, at least in the most brute quantitative terms, spectacular successes”… 

Moving a population from a rural to urban existence (providing them with virtually free housing), in the span of a few decades.

In spite of the grim, subsiding external appearances of these constructions, they generally house a variation in social classes, and many apartments can be finished to a standard that contradicts the shabby outside facades.

The collapse of the communist regime saw the maintenance of the building facades progressively relegated to individual tenants. Collective investment avoidance, ideological shifts toward a limiting of the responsibilities of governments and communities, it is actually an observable insignia rejecting the idea of “we/us”.

The mixture of social classes within one building also cultivated increasing economic inequalities (despite having clear titles of ownership), the patch work effect seen via individualised apartment insulation is a visual indication to who is able to afford it vs who can’t (or even a generalised apathy to the circumstances). It is also an indication of a desire to set oneself apart after a period of forced conformity, with the aesthetic effect of uncoordinated action adding vibrancy and increasing variation in otherwise monotonous public edifices.

 

Individual private insulation of single apartments has been prohibited in the last few years, returning to the concept of forced conformity, albeit for different rationalisations. EU-financing for the renovation of exteriors exist. These however require the agreement of every apartment title-holder. It is potentially quite an ineffectual way to achieve homogenisation (if we were to just look at it from a purely aesthetic and functional perspective), especially as residents must ALSO contribute a share of total costs. There is lack of genuine control and being unable to follow through on what they want for their own property. Again class and economic disparities within the building’s occupants (even population diaspora – many have emigrated to work abroad and have left their dwellings empty) will ensure that these EU programs wont be implemented where they might be most beneficial and prevent those who might want to do something individually from actually doing so.

 

 

Personal photograph Sofia – 2017

 

 

Personal photograph Sofia – 2017

 

 

 

photo cred:  dscf4987-2.jpg

 

 

 

photo cred: dscf5094-2.jpg

 

 

 

references:

Owen Hatherley. Landscapes of Communism: A History Through Buildings 2015

https://www.architectural-review.com/rethink/housing-in-the-eastern-bloc/8684435.article

 

 

Lora Nikolaeva Nikolova