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The architects of the socialist era were all but "brainwashed"

28 May 2014 / 13:05:03  GRReporter
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Polina Spartyanova
    The architectural value of the buildings constructed during the communist regime in Bulgaria is the topic of our conversation with architect Ass. Prof. Dr. Todor Tsigov, a professor at the Department of History and Theory of Architecture at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy. Currently he is delivering a course of lectures on "Architectural Anthropology" for the objective laws of the impact of architecture on people. Before becoming a university teacher he worked on military projects in the design organization of the air forces, he was chief architect of the town of Velingrad for one year and worked at the territorial designers’ organization in the city of Pazardzhik for three years.
    What was the main task of an architect in the design of representative buildings of the socialist institutions such as today's buildings of the Presidency, the Council of Ministers and the former Party House?
    The main task was the job assigned but, in addition to it, an architect always sets his own goal, namely to express his view of life in a creative manner as well as his social position. In the first place, this personal goal depends on the attitude towards the job assigned and the purpose of the building, which will be designed.
    What was the construction at the time and what was its purpose?
    Having in mind the representative buildings in the centre of Sofia that were build in the 1950s, for example, I would assume that the architects had set a personal goal that was not fully in line with the job assigned. These architects were staid personalities and had European thinking, they were educated in Europe. Therefore, it is hard to imagine them "brainwashed" only a few years after 9 September 1944. The so-called Stalinist baroque that was the concept of socialist architecture of the time promoted the use of motifs of the local architectural tradition. Accordingly, in these buildings the architects used architectural motifs of the First Bulgarian Kingdom and the Second Bulgarian Kingdom as well as a massive and spatial organization similar to that used in monasteries. The meaning of such a choice can be found in an analogy with the historical role of the monasteries during the Turkish rule, as in terms of foreign domination they preserved the Bulgarian culture and identity (which is represented in this case by the architectural motifs of the First Bulgarian Kingdom and the Second Bulgarian Kingdom). In turn, the exterior style of the buildings is sophisticated renaissance, with a notion of revival. The complex is perhaps the only "interior" urban ensemble in Bulgaria. The buildings form a sort of a roofless hall and the complex closes itself in this way. By contrast, landscape ensembles with free "flowing" space between the buildings are typical for Bulgaria. In this light, the concept of the representative centre of Sofia is shown as a composite self-isolation of the buildings of power involving discrete suggestions that were probably not desired by the commissioner. Despite the eclectic combination of architectural motifs, these buildings are an example of high architectural professionalism.
    What was typical for the Bulgarian representative construction at the time of socialism?
    During socialism, there were several architectural periods. At first, it was the Stalinist baroque previously mentioned. It was followed by the representative construction in the rational spirit of the 1960s, such as Universiada hall and then subsequently, by the period of representative buildings such as the National Palace of Culture, the government residence in Boyana, some buildings of ministries and local public buildings. Their typical feature is the search for synthesis between architecture and monumental painting. The idea was not to create a work representing architecture with elements of sculpture, mural paintings, reliefs, but to create an integral piece of work in which architecture is equally involved with them in the synthesis.
    What was the influence of this artificial habitat on the psyche and behaviour of people at the time?
    Undoubtedly, the representative buildings of power had a strong influence. For example, the building of the party house in each city was seen as a marker of power. In addition to its architectural qualities, its psychological impact was due to the awareness of what was housed in this building. The accumulated negative perceptions in terms of power inevitably, but undeservedly, transferred to architecture. Yet, if we now compare the feeling of harmony and integrity of the environment at the time with the present one, today’s environment has lost a lot. In those days it was clean and tidy, the buildings were more proportionate, there was no overbuilding like today, the streets were safe at any time whereas nowadays even the lack of maintenance, the scribbles on buildings, and the signs of vandalism distort the balance of the urban environment. What psyche should one have to create his "work" upon someone else’s work, even if we assume graffiti art?
    Why are the majority of the buildings housing the administrations in different cities very similar?

Tags: Sots ArtArchitectsStalinist baroqueParty HouseMausoleum of Georgi Dimitrov
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