New European Bauhaus and Legacy: Varna‘s View of Things, Part 1
Bulgaria‘s main port city is desperately looking for ways to enjoy its past, its spaces and the sea
The New European Bauhaus avoids setting hard rules. There’s a promise in the air: let each community decide how to redesign their public space and hopefully the result will be a local shape adapted to local needs.
at The Mayor.EU, we decided it was time to take a closer look at how the NEB is being received on site. The first example – the Bulgarian city Varna, home to the largest sea port in the country. There we discovered a creative zeal around the topic of public space, the origins of which originated before the official announcement of the NEB in December 2020.
Varna pays attention to the hidden opportunities of the cultural sector
Varna is hardly a place that needs “approval” by tourism, if you can put it that way. The city is the gateway to the northern Black Sea coast and has long been known colloquially as Bulgaria’s sea capital. Every summer it gets regularly crowded with visitors from Russia, Ukraine, Northern Europe and the rest of Bulgaria.
Guests and visitors from outside love to visit the beaches and resorts, stroll through the extensive Sea Garden Park, discover the many layers of history that go back to ancient times (6th century BC) and enjoy the rich cultural offerings. The city happened to be this year too Celebrate 100 years as a travel destination.
For the city’s architects and civil society actors, however, it is high time to stimulate the dialogue with residents and the community spirit. Over the past two or three decades, the old town had been increasingly invaded by motorized vehicles and unregulated parking spaces were the order of the day.
A change in habits is slow to bring about, but many of the local creative minds see the platform to make an impact Revival in the great architectural heritage already present in the city. And the keys to this are inspired by the principles of the New European Bauhaus – Aesthetics, inclusivity and sustainability. Varna would also like to add ‘CultureâTo this mix.
So much so that the city council is proud of it the second largest cultural budget in the country (after the capital Sofia), says Dessislava Georgieva, head of the âFestivals and Projectsâ department. She explained that a significant part of this budget in 2022 will be used to support innovative projects that comply with the NEB principles.
However, the city administration already supports such initiatives and many of these relationships date back to when the city was the European Youth Capital in 2017.
From the bank to the school for life skills
One civil sector initiative aimed at finding the intersection between social inclusion and heritage is the Social tea house. Located at 53 Preslav Street, in a former bank from the early 20th century, it looks like a cozy cafÃ© at first glance, specializing in tea, pastries and other beverages. However, when you enter, your eyes may fall on a wall statement that says, “We don’t hire people to brew tea, we brew tea to hire people!” Suggesting the story is more.
The Social Teahouse occupies a picturesque space on what was once the main shopping street at the turn of the century. Source: Social Tea House
What looks like a private company is actually a non-profit organization that helps disadvantaged young people who have grown up in social institutions to get on top of things and get started in life. And that doesn’t just mean learning how to prepare tea and helping out customers – even if this is certainly part of acquiring professional and interpersonal skills.
The building, which is partly owned by the Municipality of Varna, will be rented to the association for a symbolic rent on condition that it is refurbished. It did so in 2015, and before the tea shop opened, there was a lot of work to do on the interior and exterior renovation. The young people were of course closely involved and had the chance to experience new appreciation the legacy of the city – its own role in its revitalization.
the Renovation work affected all three floors of the building and each of them is now used for different purposes. The first invites customers to taste a delicious drink, the second serves as a venue for cultural events such as stand-up comedy evenings and talks, and the third is a co-working space. These different function spaces provide opportunities for teens to work, learn, and even make mistakes in a variety of settings.
The Social Teahouse goes beyond serving drinks and becomes a multifunctional space. Source: Social Teahouse Facebook
In addition, there is a mentoring program with the aim of conveying to the boys and girls that there is someone who can guide them and provide them with expert advice. The employees are also evaluated on a regular basis, which is not only limited to their work performance, but also extends to their way of life as a whole. The idea is that once they have âgraduatedâ they will be ready to face the world in the same way as their peers from more privileged social classes.
And now this motto on the wall perfectly sums up the matter behind the beautiful walls. Social inclusion has hit aesthetics in a commendable way.
Public spaces in the blind spot
As city dwellers, we often see culture and cultural events as something that takes place in our own specially designated locations such as theaters, cinemas and galleries. It turns out, however, that such caste thinking can lead to collective blindness among residents. It can also lead to the emergence of cultural “blind spots” in an urban environment.
That is the topic that the creative architect duo Ventsislava Nedyalkova and Maksim Nedkov try to bring outdoors. The great thing is that they also made suggestions that can form the basis for a new urban way of thinking.
VarnaSpaces (the duo’s initiative) tries to reclaim the coastal city’s authentic DNA. The focus here is largely (but not exclusively) on the old town with the premise that this area existed long before the introduction of motorized traffic into the urban fabric. The result is that streets, squares and courtyards, which have always served as hotspots for social encounters and socializing, have given way to randomly parked vehicles in recent decades.
It only seems natural to fill the nooks and crannies of the city with culture. Here is an example of how steps can be turned into rows of seats. Source: VarnaSpaces
The two architects are confident that a return to the roots is possible, but it will take time and creativity. The Bulgarian context is like that that with the advent of democracy and the free market economy after the fall of the Berlin Wall, car ownership became more accessible to more people. As a result, the vehicles became rampant and invaded the sidewalks and any free space they could be parked on.
Another factor was that the local authorities designated the pedestrian zones of Knyaz Boris I and Slivnitza as the main artery for people to the Sea Garden Park and the beach area. The rest of the coastline, which already housed the port, became even more industrialized and was a barrier for the residents of the old townNS Century – fell into a kind of oblivion.
Does your city have a catalog for cultural areas?
In response to the above, and also spurred on by a newfound appreciation for space during the coronavirus lockdowns, VarnaSpaces helped compose and publish it the catalog ‘Urban Cultural Areas’ in 2020 – the first of its kind for this city.
The aim of the brochure was to take stock of the Varna cultural map (which you can see in the gallery above) in a way that local residents may not have been aware of. The authors identified and detailed 60 such public cultural spaces.
20 of these rooms have already been formalized and established as suitable platforms for hosting different events. The architecture team added 40 more – a mix of private and public spaces – where social events or events can live and thrive. In other words, what the people of Varna refer to as their city’s existing cultural landscape is just the tip of the iceberg.
VarnaSpaces showed a clear example of how the culture of parked cars can recapture and push back spaces occupied. Source: VarnaSpaces
Potential cultural spaces include some interesting finds. There is, among other things, an island in the park lake of a Sea Garden, road underpasses, beach promenades, school and church yards. One that stood out figuratively as well as figuratively was the roof of the Varna City Hall – the view from the Soviet-style skyscraper is supposedly wonderful.
VarnaSpaces has also decided to lead by example and show the possibilities of re-adapting such proposed spaces in order to revive community life. As a result, they conceived the “Activate room” project. To do this, they had the city’s architecture students draw and imagine how they would adapt three urban locations in such a way that they attract local residents in order to use them organically. The resulting ideas were shown in an exhibition last summer.
“For the Activate Space project, we printed all the work materials on recycled paper and used wood from local manufacturers for the exhibition construction. We attached the plate with twine and educated children and students in general to think and design sustainably in all their aspects. The focus of the student projects was on prioritizing sustainable urban mobility – fewer cars and more cycling, scooter riding and walking. “ explained Ventsislava Nedyalkova.
Your words were also evidence of the sustainability principle as one of the three pillars of the New European Bauhaus. In fact, she pointed out that the various aspects of the initiatives were designed to Promote sustainability in its various dimensions.
“In general, the urban concept of all of our projects stimulates walking in the central part of the city. Only in this way can the cozy corners of the city be discovered, assimilated and transformed back into the winding streets of the Ottoman era. The environmental aspect behind this is the reduction of CO2 emissions and the implementation of sustainable events. The economic – stimulation of local businesses by increasing the flow of people. The social – exercise, maintaining physical health and creating conditions for more social contacts and cultural events in the open air, which in turn attract new viewers and enable physical distance to be maintained.â