Jan Gehl was in Plovdiv and I could not go

ONE Architecture Week is an annual international festival for architecture taking place in my home town Plovdiv. Sadly, I could not attend this year’s edition because I was in Seville but I read a lot about it, went through many pictures and (almost) felt as if I was there.

Each year the festival attempts to regenerate or activate a different neglected or run-down part of the city. In 2014 the festival focused on Kapana, a forgotten craftsmen quarter in the heart of Plovdiv. The initiatives and interventions achieved great success with the district currently being one of the trendiest and most vibrant places in the city. In 2015, OAW put the spotlight on Maritsa River, managing to bring locals back to the overlooked banks of the river during the event, but failing to accomplish long-term change. However, the festival produced a truly valuable body of research about the river and its relationship to the city and its citizens. (Note: prior to 2014, the event was based in Sofia)

This year Trakiya – a Socialist panel block (panelka) neighbourhood built in the 70s – is the location and the subject of the festival. Unlike previous locations, with its 60,000 inhabitants this one cannot be defined as a deserted urban area but is certainly one with a lot of unrealised potential. Given the residential character of the place and learning from previous editions with short-term success, OAW 2016 goes beyond its standard festival pattern and focuses on participatory projects and community engagement in order to encourage the district’s inhabitants to take ownership of the bland and repetitive pre-fabricated blocks and more importantly, of the public spaces in between.

Of course, this year’s festival still involved a number of exhibitions, extensive research and a lecture forum. The highlight of the forum was a lecture by my favourite urbanist – Jan Gehl. I was really sorry to miss it, but fortunately a friend send me a full recording of it. Just a day after the lecture great news surfaced – that Jan Gehl Architects were invited to consult a new long-term strategic plan for Sofia. I hope such plan is designed and implemented as Bulgaria’s car-invaded capital badly needs some Gehl-style makeover.

It is too early to say whether OAW will manage bring about any lasting improvements to the urban and social fabric of Trakiya but I am feeling positive about it. Here are some of the outcomes of the festival: a Jammin’ sessions booklet, an Interactive map of Trakiya and a gallery of the Main exhibition.

Hope I get the chance to visit OAW next year and to attend Gehl lecture sometime soon!


Sources:

[1] ONE Architecture Week Website

Featured image found on ICR Website

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