PLOVDIV 2019: The light (tower) at the end of the tunnel

A couple of days ago I returned from a short visit to my beloved hometown Plovdiv or shall I say the 2019 European Capital of Culture (ECC). A title that used to make myself and most Plovdivians rejoice over the proud past and somewhat proud present of our city. A small success that made us dream big about the future of Plovdiv. Unfortunately, today the ECC title prompts rather negative feelings among most locals – those who care about the cultural initiative call it a fiasco [1], while the ones who are not concerned with the upcoming artistic events simply grumble about the associated traffic jams and “unnecessary” expenditures.

So is it a fiasco?

The most diplomatic answer would be – only time would tell. According to a lot of Plovdivians, however, one does not need to wait until the end of the year to label the event a failure.

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Their arguments are numerous, legitimate and hard to ignore. For one thing, the city’s central zone looks like a construction site rather than a cultural, instagrammable or even walkable tourist spot. A number of infrastructure projects are not completed yet and are not expected to be finished by the end of 2019. Many renovation plans that were part of the city’s winning bid have not even been started as of January 2019. In fact, one might argue that the city’s urban environment is in a worse state now than when Plovdiv began its preparation for the event – traffic jams have intensified, working infrastructure has been closed for reconstruction and never reopened, a functioning gallery has been demolished to be replaced by an incomplete concrete frame and a number of listed buildings have been destroyed by arson [2].

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The mentioned large-scale construction projects resonate with the Capital element of the title, but what about the Culture? Could Plovdiv’s cultural offerings disguise its infrastructural failures? Most Plovdivians are skeptical. The city’s winning bid “Together” [3] proposed a number of initiatives that were never taken forward – for example Mahala – a programme for social inclusion through art or Tobacco city – a project for urban revival of a disused historical quarter through culture. Other planned events might be spoilt by the lack suitable venues due to the mentioned incomplete renovation works. Most issues are blamed on corruption in local authorities and namely on the mayor Ivan Totev who allegedly put a lot of political pressure on the organisers and turned the event into an election campaign.

So is there light at the end of the tunnel for Plovdiv 2019?

Quite literally – yes. There is a 30-metre tower glowing with numerous projectors and digital screens that would serve as a scene for the big opening ceremony “We are all colours” this Saturday. And it happens to be located on the side of a tunnel cutting through one of the hills in the city centre. So if you observe the events from the right perspective, the light at the end of the tunnel will be very bright indeed. Or so the local politicians claim. In their view, the city’s cultural programme is set to be a huge success that will silence all negative voices.

Personally, I remain hopeful that Plovdiv 2019 will somewhat benefit the city and its citizens – perhaps the fact that I have been physically removed from the local turmoil in the past two years has protected me from the feeling of disillusion that most Plovdivians currently share. It is clear that a lot of the proposed events, renovation works and projects will not materialize and the city will remain a construction site long after 2019.  It is disappointing that the 2019 ECC initiative will not realise its full potential due to political games and corruption. But it is also true that more cultural events will be held in the city than ever before. The publicity – both good and bad – will undoubtedly attract more people to visit or at least learn about Plovdiv. The city of Plovdiv has much more to offer than the Plovdiv 2019 campaign. And while visitors might experience some poor organisation, they will also get the chance to explore and enjoy our beautiful city in between events. After all, it is up to Plovdivians to engage everyone in the practice of ailyak [4] and savour the good, the bad, the happening and the unhappening 2019 TOGETHER.

[1] Манол Пейков “Пловдив 2019 е пълно фиаско” https://www.mediapool.bg/plovdiv-2019-e-palno-fiasko-news287884.html
[2] Read more about the arson and the following protests here: https://bigcitylittlemonkey.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/tobacco-ashes-and-memories
[3] You can find Plovdiv’s winning application bid here: https://issuu.com/plovdiv2019/docs/plovdiv2019app
[4] You can learn more about the untranslatable word ailyak here: https://www.203challenges.com/how-to-practice-aylyak-in-bulgaria-and-be-happy/ Of course, the best way to understand ailyak would be to practice it.

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The S. R. Guggenheim Museum

On 1 June 1943 Hilla Ribay, curator of the S. R. Guggenheim Foundation, wrote her first letter to Frank Lloyd Wright, inviting him to New York to discuss a project for ‘a temple of spirit’ [1] which would house a collection of non-objective paintings. Mrs Ribay was looking for ‘a fighter, a lover of space, an originator, a tester and a wise man’ [2] capable of imagining a building like no other. Mr Wright addressed his response to Mr Ribay, incorrectly assuming the curator to be a man. Thus, with slight confusion, began the story of the S. R. Guggenheim Museum which opened to the public on 21 October 1959, over 16 years after this first letter. Despite a series of problems, disagreements and delays over the years, Frank Lloyd Wright did not let his original vision get watered down. The finished building became one of his most celebrated works and probably the best manifestation of his concept of organic architecture.

The relationship between architecture and nature fascinated Wright throughout his entire career. In fact, the architect openly disliked big cities and preferred to build in suburban and rural locations, where his works would be surrounded by beautiful landscapes [3]. He was influenced by natural forms and colour pallets and sought to interpret nature’s principles, beauty and harmony through his designs. The famous Modernist slogan ‘form follows function’ was only one aspect of this artistic search for organic architecture [4].

Inspired by nature, Wright believed that form and function should be one. Aesthetically, this could be achieved by letting all building elements merge into a continuous entity [4]. This idea was materialised in the design for the Guggenheim Museum, where a single continuous floor spiraling up towards a domed skylight formed a naturally lit atrium unifying most museum functions into one space with minimal compartmentation. The architect did not regard exteriors and interiors as two separate entities but as an expression of each other. The interior ramp of the Guggenheim shaped its exterior into a clean circular ribbon devoid of any ornamentation. According to Wright, this new aesthetic called ‘continuity’ was a refined interpretation of his Lieber Meister’s (Louis Sullivan) concept of plasticity [5].

Spirals were a recurring theme in Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs and were the dominant feature in the plans not just for the Guggenheim but also for San Francisco’s V.C. Morris Gift Shop, the David and Gladys Wright House, the unbuilt Gordon Strong Automobile Objective amongst others. The famous architect was fascinated by geometric shapes from a young age and was convinced that rectilinear forms were unnatural [6]. He held that rectangular interiors and right angles did not reflect human life and movement. Therefore, most of his designs utilised shapes adapted from nature – curves, circles, ovals, spirals, hexagons and triangles. The Guggenheim Museum became a true
demonstration of this trend with its interwoven spiraling floors, circular spaces, curving walls, triangular lighting panels, etc. [7]

The relationship between the sculptural architecture of the building and the art it was built to display sparked controversy long before the museum’s opening. Many artists believed that the organic curvilinear surfaces were not appropriate for hanging artwork. Others claimed that the breathtaking architecture would overpower the exhibited paintings. Those allegations, although reasonable, were mostly disregarded by the architect, who aspired to building a space not just to show art, but also to express natural continuity, flow, change and harmony [8]. His determination to find greater plasticity in architecture helped him deliver exactly what the clients asked for in their first letters – a building ‘unlike any other museum in the world’ [9].

[1] Pfeiffer, B. Frank Lloyd Wright: The Guggenheim Correspondence. Fresno: Press at California State University, 1986. p.4
[2] Pfeiffer, B. Frank Lloyd Wright: The Guggenheim Correspondence. Fresno: Press at California State University, 1986. p.4
[3] Muschamp, H. Man About Town : Frank Lloyd Wright in New York City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983.
[4] Smith, K. Introducing Architectural Theory. New York: Routledge, 2012.
[5] Wright, F. L. An American Architecture. New York: Horizon, 1955.
[6] Wright, F. L. An American Architecture. New York: Horizon, 1955.
[7] Pfeiffer, B. Frank Lloyd Wright. London : Taschen, 2007
[8] Guggenheim website, Geometric Shapes. Accessed 17 August, 2017. [Access:
https://www.guggenheim.org/arts-curriculum/topic/geometric-shapes%5D
[9] McCarter, R. (ed). On and By Frank Lloyd Wright: A Primer of Architectural Principles. New York: Phaidon, 2005.
[10] Pfeiffer, B. Frank Lloyd Wright: The Guggenheim Correspondence. Fresno: Press at California State University, 1986.

Timelapse: The noisy building works on Blackfriars rd #2

Link to Timelapse #1 here.

I still wake up from unpleasant construction noise almost every morning. It is progressing quite quickly, but I doubt I will be able to get a quiet morning sleep anytime in the next year or so. Here is a timelapse of the construction over the past two months.

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P.S.: This post will be updated with new pictures every month.

 

Timelapse: The noisy building works on Blackfriars rd

Four months ago I moved into a new flat in Manchester (well, it is actually across the river in Salford). The place seemed great and I was really happy with my choice until I was woken up by construction noise on a Monday morning. How did I fail to see the massive construction site just outside my window before I rented the flat?!

The noise kept waking me up every single day, including weekends. It was driving me crazy until I decided to try and think positively about the situation. As an architectural assistant I don’t get to go on site enough and spend most of my time in front of a screen. Therefore, I decided to observe, analyse and learn from the construction outside my window.

Now I regard the construction noise as my alarm in the morning. My morning routine includes gazing through the window for five minutes and taking a picture of the site each day. Here is an animation showing the construction in progress:

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P.S.: This post will be updated with new pictures every month.