Monday quotes

‘An endless number of green buildings doesn’t make a sustainable city.’

Jan Gehl

(in reference to the newly announced Tesla roofs)


Making streets look scary not just on Halloween

Here is an interesting Halloween-themed article on urban planning:

CURBED reports that cities such as New York and Pittsburgh spend millions on campaigns aiming to decrease traffic fatalities by making people ‘afraid of the dark‘ instead of investing in better road infrastructure, better street lighting or targeting dangerous drivers. Is it more effective to advise people to stay safe through posters and flyers than to actually make them safe? What is your opinion?

I am afraid of the dark, but only because it is Halloween tonight. Have a spooky one!

Tobacco ashes and memories

On 20 August, Plovdiv – Bulgaria’s second largest city – was illuminated by a large fire. Hundreds of citizens watched how four beautiful secession-style buildings, part of the popular Tobacco town ensemble, burned for hours, destroying not only significant listed architecture, but also erasing a piece of the city’s identity and collective cultural heritage.

One of the four buildings that burned on 20 August

‘Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me’, people say. Indeed, this wasn’t the first time a listed building is quickly destroyed in front of everyone in the city. The only unusual thing about this case were its proportions and the choice of fire instead of bulldozers.

Slow destruction is something common in Bulgaria – protected buildings in prime locations are often left to deteriorate by their owners, until they become dangerous and can legally be demolished and replaced by concrete and glass. However, owners and investors have been more impatient lately and have tested the gaps in local regulations and the powerlessness of institutions. The lack of any legal action has encouraged more of them to damage prominent monuments and structures. When another building in the Tobacco town was demolished earlier this year, local people gathered in front of the bulldozers to save whatever was left. They protested, spoke to the mayor and were promised not only the reconstruction of the building, but also the active protection of other listed architecture through revised legislation.

Protest on 21 August

Such cases are common not only in Bulgaria, but in many parts of Eastern Europe and beyond. It is a troubling situation when cultural heritage is not effectively protected by the institutions and is left in the hands of greedy investors and active citizens. It gets even more dangerous when a large fire in the middle of a city is not enough to light up the spirit of the locals and trigger enough political pressure for change. After the fire on 20 August, there were protests and talks once again. This time they were much smaller in size and charge.

Flowers and police lines

Plovdiv will be European Capital of Culture in 2019. The title was awarded to the city for a number of initiatives including a pledge to revive the old Tobacco town. Today, Plovdiv’s citizens only hope that the Tobacco town survives until 2019.  They hope for restored but largely unauthentic versions of a proud industrial past that will serve new functions and become a thriving part of the city once again.

Colourful cities on Instagram

I recently followed Ramin Nasibov on Instagram and his profile quickly became my new favourite architecture photo feed. It is beautifully vibrant and brings a lot of colour to my day. You can check out his profile here.

Ramin Nasibov currently has over 200k followers and has been featured in a Guardian article. He finds and highlights pockets of colour in our grey cities, thus providing a refreshingly vibrant outlook on everyday architecture.

The pictures are simple, symmetrical and colourful. There are rarely perspective shots, with most photographs showing elevation views of buildings or building elements. Colours are enhanced (I think) and lines are straightened, but these are common practices. Looking for inspiration  for my own Instagram feed, I tried to understand what made Nasibov’s pictures stand out. I realised the sky on all of them was in a consistent shade of blue without any gradient that in combination with the other bright colours made the images look less realistic and somewhat abstract. Of course, what makes the pictures truly stand out is talent and vision.

I like cloudy skies and sunsets too much and would not follow Nasibov’s strategy in my new Instagram profile which you can check out here. Follow Coconut’s journey in Spain.

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!


[1] ONE Architecture Week Website

Featured image found on ICR Website