Sofia, Bulgaria: Urban Insights, Decorative and Sobering


Mural, housing block, Hadji Dimitar quarter, Sofia, Bulgaria, 2016. Fuji X100 with +1.4 lens adaptor. Click on image to enlarge.

Further to a previous entry on the presence (and, to me, mystery) of a spate of apartment-building-height murals, psychedelic in style and puzzling in content, in the adjacent Sofia neighborhoods of Poduyane and Hadji Dimitar, I’ve posted a photo of a third such mural above.

I’ve selected the photo not just for its bizarreness and whimsicality nor for the issues it raises as to the ownership and aesthetics of the public realm.  Rather, a close examination of the building on which the mural is painted summarizes a full set of urban issues which I have been researching, conceptualizing, and visually portraying over the past months and into which — ideas for grant support, anyone?!? — I intend to delve further in the time to come.

Specifically, note the balconies on the right-hand face of the building, some open as per their original design and others closed-in to expand private space.  Balconies, as I hope to explain in subsequent posts, are interstices between public and private space, and Sofia is a city of balconies. How balconies are, or are not, used reveals much about the history of and changes in social and politic environments and individual responses thereto.

Also note the monochrome, but vaguely Mondriaan-like, effect on the walls of the building in the photo above, an effect more pronounced in the photo that I’ve added below. The question of why such buildings have been insulated apartment-by-apartment rather than building-by-building, and what this tells us about societies and governments, is one that I have also been examining and visually documenting of late.  Although the aesthetic effect of uncoordinated action by apartment owners on their own relieves monotony and adds color to the public realm, devolution to the individual apartment owners is the most inefficient and inequitable means of preserving public health and comfort and of cutting heat-loss through building envelops, possibly the most weighty contributor to energy consumption/inefficiency in the built environment.  Hopefully, more on this as well.

Poduyane quarter, Sofia, Bulgaria, 2016. Fuji X100 w/ +1.4 lens adaptor. The uncoordinated color schemes of privately insulated apartments on the facade lends an accidental Mondriaan-like counterpoint to the neo-psychedelica of the mural on the lateral face of the building.

Poduyane quarter, Sofia, Bulgaria, 2016. Fuji X100 w/ +1.4 lens adaptor. The uncoordinated color schemes of private insulated apartments on the facade lends an accidental Mondriaan-like counterpoint to the neo-psychedelica of the mural on the building’s lateral face.

  1. I’m glad you noted the issue of balconies. They serve so many purposes: bridge between the indoor and outdoor space, utilitarian use for clothes (and pepper) drying, aesthetic for the ubiquitous geraniums, additional space that’s sorely needed. My husband continually wonders why in DC they keep building condos with no balconies whatsoever.

  2. Many thanks for commenting. I’ll be writing more about balconies over the next weeks, both online and off. I’ll also be comparing traditionally balcony-less Vienna and Amsterdam with balcony-intense Sofia and with the boulevard balconies of Haussmann’s Paris. The presence and absence of balconies say much about social and political cultures and the ethos of cities and their inhabitants. They also reveal much about how we relate to the world outside. The balconies standard to mass-produced Communist-era modular panel block apartment buildings were amenities sorely lacking in many other societies; they are an achievement that is all too often left unacknowledged.

  3. Rafi said:

    Hey Stephen,

    Very glad you’re still blogging after all these years! I shared this on twitter and some info came in from a friend there about the origin of these.

    This one is by Etam Cru

    The other two are by Bozko

    “all part of a sanctioned street art festival called urban creatures.” – @fbz

    • Rafi! Good surprise to receive your comment. Of course, it doesn’t surprise me at all that an “Internets Celebrity” would be the first person to answer my question about murals on housing project walls in an outlying neighborhood of Sofia, Bulgaria! Many thanks and my greetings to the co- “Celebrities.”

  4. Joke en Maarten Rouppe van der Voort said:

    Beste Steve,

    Hartelijk dank voor al jouw prachtige verhalen en foto’s. Wij genieten ervan. Hoe gaat het met jou? Het is al lang geleden dat wij elkaar hebben gesproken/gezien. Vrijdag ben je jarig, alvast van harte gefeliciteerd!
    We hopen weer eens van je te horen. Intussen hartelijk gegroet,

    Joke en Maarten Rouppe van der Voort
    Sumatrastraat 237
    2585 CR Den Haag
    tel: (031) 70 3505306/(031) 6 519 89 576

    • Joke, Maarten, Wat een leuke verassing van jullie te horen! Bedankt voor de leuke comment en voor de verjaardagswensen. S.v.p. stuur mij ‘n email naar en ik zul terug schrijven.

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