Sanctuary of the Nymphs and Aphrodite

Sanctuary of the Nymphs and Aphrodite

Local people have worshipped the site of the Sanctuary of the Nymphs and Aphrodite for centuries. Only in recent years, the archaeological research reveals that the site is actually a large and wealthy Roman villa rustica.

How to make this compound archaeological site more communicative, comprehensible and recognisable without being intrusive? How to express the strong connections with the nature? How to interpret the various spatial and functional relations within the complex? How to keep the living traditions? How to intervene in order to protect the ruins and at the same time facilitate the still ongoing archaeological researches?

We developed a strategic project based on the principles of integrity, flexibility, reversibility, accessibility and continuity. Our approach gives priority to the intuitive perceptions of the archaeological complex as a place that one gradually discovers for themselves. We rely on the inborn curiosity of people. All the conservation interventions are limited to the necessary minimum to protect the original structures. A new mirror-clad platform gives a stunning vista to the site and the landscape but also recreates the landmark of the ancient mausoleum nearby. Concrete information elements interpreting stone blocks scattered around the site provide unobtrusive and coherent guidance through the complex. A specially designed movable archaeological station facilitates the work of the archaeologists and acts as a ‘pop-up museum’ that changes its place and content following the archaeological research.

Hajji Valko House

Hajji Valko House

How could one Karlovo living room become a bedroom with a bathroom? What about if it is in a listed building? And if it has windows and a seating platform (or minder) along three of its walls? And murals on all the walls and on the ceiling? And What if all the colours are already there? Where should we put the bathroom?

The House of Hajji Valko is a typical symmetrical Karlovo mid-19th century house with three bedrooms, divana (the large vestibule) and a large representative living room on the upper floor. The aim of the study was to prove the possibility to turn the living room into a guest bedroom without putting at risk the values of the room.

We decided to just add: keeping literally all existing structures and features, preserving the sense of a single space of the large room, providing full reversibility of the intervention. We thought of the bathroom as a piece of furniture, together with a wardrobe and a niche for books. We placed it in the middle of the room. The new structure completely contrasts with the authentic interior but together with that it makes a link with its time – the copper cladding corresponds to the colour scheme of the house, softly reflects all the colours of the room, and makes a reference to the tradition of the National Revival and the oriental wrought copper items.

The Triangular Tower of Serdica

The Triangular Tower of Serdica

In the basement of the emblematic in the past “Sofia” store in the very heart of the capital city is the northernmost triangular tower of the fortification system of ancient Serdica. The aim of the project is to rehabilitate a forgotten site and to refurbish it as a space for cultural events and art, while showing the archaeological structures to the public. In the basis of our approach was the nature of the place as an underground space. That is why we left it raw and unvarnished and juxtaposed all the layers of the place – the archaeological ruins, the typical terrazzo flooring of the former shop, and the steel reinforcing structure. We wanted to create an unexpected and exciting space by giving the visitor the adventure of going down under the city, and by using the contrast of light and dark, white and black, smooth and rough.

Buhovo Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene

Buhovo Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene

The Buhovo Monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene is part of the Holy Mount of Sofia, close to the town of Buhovo, near Sofia. It functioned as a monastery for a very short time but it is very popular with the locals, which gather there to celebrate religious feasts with kurbans (sacrificial meals – mutton or white beans soup). And to picnic in the warm months.

It has been known for a long time that the today’s small church is built on top of a large Early Christian basilica. When people started building the church in the end of the 19th century they came across its foundations and as a manifestation of continuity they placed the new church in the basilica’s altar space. Later the basilica has been partially studied. Between 2013 and 2015 Sofia Municipality funded new archaeological research to fully study the Early Christian basilica. Its plan was finally confirmed, and along this, a necropolis from the Late Middle Ages was found as well as interesting artefacts from the near past.

Our aim was to conserve and present the Early Christian basilica and in the same time show the relation between the different historic layers, as well as let the community keep celebrating their feasts.

Our approach is based on honesty and simplicity. We restored the original terrain and showed the layout of the ruins with stone pavement in the grass. By the apse of the church, where we wanted to emphasise on the continuity, we kept the ruins above ground. At the entrance of the basilica and at it southern wall we sink the terrain to reveal the original structures. Thus, we honestly show the nature of the archaeological ruins – something that we find underground. We also showed the original way of entering the basilica by a steel grate platform with stairs above the original entrance. And to let people feel the space of the naos, we interpreted the pillars by using gabions filled with material from the site.

By the church there was a shed in disrepair that people used for seating during the kurbans. We reconstructed it using similar materials – gabions with the original stones from the shed’s fence, timber structure and corrugated sheets for the roofing.

Preston Bus Station

Preston Bus Station

Inspired by the powerful presence of the Preston Bus Station, the design seeks to enhance the existing values and to stimulate the emergence of new qualities giving rise to a fresh unified, flexible, and vibrant space in the city. The project unfolds as a holistic approach to ensure a rather strategic response to the need of synergy and clear identity. The proposal is furthermore driven by the inherent multifaceted duality of the site and seeks diverse ways of its evolving expression on different levels: urban, social, and physical.

Space & Form

The new appearance of the site is conceived as a new topography which: preserves the readability of the ‘solid – void’ in the urban fabric; detects conditions, in which the opposing entities can work together; generates space within space.

The former hard apron for bus manoeuvring responds to its new users – the people. It transforms to a single soft surface – a Public Realm Space that offers high adaptability and free mobility. This undulating surface retains the void space around the Bus Station volume uninterrupted and thus preserves the legibility of its design unity.

Two mounds cover the Youth Zone Plus. The northern one penetrates the station giving the impression that it supports the mass layers of the car park decks, thus keeping the sense of endless horizontality and enhancing the duality ‘rectilinear – curved’. At the same time, the new building emerges as a playful and recognisable feature of the site, visible from a distance, yet showing respect to its surroundings. In addition, the active use of the underground space contributes to the urban and environmental sustainability.

Vitality & Fusion

At this new coherent urban space the scheduled and planned rhythm of the bus services meets the unpredictability of everyday life and the spontaneity of the young people. The public areas are intentionally left spatially unlimited and programmatically blended to allow maximum flexibility and diverse activities.

The continuous curved Public Realm Space introduces the human scale; it flows in and out for better connectivity; it runs over and under the buildings creating unexpected views and perspectives; it challenges people to move, use, and explore. Trees now and then align in rows recalling the layout of the former bus bays; they enter the buildings blurring the boundaries between in and out.

The Youth Zone Plus gives a strong impulse to the dynamics of the site. The courtyards pierced in the surface actively connect it with the public space while providing the required safety.

Materiality & Lightness

Re-reading the duality, the materials speak the same language: solid for the curved surfaces, and transparent for the vertical planar ones. A strictly rectangular grid (following the station’s structural grid) laid over the undulating surface makes the space more readable and perceptible. The rich glazing of the openings brings more light in and allows for unusual views from the exterior disclosing the buildings towards the city.

Central Square in Plovdiv

Central Square in Plovdiv

What we just felt right was to respect the human perceptions (not the birds’ ones), to prioritise the needs of the citizens of Plovdiv (not only of the tourists), to consider the weekdays (not only the holidays).

How did we approach the challenges of the Central Square in Plovdiv?

We looked back in time to find the most resistant features of the site. We talked a lot about the meaning of a square and what determines it as such. We discussed what archaeological sites really are – pieces of old structures within the terrain waiting to be discovered (or not). We followed all the visible traces of human actions. We observed the people of Plovdiv and the life in the square. We faced the current issues and drew out a possible scenario following the stereotype.

And we asked ourselves: Should archaeological remains determine the contemporary way of life? Could we turn back time? Does the city really need it? How can we make the site more a[ttra]ctive?

The project’s core concept is to interpret the continuous process of evolution and to stimulate personal experience. We propose a strategy based on clear visibility of all superimposed features of the site in their true nature giving the people a genuine sense of square, of archaeology, of layers, of life.

To get a sense of square one needs to feel its confines. Hence the project proposes to redefine the active periphery.

To reveal a true sense of archaeological remains would mean to respect their ruined state (destruction is also part of history), the way we discover them today, the ambivalent stories they hide. Therefore, the project aims to provoke constant curiosity enhancing their most explicit feature – mystery – while preserving the authenticity.

To awake a sense of accumulation, no historical layers should be sacrificed or condemned. The message of constant changes, resulting from the thought of many generations, is transmitted by the enhancement of the overlay of various (often not related to each other) urban systems at one place, and of the large scale interventions that have torn the urban fabric.

To induce a sense of life we propose surprising and living human-scale spaces. And the new gardens symbolise growth and constant rebirth.

The project interweaves these four leading ideas and translates them into a context dependent architecture. The general expected urban impacts would be: strong multifunctional, flexible and interactive character enabling the site to effectively meet the needs of the different people and to ensure wide range of social and economic benefits; diverse possibilities for use, interpretation and close understanding of heritage; facilitated maintenance of the archaeological remains; comfortable microclimate; raise of permanent interest and awareness of people.

Accessibility to Cultural Heritage

Accessibility to Cultural Heritage

Today cultural heritage is considered to be an inseparable part of our environment and social life. It is significant as such only because of the people who evaluate it. Hence the importance of accessibility to cultural heritage for all of us.

In general, the understanding of accessibility to cultural heritage is limited to provision of means for a physical contact of disabled people (mostly considering motor impairments) with the environment based on the relation “value – accessibility”. Given the fact that covering the physical access needs is the most challenging conservation task as it often requires intervention in the heritage site structure itself, this approach is understandable. But at the same time it is quite alarming. Focusing only at providing physical accessibility we unwittingly separate the disabled people in a distinct group (against which we all strive) and we also risk ignoring other human abilities and needs. At the same time – beyond a certain point – while providing facilitated access and movement, other unique heritage features might be sacrificed and/or left inaccessible.

Isn’t it time to face the ethical and philosophical dimensions of accessibility to cultural heritage? To comment on the logic and the lie in the cultural heritage conservation process? To change the perspective?

Cultural tourist route ‘Road of Spirit’

Cultural tourist route ‘Road of Spirit’

The main objective of the project is contemporary and integral expression of the unique characteristics of Nessebar as a system through the development of a specialised scheme for development of cultural tourist routes in relation to the sustainable development of the cultural tourism. Three levels of project development are covered: (1) a system of cultural tourist routes in ‘Ancient City of Nessebar’, which fully express the diversity of values ​​and the unique stratification of the city –result of centuries of historical evolution; (2) cultural tourist route ‘Road of Spirit’ (an integral part of the routes system), which reintegrates the emblematic churches of Nessebar in contemporary urban life; (3) a pilot implementation of a fragment of the ‘Road of Spirit’ – from the St. John the Baptist church  to the churches of St. Paraskeva and St. Archangels Michael and Gabriel.

The development of the cultural tourist route ‘Road of Spirit’ seeks reconsideration of the cultural significance of the Christian churches on the peninsula in the contemporary life and their manifestation as a system. It proposes an adequate modern function that reveals the unique characteristics of each church together with its adjacent environment and that takes into account the abilities of the place for engagement in the cultural life. An integral signage system of the key sites along the cultural tourist route provides methods and elements applicable to the specific site depending on its values.

Within the fragment, designed as the first stage, numerous specific proposals are implemented. The existing asphalt, extrinsic to the historic city, is replaced with new pavement of granite slabs – interpretation of the cobbles from the National Renaissance period. The path of the route is marked in the pavement with specially made signs of red stone. Signing elements are also integrated – white limestone signs, highlighting locations for specific cultural activities. The liturgical space of St. Spas (Saviour) is enhanced. To the South of the church the revealed during the archaeological excavations Hellenistic building is marked – a ladder with two arms, according to the hypotheses leading from the courtyard of the ancient building to the basement.


St John the Baptist Church in Nessebar

St John the Baptist Church in Nessebar

The stylistic richness, architectural design, picturesque decorative effects and spiritual charge of the Nesebar churches are one of the definitive reasons for inscription of the city in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Church of St. John the Baptist is of key importance for Nessebar. It is the only church preserved in the city, which is: a representative of the transitional type from basilica towards cross-domed church; with supposed murals on the facades; with a patron saint associated with the sea, a transitional figure between the Old and the New Testament.

Firstly, the project recognises the importance of the church in the old town of Nesebar and following this idea it states its unifying role as a place of culture in the context of an overall proposal for the expression of the medieval churches as a system.

Secondly, the proposed organisation of the immediate environment of the church aims at the contemporary reinvention and marking of the traditional space in front of the building. Elements of reinforced concrete with integrated graphics are used – the monogram of St. John the Baptist and words of the saint.

Finally, the proposed intervention in the church is based on a thorough analysis of all its unique valuable characteristics – for each of them is developed a concept for a particular expression. Thus the Church is manifested as a living place for contemporary interactive education in various fields: architecture, constructions, acoustics, art, religion, cultural heritage conservation… The main principles and objectives that are followed are: to preserve the sacredness of the altar space; to protect the authenticity and expression of: the architectural vision and volume, structure, construction, original plaster and murals; and to enshrine the meaningful spiritual message of the building, preserved over the centuries and presented in an understandable way for all.

Archaeological excavations were carried out in parallel with the implementation of the restoration works. They revealed series of funerals, structures of a baptistery and a Hellenistic building. These studies also proved that the St John the Baptist church is built on the foundations of an early Christian basilica – marked within the flooring in the course of project implementation.


The Ancient Stadium of Philippopolis

The Ancient Stadium of Philippopolis

The realisation of the project for rehabilitation of the Ancient Stadium of Philippopolis is the first step of the overall strategy of the Plovdiv Masterplan (2007). The latter proposes a stage-by-stage development of a system of spaces to provide integral display of urban archaeology in combination with public functions.

The work on the Ancient Stadium project began in 2008 and the preliminary intentions develop following the parallel archaeological research in 2010. Situated beneath the main pedestrian street of the city, with a single fragment on display at the Dzhumaya Square, the stadium (a facility that could seat around 30 000 spectators in the distant past) had been long inaccessible and unknown.

The project aims at: conservation and entire expression of the cultural value of the Stadium; providing its vitality with attractive functions; and providing accessibility for disabled people. The existing concrete frames closing the stadium were removed, and it was widely opened to the public through new geometry of the openings, contemporary urban design, landscaping, artistic illumination, and visual communication.

After the inauguration of the reconstructed site, the place has again become an important part of the city life where various cultural activities take place. A new green piazza to from the north of the exposed section of the fortification wall has been realised. The inclined urban space provides physical access to the ruins of the fortification system. At the same time, it clearly shows that this space was outside the walls of the ancient city, and creates an unique atmosphere for cultural events.