Treasures from Vratsa Exhibition

Treasures from Vratsa Exhibition

The main goal of the project was to rethink an outdated museum space and present the treasures that are displayed there in an exciting, fun, and unforgettable way. In the hall are presented both unique world-class artifacts, such as the Gold Wreath and the Greave from the Mogilanska Mound, as well as masterfully crafted, yet everyday objects from the Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the National Revival. It was necessary that these various artifacts, different in function, make, and period, be bound together into one whole. The valuable pieces of jewellery had to be displayed in a protective environment and be illuminated in an adequate way, but also to be provided with the necessary information, without ruining the visitors’ experience and the immediate contact with the real objects.

The concept of the project is to create a complete scenographic experience through synergy between architecture, content, and design of the Treasures from Vratsa Exhibition. At the heart of the architectural approach is the idea that treasures live beyond time and space. The room is completely dark to make the visitor completely lose the sense of space. The main element is the so-called Horizon – the long illuminated display case in which the treasures are presented chronologically and thematically. The gradient change from light blue to red interprets the eternal flow of time. In two pillars in the middle of the exhibition space, the two most important and valuable artifacts – the Gold Wreath and the Greave from the Mogilanska Mound – are displayed. 

All artifacts are supported by bespoke mounts and appear as if they are levitating in the display cases. The main purpose of this manner of display is to emphasize the objects and their craftsmanship. All information about the artifacts from the Horizon is presented in a delicately lit console, where through texts, illustrations, movies, casts, tactile and interactive elements, the stories are told.

The display of the Wreath and the Greave follow the same logic. Attention is drawn to them and the information is placed on the backs of the pillars.

The exhibition design engages all the senses to enhance the overall experience. Entering the room, one feels the change in temperature. The ambient music, along with the whimsical mapping above the long display case, creates a fairy atmosphere in the room. Several illuminated resin casts of artifacts and specially made traditional pafti belt buckles allow everyone to feel with their fingers even the finest details. Last but not least is the specially designed installation, by which you can feel the scent of the gold laurel wreath – the humble bay leaf.

The Treasures from Vratsa Exhibition is designed to immerse the visitors in its atmosphere, while at the same time creating optimal conditions for safeguarding and presenting the treasures. The design engages visitors of all ages and interests, based on easy and intuitive ways of presenting information.

Ada Tepe Exhibition

Ada Tepe Exhibition

Ada Tepe is the mountain peak where the oldest known gold mine in Europe has been found and studied. Now gold is being mined again and all traces from the Bronze-Age mining technology will disappear. The main challenge of the project is to reveal the “absent” heritage of ancient gold mining.

Ada Tepe Exhibition is located in a disused room of a local community centre. The exhibition covers several topics: gold mining in the Bronze Age and now, the life at the mine, the peak, the excavations, the gold, the nature, and the future of the mine. Their manifestations in terms of spatial and architectural appearance interweave to stimulate all senses.

The main featuring element is the inclined plane of the “mountain slope”. It divides the exhibition room in two but simultaneously connects the topics – physically and meaningfully. The aboveground space is dark, mysterious and unknown. Here are the stories and facts from the past (mining, life, topography) compared to similar contemporary activities. A massive trench leads to the underground space – just like the way ancient miners and today’s archaeologists “entered” the mountainside. All is bright and golden here as a reference to the underground treasures but also to the enlightening role of science for unveiling the distant past.

The exhibition encourages people to roam around the space, to climb the “mountain slope”, to venture underground, to touch, hear, feel, and experience this important yet unconventional heritage of the region.

Tell Yunatsite

Tell Yunatsite

Tell Yunatsite is one of the most imposing prehistoric sites in Europe. It is a unique example of a site that has been inhabited for more than six thousand years. The site has been subject to long-term archaeological excavation and international research. It is also a place of interest for visitors.

These interweaving features were actually the biggest design challenge. How to protect a substance, which, in its essence, is an accumulation of highly vulnerable adobe, clay and soil? How to ensure future research activities, which, in fact, remove layer after layer from this substance? How to explain the significance of this seemingly ordinary mass of earth? How to tell the stories, which the tell is hiding? How can we unite what seems to be non-unitable – a living archaeological (also in the context of a whole ecosystem that has developed here) and a unique for visiting (but hardly comprehensible) cultural site?

The massive profile of the tell is protected by steen nets and explained by large distinguishable elements. The area around the chalcolithic fortification wall is protected by a textile membrane shelter. And the protection of the fortress wall is provided by rammed earth – we apply the common approach refracted through the clay nature of the wall. A system of pathways and steps in the terrain, of steel grate platforms and stairs – open and developing – provides safe circulation and experience. All interventions are designed not to threaten nor damage the integrity of yet unstudied cultural strata, but to guarantee the possibility for future archaeological research: ready-made elements put in place, concrete tetrapods for foundations of the large shelter, protection without using chemical components. 

The architectural approach follows the principle of contrast – recognizability and attractiveness of the new elements without being intrusive to the environment. With the natural environment as a background, the new galvanized elements stand out with their minimalistic design. The white textile membrane defines the place where the prehistoric structures are exhibited in situ. Several red accents draw the visitor to the key spaces. The chosen materiality intuitively hints of temporariness and reversibility in the context of the prehistoric layering, of something new that is telling stories about the tell.

The Historical Hill of Chiprovtsi

The Historical Hill of Chiprovtsi

This paper is developed following a commission by the Regional Urban Development Fund, the main partner in the Eco Municipality competition. In 2018, the Municipality of Chiprovtsi was a winner in the category “Sustainable Development of Public Spaces” for municipalities with a population under 40000.

The purpose of the present paper is to support the Municipality of Chiprovtsi in its efforts to develop the public spaces by proposing ideas for use and management of the Historical Hill of Chiprovtsi. The proposals are inspired by the specific potential of the place and take into account the contemporary trends in the development of similar spaces. Although the focus is on the Historical Hill, the proposed principles could be applied for other public spaces in the municipality.

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.