LOST IN THE MUTRO-BAROQUESQUE JUNGLE

by Ani Ivanova; photography by Dragomir Ushev

Bulgaria is copying the tin architecture Western Europe has long since abandoned

Boyko Kadinov.jpg

Mutro-baroque? Techno Rococo? Sleek Renaissance? Are you puzzled by the architectural jargon? Then take a stroll in Boyana, one of Sofia's most up-market neighbourhoods, and see for yourself. These are the buildings sponsored by the mutri, reflecting their taste and lifestyle. These constructions are to architecture what chalga is to music. They are like the stereotypical thick-necked entrepreneur of the post-Communist era, bedecked in a silk necktie and white tennis socks. Many Bulgarians think they epitomise the vulgar chutzpah that characterises the country's nouveau riche.

Through the eyes of an architect, however, Mutro-Baroque appears somewhat different. Associate Professor Boyko Kadinov studied architecture in Sofia, has a PhD from L'UP - Les Beaux Arts, Paris, and now teaches in the Public Buildings Department of the University of Architecture, Construction and Geodesy.

He has also been a guest lecturer at architectural forums in Venice, Brussels, Paris and Moscow, and has published two books, Ten Commandments of Architecture and Transgressions in Architecture as well as numerous articles in specialised editions.

A member of the European Cultural Parliament, Boyko Kadinov is also the president of the VIZAR foundation, his own brainchild which launched the European Architecture Awards in 2005, a biennial event celebrating Bulgarian architects' work and projects. And, to cap it all, he is also the president of the Kadinovi Bros Architecture Agency, where he has an office and goes to work everyday.

Ever since he studied the subject in Paris, Kadinov had dreamed that architecture, the mother of all the arts, should be displayed in museums and galleries. His wish is now coming true. In February, he staged an exhibition of his works, composed of private and public buildings scattered around the country. They were photographed and put in frames, and entered the National Art Gallery as proper works of art. The Architectural Scholars' event not only featured 26 of the author's designs, but was also the first step towards setting up the gallery's permanent architectural exhibition.

What is an architecturally minded person's take on the recent construction boom?

Statistics indicate that a total of six billion euros was invested in Bulgarian construction during 2005. And interest in property is still increasing.

Helios Bay

But it's vital that we have architecture, too, not just investments. New buildings must display some architectural style in contrast to what we are now witnessing, which is the triumph of profit over architectural standards. This trend is partly due to the conduct of foreign investors who view Bulgaria as a backwater. Remember the way they got rid of old Trabants and Volkswagens? Now they are getting rid of secondrate architecture by exporting it to this country!

Can you give an example?

German investors have brought to Bulgaria what I call tin architecture.

Look at the tin boxes of HIT, METRO and Praktiker. They have very little to do with architecture. The same is true of the so-called Sofia Business Park. It seems Western European investors arrive here, tempted by the prospect of a quick profit, and tend to overlook quality. This is rather short-sighted because the next generation will pay the price for the architectural blunders and mistakes in urban planning. And in some cases they are irreversible. We cannot restore the sand dunes along the Black Sea or the superb combination of pine trees, sand and sea which have now been turned into asphalt. Some buildings in Sofia have been erected in places which should have been the site of new road works.

On the other hand, the rapid expansion of the construction business, currently evident in low quality buildings of little aesthetic merit, is also supported by the banking sector. They can taste the benefits coming from mortgages that will be needed. Also - let's face it - the construction business is a good way to launder money. Things will only change when investors become real investors and plough in their own capital and insist on getting the highest quality return.

Lobby of Philosophy Faculty at Sofia University

Lobby of Philosophy Faculty at Sofia University

Is there evidence of corruption in the process?

Bulgarian legislation allows for contractors to act as architects so, legally speaking, they do not need to hire professionals. Also, architects do not sit on the committees that decide if new buildings meet relevant standards.

There is also a powerful and smooth pattern of corruption. It works like this: the town or city's chief architect has behind-the-scene assistants who convince investors that their buildings will be approved if they are designed by the very same chief architect's company. With all due respect to chief architects, reviewing construction papers and designing buildings are two totally different activities. These should not be mixed.

What is the result?

We can see the consequences in Bansko, Pamporovo and Sunny Beach. A growing number of people do not spend their holidays at the Black Sea anymore but go to Greece or Turkey instead, where the countryside is better preserved and where you can still enjoy nature.

This is why I believe that, in the long term, losses will outweigh the current concept of profit.

What about Mutro-Baroque and Techno Rococo and Sleek Renaissance, the terms invented to describe flamboyant buildings lacking in taste and moderation?

They have endured, although their names will vary. Another trend that affects public buildings has emerged: fake architecture. We seem to be copying hybrids that the West has long since denounced.

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