Collective Individuality: Reconstructing the Public Realm

Zhanina Boyadzhieva (website)
Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Thesis Project
Faculty: Ingeborg Rocker (website),  Eve Blau


The thesis project originated from a 6-month research that compares the Socialist and the Post-Socialist City with a focus on a particular case study in Eastern Europe: Bulgaria. The research book studies the two contrasting paradigms in terms of their ideologies and urban expressions. The Socialist City presents a physical utopia for collective equality; it is an ordered, systematic and scientific city, inspired by Modernist principles infused with Socialist values. The Post-Socialist City showcases the cult of the individual expression and private property; it is a metropolis of fragmentation, disunity and chaos. Neither one of the two models produces a healthy environment, especially when referring to the notion of the public realm. Whereas the public is an enforced concept in the Socialist city, it becomes a “dirty word” (quote by the Director of the Ministry of Architecture and Urban Planning in Sofia, Bulgaria) in the Post-Socialist city.

The second phase of the project involves the redesign of Lyulin, the largest communist residential neighborhood in Sofia. Although the original design focuses on the distribution of public areas throughout the 10 microregions of the neighborhood, none of the visions were realized. What is left are the communist urban blocks with a deserted and unappreciated spaces in between them.

The project proposes a strategy of developing 3 types of public ground: horizontal, diagonal and vertical to bring continuity and diversity throughout the site.

Horizontal ground involves a new definition of the vast flat ground that is currently on the site. It includes variations of terraces that break down the massive scale of undefined spaces in between the blocks and adds a variety of programs to the exterior spaces (playgrounds, open air cinemas, water bodies, picnic areas, rest zones as well as special programs such as covered markets.)

Diagonal ground extends the logic of public realm to the blocks by breaking the rigidity of the original blocks designs and creating continuous connections of public spaces throughout the structures that would serve a variety of user groups. Programs would include rental office spaces, classrooms, day care, music halls, gyms, elderly casinos, etc. They would always juxtapose the privacy of the living quarters.

Vertical ground is defined by the construction of new public structures inserted throughout the site that mimic the original blocks but produce a rich experience of juxtaposing private and public programs. A public promenade and occupiable roofs would be always open for the general public.

The strategy is applied to the design of a singular block instance within Microregion 8. It can be extended throughout the whole microregion producing a rich center for public activities. The goal is to infuse a new understanding and appreciation of the public realm that serves the needs of the group as well as the needs of the individual to produce collective individuality.

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