Sofia New City Centre—Zaha Makes Laces, Foster Is Eco, Perrault Makes a Mountain
by WhATA, 6.05.2009
If anyone still hasn’t heard, this week has finished the competition for a new administrative centre of Sofia. The French architect Dominique Perrault was chosen the winner among 6 finalists — 4 world-known architecture companies and 2 Bulgarian teams. The results were announced even in ArchDaily and Bustler.
We haven’t written about this competition before because:
- we don’t find the finalists interesting. Childish though it seems, but we don’t like these particular starchitects
- the whole competition was obviously a lobistic affair. But we didn’t want to talk about the government, it would have been a long talk
- we were bored by the noise about the competition and we were not intrigued enough
Why write now? Because we visited the exhibitions of both the official finalists (at the Foreign Art Museum) and of the participants in the alternative competition, organized by the Chamber of Architects in Bulgaria and by the Union of Architects in Bulgaria. We have opinion to share.
Generally, we are not against foreign starchitects building in Bulgaria. On the contrary, we find it useful for the image of the Bulgarian city. We also have nothing against the idea for a new Sofia City Centre on Tsarigradsko Shosse. Although we have absolutely no idea how it could be funded, especially at times of economic slump. And here comes the talk about the government and it would be a long talk.
In fact we very kindly took a round at both exhibitions. Below follow our impressions:
Norman Foster is surprisingly mundane
His project is plain, but logical. All buldings are collected at the periphery of the site — starting from a perfect circle. Park is left in the centre.
Then he introduces the three “magnets” — EU Centre, Centre of Knowledge and Exhibition Centre which deform the initially ideal circle. This is how he makes the composition horizontally.
Then Foster introduces the sun, the wind and other eco and nature forces, deforms the structures and makes the vertical composition.
Finally, he introduces energy efficiency, wind rose for Sofia, etc and out of the modernistic box produces cascading buildings with illogical at times forms.
Zaha Hadid is a well-explaining lace maker
Unexpectedly well-explained idea, with clear explanatory schemes, white background, nice font, good information design of the layouts. This surprised us very much — and it was a pleasant surprise. From Zaha we expected complicated 3Ds on black background.
Contrary to Foster she collects all the structures in the centre of the site and leaves as much green as possible at the periphery. In this centre she makes a sculptural composition of buildings — a beautiful one, undoubtedly.
And out of the green around she makes a wonderful landscape pattern — like lace, like a texture for a nice skirt or cool sofa. Very beautiful, indeed.
But… single-mindedly selfish. Only she seems capable to design all these buildings in the future. Like a selfish spinster Zaha has pointed with her finger at a place and started making laces around.
Dominique Perrault is diligent and democratic
Babbling in a French-like manner, with loads of illegible explanations, the project is full of resarch and small, smaller and smallest tables and graphics.
He makes a solid block, then cuts it in one direction by a park and communication axis. The volumes left after the cut Perrault deforms following the outlines of Vitosha Mountain. Thus he makes a mountain in the city. A new nature, so to say.
Naturally, Perrault introduces the green theme as well. Part of his project is devoted on how many LEED points the new administrative centre could gather following his design.
He also makes research of the life is this new city centre — by hours and days. He combines office and residential functions and analyzes different combinations.
Part of the numerious researches. These in particular show why Perrault alters resindents to office workers’ ratio from 1:10 (as required) to 1:2 and how this alteration adds more LEED points to the project
Eventually Perault receives irregular forms (like Zaha, but clumsier) which serve as outline boundaries for the future structures to be built there. That means that what you see on the model are not real buildings, but the boundary they should fit within.
Perrault is democratic — according to his project other architects can also design different buildings from the new administrative centre, provided they keep within the outlines and follow the organization.
Fuksas is… well… vague
Makes three centres — three clear functions plus irregular park space between.
But the glass of his 3Ds’ poster was cracked (probably during transportation) and sticked with white scotch. White letters on glossy black background, cracked glass, white scotch and irregular forms — how can you take a serious look at such a project.
The Bulgarians are overcomposing
Student compositions at that. While the foreigners are making organizations, the Bulgarians are making compositions. Swirls, In&Yan, the Eye of the Universe, monumental forms and intoxication by arcs, spirals and progressions — all of them we thought were left forever in the Bulgarian 90-ies (when blue lights and silver were top of the pop)
The project of consortium ADAIS — the more serious one of the two Bulgarian finalists (photo: arhitektura.bg)
The other BG finalist: G13 (photo: arhitektura.bg)
As a principle we consider compositions in urban development outdated. Urbanists should offer a system for development and not a fixed result. That’s the reason why the project of Dominique Perrault is the best of the six above.
The Alternative Competition
The exhibition of the alternative competition was organized by the Chamber of Architects in Bulgaria and by The Union of Architects in Bulgaria as a protest against the official competition. This exhibition lacks surprises as well. We counted up to three projects that do try to be alternative. The others offer nothing more than senseless compositions and poor graphic design. But this is understandable. While the officially selected six finalists receive by 100K EUR each only for being finalists, they can pay to 3D makers and model makers. The participants in the alternative competition have done everything out of good will and with no much time and money on their hands.