Sofia Municipality has launched an international contest to regenerate Sveta Nedelya Square and its surrounding public spaces (Deadline: 8 May)
The competition will select a team to restore and renovate the square surrounding the historic Sveta Nedelya cathedral which is located in the centre of the Bulgarian capital a short distance from the main government buildings of the Balkan country.
The 1.5ha project aims to boost accessibility, enhance connections between the square’s historic fabric and surrounding new developments, deliver a public space of ‘human scale’ with improved connections to neighbouring pedestrian areas, and promote activity ‘at all times of the day and all year round’.
Sveta Nedelya Square, Sofia
Source: Image by Goldmund100
In its brief, Sofia Municipality explains: ‘The square around Sveta Nedelya – the cathedral temple of the Holy Metropolis of Sofia – is an inseparable element of the symbolic part of the historically-formed system public of spaces in Sofia city centre.
‘It is situated in the very heart of Sofia, just on the crossing point of the main axis of the ancient Roman city, and it has kept alive the memory of Sofia’s ancient and modern history and preserved its vitality and attractiveness – for the millions of residents of the capital city and for visitors. This makes it a place of key importance for the present and the future of Sofia and defines the specifics of its new renovation which is to preserve its cultural and spatial identity and at the same time, to respond to the complex requirements of functionality and the features of the present urban environment.’
Sveta Nedelya is a prominent Eastern Orthodox church which serves as the Sofia bishopric of the Bulgarian Patriarchate. Although first built in the 10th century, the current structure was completed in 1933 by local architect Vasilyov-Tsolov.
Sveta Nedelya Square, Sofia
Source: Image by Dorisrieck
The square is connected to a surrounding network of pedestrianised streets and plazas. Nearby landmarks include the Rotunda of St George, Hotel Balkan, Ministry of Health and Court of Justice.
Participating teams should include an architect, urbanist, heritage expert and landscape architect. Judges include Marlena Happach, head of the architecture and spatial planning department in Warsaw City Hall; Martin Aarts, former chief urban designer for Rotterdam; Bulgarian architect Borislav Ignatov; and Malina Edreva of the Sofia Municipal Council.
The overall winner will receive 70,000 Bulgarian levs (£31,000) and be invited to negotiate with Sofia Municipality for the design contract. There will also be a second prize of 60,000 BGN (£26,000), third prize of 50,000 BGN (£22,000), fourth prize of 40,000 BGN (£18,000), and fifth prize of 30,000 BGN (£13,000). The competition languages are English and Bulgarian.
How to apply
The deadline for applications is 5.30pm local time on 8 May
Architecture and Urban Development
Sofia Metropolitan Municipality
5, Serdika str
Tel: +359 29238299
Fax: +359 29806741
Q&A with Yasen Kyosev
The associate professor at the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy in Sofia discusses his ambitions for the competition
Why are you holding an international contest to regenerate Sveta Nedelya Square and its surroundings?
There is complex reasoning behind this contest. The location has been a focus of near-permanent interest in planning, embracing contrasting urban design proposals since the late 1970s; reflecting evolving architectural visions, pervasive shifts of urban culture and growing expectations for an improved quality of public space. Competitions for the site in recent past have yielded winning urban design and redevelopment proposals. But since then, new archaeological research has reshaped our understanding of its heritage and uncovered new preservation and interpretation opportunities. Knowledge of the square’s physically existing cultural strata and heritage structures has grown substantially. Critical evaluation of recent redevelopment projects in other locations in central Sofia has outlined the necessity to reconsider former attitudes and planning approaches to this space. On the other hand, planning strategies and legislation evolved towards a pluralism in governance thus demanding consideration of stakeholders interests in the urban process.
What is your vision for the new public space?
Sveta Nedelya Square is, at present, a valuable central space representing a multifaceted complex of precious architectural structures and cultural values. It is a symbol for cultural continuity and a key source of identity. So, contest proposals should first ensure continuity. They must acknowledge and preserve existing values. The contest site is defined within four adjacent territorial zones. The analysis of urban systems is to include the larger part of the central Sofia city core. The square with its contact area and its system of interrelated public spaces should also be included when shaping the concept, but the final design proposal shall focus on the square and the structures shaping its context. The brief challenges participants to integrate currently invisible cultural layers without compromising the square’s existing cultural landscape which is already of undisputable value. New approaches to mobility and transportation must also be elaborated to ensure ecological and social conditions. Pedestrian comfort and places of rest and slower movement should be introduced while not harming the area’s economic and social vitality. The brief focuses on sustainability and calls for the existing urban complex to be evaluated and redeveloped, but not radically transformed. The pluralism of historical structures and architectural styles, and the social and cultural pluralism of inhabitants and users should furthermore be enhanced. Central Sofia has gone through periods of dramatic changes especially after WWII bombings and the radical re-planning of the 1950s. Now it is a task of preservation and evolution.
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
The task has the potential to attract world-renowned architects. The contest seeks to deliver a creative achievement so the broader the scope of participants, the broader the range of ideas will be. Nevertheless, municipal authorities are obliged to adhere to legal requirements towards participants at different stages of project, as well as the inevitable necessity that the contest winner should have capacity to successfully conduct the project through to completion. Our professional architectural body (the Chamber of Architects and Union of Architects) also has a say in shaping the selection criteria. If we look back at modern planning in Sofia since Adolf Muesmann’s comprehensive plan in the 1930s until now, partnership between foreign and Bulgarian collaborators has often proved successful at all different levels of planning.
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
In the imminent future it will be necessary to focus our attention on transportation. Long term projects like the Sofia subway will foster a preference for public transportation. New projects in transport planning and the design of public spaces will be expected to promote and support new cultures that are friendly to historical and natural environment as well as socially viable. The large-scale planning framework provided by the comprehensive plan of Sofia (2001) as well as the integrated plan for urban renewal (2013) have defined areas of high economic potential as well as areas for social intervention. So, future contests and planning initiatives are on the horizon.
Sveta Nedelya Square, Sofia
Source: Image by Karel291
Are there any other recent public space renewal projects you have been impressed by?
The early 1990s was a period of transition in planning policies in Bulgaria and resulted in a gap in urban design initiatives. Starting in 1999, innovations in planning legislation, the integration of regional and comprehensive planning within the EU context and a series of urban design contests started a path of renewal. The most recent urban design projects in the public spaces of central Sofia have however caused controversy and debate. They also prompted the necessity to further optimize contest practices. The contest for Sveta Nedelya Square is an opportunity to achieve that goal.