At the core of this proposal lies the idea of historical narrative. The old memorial and existing monument are part of this narrative. The monument adds another layer to the story and complexity of the city. The best cities in the world are made up of layers that people can read. By demolishing it, we will be trying to erase a piece of history. This will make the city poorer, not richer.
‘1300 Years Bulgaria’ tells the story of the country from the beginning. People dislike it either because they think it’s ugly or because of its association with the Communist regime. There is very little one can do to combat the first as it is a matter of taste. The monument’s subject matter, however, is not about Communism. It only happens to be built during that period. Communism and the atrocities of that regime cannot be equated with everything that was done at the time. Furthermore, Bulgarian sculptors of that period developed a unique language of their own. Similar monuments commissioned in Serbia for example have a completely different language and expression.
The new project is designed to this particular context at this particular time. Exactly the same way the original Memorial was – there were the army barracks and the architect engaged with them to build the memorial. If the monument is demolished, this proposal will be meaningless.
How is this project different from everything else previously proposed for the future of the monument?
Previous proposals have not addressed the key issue of historical narrative – something that this project takes as its central theme. It tries to build on the virtues of what exists and on what once was. It offers a new meaning to the whole complex.
The new Memorial park does not try to replicate the past. It is different from the original in its language, but very similar in its presence and response to context. The original was built onto the three end-walls of the existing army barracks. It had a symmetrical composition and allowed movement; it offered a space for rest, contemplation and recreation. And so does the new proposal.
Furthermore, the proposal enables a range of activities. It will be a place for people to meet and understand more about the history of the site and city. The proposal is also fully accessible. For the first time it enables everyone to engage with the monument and its story. It allows for events to take place –open air cinema projections in summer, conferences, exhibitions, talks, book launches, organised tours, etc.
The project is designed to bring revenue from a number of streams – entry fee for guest exhibitions; tickets for talks, lectures, book launches; tickets for organised tours; books and merchandise sales etc.
This revenue will then pay for its maintenance. There has been an increase in interest from the West in our built past. The number of publications on the subject grows each year. To name but a few from the last 5 years: ‘A Flower for the Dead’ by Friedrich Achleitner, ‘Landscapes of Communism’ by Owen Hatherly, ‘Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed’ by Frederic Chaubin, ‘Soviet Ghosts: The Soviet Union Abandoned: A Communitst Empire in Decay’ by Rebecca Litchfield, ‘Forget Your Past’ by Nikola Mihov, ‘Witnesses of Stone: 1944-1989: Socialist Monuments and Architecture in Bulgaria’ by Nikola Vukov and Luca Pnchiroli. There is interest out there as people discover these sites and monuments for the first time. We can engage with them – we can tell our story and add to the rich history of art and architecture instead of erasing it.
The monument is a subject of debate and polarized opinions. Is it possible that the same negativity will be directed to the new proposal as well?
It is possible. However, negativity is not criticism. People must have an informed opinion to offer criticism and that is why we’ve tried to set out the context of the project as objectively as possible. The proposal itself is still rather basic. It tries to convey ideas and principles. If it was to progress it will certainly change significantly – but the ideas and narrative will stay the same. Despite this, I do hope that it would elevate the debate to a more constructive level.
“The Invisible City,” International Design Conference, Aspen, Colorado, 19 June 1972. In What Will Be Has Always Been: The Words of Louis I. Kahn, ed. Richard Saul Wurman (New York: Rizzoli International Publications), 1986, p. 150