Skip to main content

Sofia Skyscrapers

Try to imagine a colossal skyscraper in place of the statue of Sofia in the centre of the city. It would have happened too, if communist-era ambitions had been realised.The idea of a skyscraper in Sofia goes back more than 40 years, with buildings planned near the central train station, the Solni Bazar market, on the intersection of Cherni Vruh and James Bourchier boulevards, yet circumstances always conspired against such undertakings. In recent years, dozens of projects have been put forth, every one of them claiming to be the first one.Architects differ in their opinions as to how, where and whether to build the skyscrapers. Some of those opinions were presented at a public discussion organised by the union of architects earlier in November.There is no consensus even on the question of what constitutes a skyscraper, apart from the fact that it is a symbol of prosperity and prestige. Some claim that a building deserves the "skyscraper" tag if it is more than 100m tall, whereas for others it should just rise significantly above its surroundings, but all agree that it should be inhabited."Skyscrapers are big animals who like to go around in flocks. A single skyscraper sticking out on its own is nonsense," according to architect Pavel Popov, who sees lower buildings as more humane and skyscrapers as monsters that swallow a lot of energy, resources and people. A lonely tall building is a show of bad taste, like the 59-storey Montparnasse Tower in Paris, whose infamy is in part due to the fact that it stands out, with new building height regulations passed after it was completed.For Popov, the ideal site for the construction of a skyscraper would be across from the central train station. "This is the gateway to the city, and behind it is Vitosha. The place is appropriate because it has enough elevation," he said.Asked about how one goes designing one, Popov said: "Is it worth designing high buildings if we cannot make them better than the existing ones?" Architecture has abandoned its function as a practical art and is now churning out things that no longer look like buildings, he said.But other architects argue against the idea that skyscrapers have to stand in clusters and in favour that they should be on their own. Architect Dimitar Andreichin is one of them, and he also believes that Sofia has the potential for skyscrapers to be built in harmony with the lower-elevation buildings surrounding them.Sofia city hall chief architect, Petar Dikov, falls in the second category, saying that skyscrapers have to define the skyline of the city, but that Sofia does not offer any opportunity to cluster too many tall buildings in one area.A good location would be the hills of Sofia, according to Ilian Nikolov, the author of a project to build a skyscraper next to Borissovata Gradina and Tsarigradsko Chaussee, on the site of the now-demolished Ropotamo restaurant, once one of the emblematic locations of the socialist-era Sofia. The project is one of the most controversial proposed skyscrapers in the city, with numerous opponents pointing out that the 100m-tall Ropotamo Plaza would look out of place among the low buildings of the Yavorov borough. Nikolov's insistence during the discussion that the environment would "tolerate" the tall building he envisions was met by laughter and cries of "no, it won't!" from his peers in the public.A matter of principleSome architects argue that Sofia already has buildings that can pass as skyscrapers, and quite a few of them, at that. The Rodina and Kempinski hotels, the Energoproekt headquarters on James Bourchier Boulevard and Transport Ministry building on Gurko Street are all in that category, according to Andreichin. While nowhere as tall as their big brothers in New York or Tokyo, they do stand out significantly over their surroundings to qualify for the tag - a skyscraper is a matter of principle and not necessarily a question of height, Andreichin said.Almost every single conceptual design project for the construction of a skyscraper in Sofia is greeted with contempt. Architects are unhappy because they do not like the looks, local residents are unhappy because they are not keen on having a "monster" right next door. Some architects have even argued that Sofia did not have a place for skyscrapers as they would destroy the feel and soul of the city."Who needs them? The people, the investors, the ones collecting the commissions?" was one question asked during the discussion.Some countries have referendums before building a skyscraper, Popov said, giving the example of Italy, where skyscraper projects in Milan and Bologna were put up for plebiscite. The residents of Bologna have already rejected the plans to build the planned skyscraper, while the fate of the trio of skyscrapers, which according to the plans would be built in the immediate proximity of a future new museum in the city, is still up in the air.Marketplace of ideasA true skyscraper is unlikely to rise in Sofia any time soon because both construction and maintenance is extremely expensive, according to chief architect Dikov. The global financial crisis would put a further dent in investor plans. Until now, skyscraper designs were drafted to be sold just as that, possible projects, but with the cash squeeze tightening over the past two months, the interest has died out.Sofia offers about a dozen appropriate sites for skyscrapers in Sofia, most prominently on Todor Alexandrov Boulevard, which the city's urban plan envisions to become the "new City" of Sofia. The main boulevards in the large residential boroughs of Mladost and Lyulin could also sprout a few tall buildings. Construction on Evropa Tower, located where once the Balkancar Sredets factory was, has already started. There are also plans for two 277m towers to be built on Ivan Geshev Boulevard, as well as for two more high-rise buildings to go with the headquarters of the CITUB labour union in Macedonia Square. A few tall buildings are expected to rise near Sofia's central train station, where the Bulgarian-Spanish joint venture Riofisa will invest in a trading and commercial centre. Three other companies have showed interest in building towers in the area.More than 20 projects for tall buildings have been developed, but one or two was the most Sofia could expect to see in the near future, according to Dikov.