Reclaiming individuality

статия 10This article is part of our weekly series “Plattenbau stories”, introducing the topic of plattenbau districts in Europe and the world. ONE ARCHITECTURE WEEK 2016 will be held in Trakiya, a plattenbau districts in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, from September 30th until October 9th. The main focus of the festival is the topic of“citizen participation in the creation of the urban environment”.

An article in Bartlett Lobby, for the full version click here.

We continue with the topic of individuality of plattenbau buildings, albeit in a different aspect. Balconies are a traditional architectural element.

In Bulgaria balconies appear in the XVIII century, while the country is part of the Ottoman empire. Balconies extend the living space of the home, simultaneously giving security but allowing observation. They are private and public at the same time.

Up until the 50’s balconies are considered a luxury. Then during the Soviet era they become part of the standardised plattenbau buildings and each family living there has access to one. After the change in the regime (in 1989) the restrictions on how to maintain and modify your own private space are removed. This leads to glazing, extending and building on the balconies and they all have different functions – they become part of the living rooms or kitchens, are used as a drying laundry space or a storage space. This changes the appearance of the vast residential complexes and smaller inner city streets.

The types of glazing and and appropriated would reflect their owners’ financial abilities, aesthetic understanding and even their own needs. Today a plattenbau building with all of its balconies looking the same is a rarity. Even if the modifications are made with the same material the colours would differ. The lack of coordination is usually blamed on the different financial situations of the families inhabiting the building. But underneath it there is also a reluctance to reach an agreement on as to how to achieve any kind of coherent aesthetic from the outside.

Some believe that the freedom and participations of the residents in the planning process leads to a “Frankenstein effect”. Places that were planned as harmonious and homogenous, even boring at some point, become loathed by many, even their own residents after they become a placard of individuality. But this phenomenon shows us the process of defiance against norms, be it political or architectural.