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Fleeting Freedoms: Housing Architecture in Post-totalitarian Sofia and the Transformation of the City

Part 2 Dissertation 2003
Christo Tonev-Dandolo
University of Lincoln, UK
The aim of this dissertation is to illustrate the transformation of the architectural language of housing in Sofia, Bulgaria, during the 1990s. It investigates the transition in housing from a period characterised by the symbols of political-economic centralism and ‘socialist’ architecture, towards a period of active civil participation and expression in the built environment. More specifically this paper explores the idea that new architectonic signs emerge as a reaction to the former totalitarian system. Essentially these are regarded as a celebration of freedom through built form and an expression of a new set of cultural values amongst Bulgaria’s citizens. The central argument of this dissertation is that despite the original and genuine feeling of freedom manifested by the new signs of housing architecture, ultimately some of them are becoming symbols of another 'unfreedom', namely the cultural hegemony of capitalist development. They represent the increasing stratification of society as well as the growing spatial segregation between rich and poor. It will be demonstrated through extensive photographic evidence that these signs have rapidly become the mainstream. Having thrown off the constraints of socialist doctrine, ironically speculative developments are now regarded as the new dogma of housing architecture, dictated by adopted neo-liberal principals of Western democracy. There are a number of key questions arising from the above issues, which this dissertation attempts to answer. What are the new signs and symbols of housing architecture? How have the initial freedoms expressed through housing disappeared? What were the forces and mechanisms that determined this shift? What are the visual, spatial and social implications for the urban fabric as a whole? Is there a way to resist the negative effects of this economic transition?
Christo Tonev-Dandolo

The political and economic transformations that followed the collapse of the soviet bloc countries were accompanied by an equally radical transformation in the architecture and fabric of the post-totalitarian city. This dissertation describes the changes that have occurred in housing architecture in Sofia, Bulgaria, over the past two decades. It asks whether these new forms of housing are an expression of new-found freedoms or evidence of a new tyranny - a form of free-market capitalism that is externally driven and socially destructive.

This student's work is outstanding for the skill it demonstrates in linking detailed discussions about the changing form, function and symbolic meaning of housing architecture in Sofia with a much broader analysis of economic and cultural change in post-totalitarian Bulgarian society. It is also notable for the sheer volume of primary research undertaken, in particular, the efforts made to systematically document changing architectural forms, occurring over several years, in photographic form.

Dr. Carl O' Coill

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