Each space requires a mix of different skills and kinds of knowledge, starting with mathematics and physics, getting to the key element of having a good eye for aesthetics, and let’s not forget philosophy, psychology and sociology, which inevitably enter the picture. Creating a pleasant feeling in an environment that is not your personal space, but still bears your signature, is a challenge to which thousands of architects around the world devote their time and effort. We spoke to a small but representative Bulgarian sample of experts in this matter – we chose three architectural studios that are relatively new (all were founded within the last ten years) and each have a different specialty, although they also jump between different fields and are not reluctant to test out their skills by embarking in a new direction.
Hush Architects mainly work on private projects for apartment interiors as well as architecture and interior design for houses, but they also have a few public sites in their portfolio. The core members of the team – Denitsa Atanasova and the siblings Dimitar and Elena Rahnevi – met while working at the studio of arch. Radina Gancheva. They say they are now rounding out their first five years after founding the studio in 2017. According to them, their style is that they don't have a signature style, but follow the direction proposed by their client, though in the end the goal is always to create "a space that is a pleasure to live in.”
The founders of Hush Architects (from left to right) Dimitar Rahnev, Denitsa Atanasova, Elena Rahneva / Photographer; Boryana Pandova
Their first project was a Brand Orthodontics office in Mainz, which remains special to them because, in addition to being their debut, it also brought them their first award for interior design – in Germany. And among their most enjoyable projects was "the private apartment of a young couple in Sofia, where we decided that we would paint a replica of wallpaper on the wall. Two weekends of work and creativity and a lot of laughter ensued. Also at the 042 restaurant in Stara Zagora, while we were finishing the green ceiling on site. And the same project, when we had to collect books, and they were never enough, but we found some priceless titles. As well as when we found ourselves at the Sunday market in Dimitrovgrad at eight in the morning looking for pots, pans and other useful artifacts."
House B34 / Photo: Studio Blenda
They rely on natural materials and always use Bulgarian producers for large furniture – wardrobes, kitchens and everything that needs to be custom-made.
They are very interested in new developments in building systems and materials, as well as so-called "smart" solutions for installations. They believe there is growing interest in more sustainable design, though compromises still abound for the sake of keeping costs down.
BALANCING FULL AND EMPTY
The biggest trend in the field in which Cachè Atelier specializes is a change in the way people work and negotiate the balance between the workplace and the home office. "It's interesting how companies respond to the need to maintain their teams and also stimulate in-person interaction between them. The entire world is looking for a good solution to that problem right now. But it is not unambiguous – for different companies, and in different parts of the planet, the answer is certainly different. People were quick to declare the death of the office. But that’s not what we’ve observed over the last few months. On the contrary, more and more workers are returning to the physical office, driven by a need to see their colleagues, communicate and solve problems together and in person. No software can replace this.”
The Caché Atelier team / Photographer: Boryana Pandova
Cachè Atelier was founded by Mila Ivanova and Tsvetomir Pavlov in 2011, but their first big project came in 2014, when they worked on a small office space for SiteGround in Stara Zagora. That's when they realized that they should focus on interiors for public spaces, and for the last eight years their growing team has worked on more than 70 projects for office and public spaces.
Among their most notable projects is Paysafe's second office, which was ranked the seventh best office project of the year 2016 on the OfﬁceSnapShots.com platform, which selects and ranks over 1,500 projects each year. "Our project ranked higher than offices for Google, Facebook and Dropbox, which are really the drivers behind the process of democratization and improvement of the office workspace in the last 10 years," they say.
Left: Campus X / Right: JNGL Kids Center by Progress / Photos: Minko Minev
They say they have fun with all their projects. "We know that the moment we lose interest is a sign that something needs to change. We believe that every space should bring a smile to your face, and we look for this element in every project we take on, even the most strictly corporate ones.” According to them, a healthy and ergonomic work environment is essential, and achieved through a balance of natural and artificial lighting, good solutions for air conditioning and ventilation, and the acoustic environment. “The "full-empty" balance is also very important. We are proud of the fact that we have never designed a sweatshop office, where each workspace is maximally small and 200 people sit in one hall. Sustainable design policies are now being introduced all over the world, and international companies expect them to be implemented. It is also good that more and more Bulgarian companies are paying attention to this. It's less widespread, but the process has started and things will keep moving in this direction," the Cachè Atelier team says after just having finished a long, interesting and extremely complex project for the bakery Bratya Hlebari in Garitage park, which, from what we’ve heard, will leave everyone very happy.
SINE AND COSINE DESIGN
We also talked to the team behind GRID studio after they had just completed a project in the studio’s most emblematic sphere, the urban environment. GRID was founded in 2012 by the family of architects Gergana Tileva and Georgi Rafailov. In November, their New Wave bench – using an impressive non-standard shape – was installed in Burgas. About a year ago, they also built the Chaika (“seagull”) pavilion there – a modern wood and metal space for events, meetings and recreation. "One of the most significant projects for us is the Episcopal Basilica archaeological complex in Plovdiv, for which we designed and executed some of the more interesting architectural and interior elements, such as the large ramp, the corners for augmented reality and the children's corner."
The GRID studio / Photographer: Boryana Pandova
In addition to more conventional architectural projects, the studio focuses on the development of so-called parametric design, or custom design of three-dimensional spatial structures with organic and plastic forms and complex geometry. "Parametric design is a fully computerized process, in which forms are designed by entering mathematical formulas, or in other words by programming. If anyone is wondering what the point of learning all these sines and cosines is, know that you can do very beautiful things with them, like parabolas and sine waves, repeating waves." Sometimes they design entire projects in this manner, or they try to use it for elements that have organic shapes and complex geometry in order to create extraordinary and memorable spaces.
The Chaika Pavillion / Photo: GRID
Ramp in the Episcopal Basilica in Plovdiv / Photo: GRID
And the greatest pleasure? The installation followed by the reactions from people and passers-by. Because all these projects for urban environment and design are aimed at them, and must also take into account the specific local climate, history, structure and users, and cannot be copied. "Making something that touches as many people as possible is challenging and inspiring at the same time. The spaces we create are rather extraordinary, surprising and exciting. We hope that we can inspire their users to dream without also neglecting functionality and ergonomics," they add.
They believe that one of the most valuable features of Bulgarian cities is the variety of green spaces of all kinds and sizes. "My dream is that one day we will make a large-scale modern interpretation of the classical asma, the grapevine lattice, with many benches and tables under it, in some city garden or apartment yard space. I am sure that people will like it very much," says Geri Tileva and invites us to picture the comfort of this patterned shade.