urban planning

Sveta Nedelya: Urban Concept

Sofia, Bulgaria

Building type: Urban Planning
Surface: 12 000 m²
Competition: National Competition “The City of Sofia”
Project: 2013

The square surrounding the St. Nedelya Cathedral is located in the heart of Sofia and has existed since ancient times. Today it is unfortunately plagued by traffic, noise, and inefficient use.

In order to form a harmonious rectangular space, according to the golden ratio, a building has to be placed in the southwest part next to the Palace of Justice. It is the best location for a Museum of Ancient Serdika and Sredets, which would also provide an appropriate and easy access to the underground archaeological site. Conceived as a transparent glass cube with an approximate height of the other buildings on the square, this new landmark has a central spiral ramp, showcasing, as you go from the top to the bottom, Sofia’s history from modern to ancient times. The panoramic elevators and the rooftop terrace have a marvelous view of St. Nedelya Square and Vitosha Blvd. The main Tourist Information Center is located at the foot of the Statue of Sofia like a large pedestal. It is covered with a vertical green façade composed of flowers. This lively picturesque volume gives access to a panoramic coffee terrace and improves both the proportions and the esthetic impact of the whole monument.

The concept of the square is that of a modern Agora: a place for gathering and socializing, for big public events, for cultural and spiritual activity, for leisure and meditation. It represents a unique symbiosis of two spaces – upper and lower, open-air and covered, contemporary and ancient. They are separated on different levels, yet united by translucent and transparent glass, interwoven in a common composition and connected by many vertical bonds. Here pedestrians have privilege in a harmonic coexistence with cyclist and vehicles.

A strong energy is concentrated at this place coming from the thousand-year-long history and also from the confluence of so many important urban arteries: five major boulevards and three streets start from here. The streets and the boulevards near the square are covered with yellow paving, emblematic for the historic district of Sofia.

The design of St. Nedelya Square combines traditional and contemporary elements. The rectangular pattern of the pavement is adopted from the plan of the praetorium and thus symbolizes the continuity from ancient times. The materials used for the pavement are natural stone and bricks like those found in the ruins. All other elements of urban equipment such as the movable coffee shops, the roofs of the metro station entrances, and the lighting are by contrast contemporary in design. The whole urban composition is woven with broad oval lines of red bricks and white stone passing along the pavement and creating a unity between all the major pedestrian spaces. Their form is in contrast with the rectangular pattern, which is rational, ordered and static. The oval lines express movement and represent the possible paths people unconsciously take while walking from one place to another. Also, they can be interpreted as a projection of spirals, symbolizing progress. The curves are the bonds knitting all elements together, making fluid spatial transitions and leading to important buildings such as the Faculty of Theology or the Museum of Serdika and Sredets. The sacred space of St. Nedelya has survived for thousands of years, thus the red brick paths symbolize historical continuity and connect the public spaces with the lines of time and collective memory.

The project gives St. Nedelya Square a strong impetus for its future development, transforming it into the pulsing heart of Sofia in the 21st century.

Stefan Dobrev architect and urbanist