urban planning

Sofia’s historical city center - Alexander Nevski and Narodno Sabranie Squares (Zone 4)

Sofia, Bulgaria

Description: Sofia’s historical city center renovation, Zone 4 (2014)

The squares Alexander Nevski and Narodno Sabranie and the adjacent spaces are the urban equivalent and apotheosis of spiritual and social life in Bulgaria. Both squares almost touch one another and even though they have different characteristics and content, they are in dialectic mutual commitment. Nowadays their huge potential is far from being used because of unsolved problems, lack of adequate urbanization and development conception, parking all over the public squares, as well as the neglected look of the pedestrian and park areas. Historically they are of great importance for the city and deserve deep analysis as well as a new conception of development.
It is amazing that the two most prestigious squares of the Capital are in fact two huge parking lots – one with yellow, the other with big grey cobblestones. That is to say there are no squares! There are no public pedestrian spaces! There are here and there some pavements in not the best condition. But not everywhere! In front of the Parliament and around the monument of Tsar Osvoboditel, for instance, there are not even any pavements, let alone pedestrian spaces! It is true that over one hundred years ago, when yellow cobblestones were placed, there were no cars. These alarming facts show that serious measures must be taken and total special reorganization must be done.
Alexander Nevski, as our unique major cathedral temple, needs a large pedestrian square, like St Peter in Rome or Notre-Dame in Paris. But it is not acceptable to go to extremities and exclude cars. The optimal balance between cars and pedestrians, parking and landscape must be found. Fortunately, the space is large and there is place for everybody. The set design of the square is extremely important. The idea is to create a wide ring of yellow pavement where cars will circulate slowly and will park crosswise only on the outside under the existing trees. It is incredible that through this rational organization only 35 parking places out of 150 will be lost. This composition will reinforce the square monumentality and of course all the sights will turn to the Cathedral. Pedestrian area is really large: an ellipse the size of 135x100m or almost 10 000m2. It is flanked of a crown of small trees which, even at rare intervals, form the space without affecting the perception of the temple. The orthogonal raster is crossed by arched curves which form 12 tips: an important number for Christianity and even more for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
How good would it be if one of the symbols of Sofia, the yellow pavement, returns to the Alexander Nevski square and greatly binds it with Narodno Sabranie Square which will accept the principle to build a pedestrian core in front of the Parliament and around the monument of Tsar Osvoboditel, made with the same materials and forms as these around the temple. It is like the two squares are holding hands and binding in harmonic urban ensemble.
In the adjacent space of Al. Nevski Square will be created two pedestrian squares, but with arrangement for the cars to circulate upon it in rush hours. In the first place, the axis of the main entrance to the temple, Oborishte Str., leading to Rakovska Str., transforms into a square. It is of great importance because of its proximity to the church St Sofia and the Eternal Flame. In the same way, Moskovska Str. between Levski Monument and Dunav Str. transforms into a square with special arrangements.
In the gardens around Al. Nevski Square will be created two thematic squares: in front of the National Museum of Fine Arts will take place “Thematic Square of Fine Arts” and in front of National Art Academy – “Thematic Square of Sculpture”. In these spaces can be organized cultural events, temporary exhibitions and celebrations. Underneath the yard of the Academy is designed a two-level public underground parking lot for 240 cars with access from Oborishte Str.
The garden Kristal will be developed through renovation of the road and alleys surfaces. Greenery will be restored to its authentic form. Lawns will be restored and accents will be added by special ornamental plant elements. New benches will be placed and the lightening will be replaced. In the north-west part there is a hollow – a dead and unused zone in the garden. There will be built a circle pond with lilies and white crystals, as well as an amphitheater, a small scene and a diagonal alley to the crossing. Thus will be created a poetic space inspired by the famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Considering the proximity of many Sofia theaters, here is the perfect place for the “Thematic Square of Theater” where cultural events and performances can be organized.
The traffic organization will hardly be changed. It is submitted to create a cycling lane around Al. Nevski Sq. connected to Levski Monument, V. Levski Bld. and Rakovska Str.
The pedestrian squares and alleys will be made of sustainable natural materials – light beige granite with light texture and terracotta in pale brick-red color, composed in the typical for Sofia rectangular raster (7.50m), and around Temple-Monument Al. Nevski and the Parliament will be used travertine and marble as well. For the streets with special traffic arrangement, the terracotta bands in the reinforced pavement will be replaced by grey granite.
The urban facilities elements are in the traditional for the Capital classic style: the details are clear and with a more contemporary look. There are installed a multitude of bicycle stopping places, as well as oval automatic module toilets. The pedestrian spaces, streets and parks have an entirely new economic LED lighting net. The benches, the pavilions as well as the rubbish containers ornamental grilles are made of natural wood, in the ecological spirit of the sustainable development program.
The project suggests the building of a unique system of pedestrian squares, alleys and parks around Temple-Monument Al. Nevski and the Parliament. Thus the two adjacent squares and spaces will be integrated in a multi layer polyphonic urban composition. There will be all the conditions to carry out cultural and social events of the highest level as well as the celebrations of Sofia – European Cultural Capital in 2019.

Stefan Dobrev architect and urbanist