Guest Contribution | Zdravka Sahatchieva on COLOUR AND VISION IN THE BULGARIAN CITYSCAPE (3) is happy to present another series by an international guest contributor. Zdravka Sahatchieva is a Bulgarian architect who researched on the meaning of colour in Bulgarian architecture during the past centuries.

Colour and light are undoubtedly eminent factors influence an urban environment. In this, they not only contribute to the „exterior“ appearance of a city, but also to the psycho-physiological and spiritual perception of its inhabitants. Zdravka analyses the usage of colour and its influecne in Bulgarian towns, considering historical, economical and social processes during the ages. As a result she develops a suggestion how colour design could be used in urban planning.

In order to analyse colour’s role in the appearance of the contemporary city, she starts with a retrospective analysis of the colour’s function in the Bulgarian city during the last 200 years, considering the influence, which diverse factors have had on its usage in the city environment elements and thus – on the human psyche at all.

Zdravka’s essay has been pulished in 5. Ulusal Aydinlatma Kongresi 2004, Istanbul. presents an adapted and slighly shortened version in three parts. While Part 1 looked back on the Bulgarian revival (Part 1) and Part 2 turned to the early XXth century and the phase between the two world wars, the final part deals with the totalitarian years and after.

Text and illus. © Zdravka Sahatchieva

arch. Zdravka Sahatchieva


The totalitarian years

298This period could be divided in two stages: “socialist realism” (1950-1955) and the time after 1965. The first one is represented mostly in Sofia and is a typical by-product with a stressed provinciality that resulted from political compulsion – a transfer of an already prepared in the ex-USSR doctrine.

A wish for uniting the world processes reappeared in the Bulgarian architecture during the 60s, which were dominated by modernistic ideas. Although the term “modernism” wasn’t officially announced, “innovation” became a key word. The modernistic wave spread in the beginning of the 70’s and influenced all types of building so that new models were created.

At first, the period after the World War II was characterized by mass industrialization and urbanization, creating of a heavy industry and collectivisation of the agriculture. The migration from the villages into the towns caused a need of mass tenement building. Architecture was captured by geometry, aridity and torpidity. The quality of the architectural outlook was sacrificed in the name of the tenement’s great number. The vanguard and modern art was pursued as decadent. Entire quarters were quickly built just by the multiple repetition of the same block of flats, regarded simply as volumetric form. This led to major disproportions. The elements, typical for the traditional city play of lights, shadows or colour accent (fences, roads, passages), gradually disappeared. The base principles of friendliness and humanity in the communication were neglected in the newly constructed residential districts. The contact with the nature was broken and the quality of habitat was lowered – the man was replaced by a scheme. The street dissolved in the immense, lifeless and desolated spaces. The water and grass areas were forgotten. The size dominated the colour and the harmony.

gypsies02 (1)The higher buildings density, the vanishing of the lawns, the grey panel apartment blocks and the lack of colour in the city environment affected the human psyche in a very negative way. The cityscape and the individual were depersonalised. Thus a generation of “panel” people was formed – habitants, closed in their own home, having their back turned to the others.

Today, the results of the greyness and monotony in the architecture, as well as the lack of enduring materials in the residential districts and in the industrial buildings, are still evident.

Since the 70s, especially during the mass efforts because of the preparation for the anniversary “1300 years Bulgaria”, the so-called “aesthetization” of the city environment arose. This meant merely colouring of the façades in the old city parts and those of the industrial factories. The municipal administration appointed artists to make projects for synthesis of architecture with other arts. The colour reappeared, unfortunately only in the central city zones and resorts.

After the Fall of the Berlin Wall

primaThe society and the architecture were in a typical post-situation: post totalitarian, post communistic and post-modern simultaneously. The new economical conditions and the free choice of settlement had an effect on the social relationships. Many development and reconstruction actions are taking place within a project, called “Beautiful Bulgaria”, inclusively renovation and colouring of the buildings’ facades. A number of architecture contests are carried out.

The restitution of the nationalized properties and the privatisation led to changes in the village cadastre and created conditions for digressions from the decisions in the town plan. In many housing estates and terrains, appointed for parks emerged strange looking buildings, constructed in disproportion and often without a plan. A mass reconstruction started, together with building of individual houses, administrative buildings, private hotels and banks, constructed entirely in glass and metal. There is a noticeable usage of new enduring building materials and paints. Gradually, some more colours penetrate the city environment, but it is still a sporadic occurrence. The newly born private trade transforms the ground floors and the facades into smaller equivalents of the European and American elements of the city environment. Furthermore, the regional specifics of the Near East were added – Turkish and Arabic shops, and several Chinese traders. City environment’s images became part of the images seen in the TV emissions and films of before unknown satellite programs, music clips and TV advertisements in particular. Now celebrity culture rules the market where names like MacDonald’s, MTV and Nike are already well-known and powerful; bigger, brighter and shinier billboards emerge every day.

327However there is still no clear concept for a “new ideas market” in the architecture. The economical interests started a war for every square meter construction area, and the city was deprived of its verdure. Psychologically regarded, the parvenus, the “new capitalists”, have “European” pretensions concerning their lifestyle. Their vague taste and notions for “Prestige” are implemented by the building contractors and unfortunately too young “mass architect”, turning into a banal imitation of the wealthy people’s houses from the end of the XIX c. The Bulgarian nouveau riches feel most cosy and secure as inheritors of the ones, who lived in the age after the Liberation. However the after-liberation ones didn’t have eclectic, but authentic samples, created by the first Bulgarian architects that graduated in Germany, France, Czech Republic or by foreign architects. Our contemporary “mass nouveau riche” and his architects have devoted themselves to an imitation in the spirit of the postmodernism in its worst variant.

Nevertheless the economical and political stabilization in 1997 created conditions for a unified approach towards the city problems. The citizen gradually started to feel and think of the city as his own place, where he can expect, demand and participate. A city with a new outlook, where there are free choices, a variety of the realities and enough space for the imagination, supplied by the culture and the common values, created by present and past generations.

The soul of a country is created, mainly, by the souls of its towns and by the air of freedom, which one could breathe on its streets, squares and in all those places, where the character of men and societies are printed and transmitted. The buildings that characterize our everyday-life create and give shape to urban and natural landscapes, they evoke moments of love or delusion, of justice or injustice. When this dimension of the daily life is not taken into account, production becomes kitsch and architecture is covered with local “signs”, like those who have not got anything to wear anymore.[1]

The colour is a key element from the creation of a higher quality of environmental, urban and habitat space. The careful colour selection can contribute to productive, harmonious and emotionally interlocking spaces that allow the occupants to enrich their living and working spaces.


Colour unquestionably is one of the most important characteristics of the object environment. It is a result of the intentional human activity. The use of colour should be approached very carefully and with strict methodology, in order to avoid unwanted kitsch. The scientific approach in colour usage is also of great importance for the colour’s impact on the man and his habitat.

The colour design process might be considered as a process of constant modelling of the colour characteristics and elements of the environment. The most important stages might be summed up to three fazes: analysis, modelling and concrete practical solution. A profound analysis of the existing situation is of prime importance. It is carried out in two ways – analysis of the spaces and analysis of the functions.

The choice of colour is based on:

– The colour preferences of the individual and professionals – architects and designer-architects;

– Traditional regional colour palette;

– Existing colouristic palette of the regional landscape and colour passport of architectural complexes.

A substantial part of the design process is the process of modelling with respect to the influencing factors: surroundings, functional and spatial organisation; architectural, technological and “gestalt” elements, specifics of visual perception and dynamical changes, artificial and natural lighting.

Thorough graphical analysis and colour choice made with the Natural Colour System (NCS) and its accessories variants can be worked out.

The last stage includes: discussion, expert judgment of colour versions and final choice of colours and materials, methods and colouring techniques.

Colour is everything: idea and space, sensation, emotion and symbol. Colour is a way of living, a form of conscience. Therefore, the professionals who create the object environment in which we live, work and rest – scientists, architects designers bear great responsibility. That’s why we need the knowledge about colour design in order to be architects and artists in the same time.


[1]Maurice Culot, A vision of architecture.

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