Introducing Trakiya: Not just another (post)soc. neighbourhood

Of all the micro districts of Socialism, Trakiya is really something special. The architects made valiant efforts to make the urban plan, the apartments, and even the balcony railing details something different from all the other housing complexes of socialism. They were after a sense of individualism through design.

Fix it. Image: Megan Lueneburg

DYI. Image: Megan Lueneburg

As communism and the construction process welded together as one, the new inhabitants, moving in as fast as the panels could be lego-ed together, took over. The Thracians, hailing mostly from surrounding villages, made an even more valiant effort to make their owned parcels (and not so owned parcels) of Trakiya, something different from that of their neighbours. They sought distinction through whatever could be pieced together.

Between these two very different processes of creation, one very formal and one completely informal, we find the very lively Trakiya of today. I started taking pictures to archive this Trakiya, focusing on moments the two processes confront and complement each other. Everyday Trakiya looks for the relationship between that confrontation of these processes and the everyday life of people.

I'm here. Image: Megan Lueneburg

I’m here. Image: Megan Lueneburg

Built among the hills of the once Roman city of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, Trakiya (Thrace), like most soviet mass housing, was born out of the housing crisis resulting from the mass urbanization that communism evoked with its collectivization of villages and industrialization of towns. Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, needed to create housing quickly and cheaply for 100,000 people. And so, in the late 1960’s the state held an architectural competition for the massive urban plan, in which among other guidelines dictating spatial allotments and materials, had to be composed of panel block apartments. Trakiya was, and still is today considered an experiment in housing.

The winning idea, organic in plan and full or green parks and open spaces, featured a revolutionary stepping layout of the panel block apartment, known as the ‘stepping panel block’ (разчупена панелка). Later when used in other housing projects was known as the Тракиски панелка. The stepping in plan and stepping in height made for diverse elevations, coves of balconies looking at each other, and outdoor nooks, all ripe for appropriation.

Soc. grandeur. Image: Megan Lueneburg

Soc. grandeur. Image: Megan Lueneburg

Construction started in the mid 1970s and progressed slowly, not going precisely as planned with finances and enthusiasm in communism dwindling. Eager owners moved in quickly and started making the apartments their own, many carrying with them their strong traditions and capable attitudes of the village. The remedying of parts left unfinished began, starting the 40 year and running process of the creative and piecemeal appropriation of Trakiya. Times have changed, the job market has changed, styles have changed, technology has changed, the cost of energy has changed, and in many apartments the generation has changed.

Look inside. Image: Megan Lueneburg

Look inside. Image: Megan Lueneburg

This archive shows the evidence of all of these changes through the eyes of the housing complex of Trakiya. From private rooms plopped on top of roofs, personal gardens and gazebos to tiny trash chutes now used as hair salons and cobbler shops, and from glassed in balconies, creative sun blockers to full wall blocking or wall opening and fancy interior remodels, each picture has a text. Collecting stories from the architects and the inhabitants about Trakiya for the past 6 months, I used them, along with my own experiences of living here, to tell a story for each picture, capturing a wide spectrum view of a time and a place of a soviet housing complex full of changes and memories and their manifestations.