So fresh and so clean, Sofia Design Week | Sofia, Bulgaria

The third edition of Sofia Design Week is in full swing this week, with dozens of exhibitions, workshops, lectures, presentations and screenings taking place at exactly 50 sites around the city.

I appreciate the initiative because of the multitude of cool events that it brings to the city, even though my interest in design is that of a layman. But more importantly, I’m a fan of Sofia Design Week because, in the brief period over which it takes place, the festival somehow manages to change the entire city’s atmosphere and how it feels as a whole. I have come to associate the event with the beginning of summer when people cannot wait to go sit and hang out outside and Sofia Design Week gives them a reason to do it. It spills over from the standard places that usually contain things related to art and design – the galleries and museums, and goes into public space – onto the streets, the squares and the courtyards. And makes the whole city breathe just a little bit more excitedly.

Initially, I was disappointed to find out that this year the courtyard of the Art Academy wasn’t going to be used as extensively as it had been in the last couple of editions. Back then, it acted as a kind of focal point throughout the week – with outdoor parties, exhibitions and presentations constantly taking place there, and I loved passing by it almost every night. But it turns out that one of the new sites and a kind of focal point this year might even be better.

The City’s Central Bathhouse now hosts several exhibitions as part of SDW. Each night, the beautiful square in front of it – overlooking a fountain and the Banya Bashi mosque, gets filled with crowds of people hanging out, drinking beer and watching screenings.

Also, I couldn’t help but notice – though that’s probably just me, that the square is covered in different-colored cobblestones, creating an intricate pattern that references water, while the pathway right in front of the bathhouse is paved with the Sofia’s iconic yellow cobblestones.

The building itself, which I now had the chance to enter for the first time, is kind of wonderful too. Built at the beginning of the twentieth century to make use of the natural thermal water springs at the site and to take care of the hygiene needs of Sofia’s inhabitants, it served its purpose as a public bathhouse until the late 1980s. At that time, it was deemed no longer necessary and shut down, presumably because the citizens were now expected to have their own private bathrooms in their homes. In the next two decades, the beautiful building fell into dismal disrepair while debates raged on whether to turn it into a spa or a museum.

As far as I’ve heard, it has been decided to do both – a part of the bathhouse will become the Museum of Sofia, while another will be made into a spa center that would presumably use the natural hot water springs. When this will actually be realized remains unclear.

The building’s façade has now been completely renovated. Its high domes have also been recently whitewashed on the inside, but parts of the interior are still somewhat ruined – walls and ceiling are peeling here and there, wires stick out of corners and parts of the staircase’s railing have gone amiss. The old, beautifully tiled floors, cracked here and there, are still there though.

There was something weirdly melancholic about walking through the cool, crumbling corridors of the bathhouse. I was thinking that it would be sad and a waste if this feeling – of a time long gone, gets lost in the building’s renovation. And I really hope they keep the tiles.

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