5 October 2021

Sunny Beach: “If You Can’t Take the Kitsch, Get Out of the Kitchen”

UACEG – Sofia

Respondent: Michal Murawski (University College London)

"Sunny Beach'' was and still is the largest summer resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Founded in 1957 as part of the socialist, centrally planned state policy for development of mass tourism, it was designed and constructed in several stages until 1975. After 1989 and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, things, logically, changed. The former state-owned resort company was sold off and in less than 20 years “Sunny Beach” was transformed from a postwar modernist paradise into a symbol of neoliberal capitalism and unregulated free market – an overbuilt area with variety of chaotic architectural styles whose main function is entertainment and comfort indicators - low. At the same time, "Sunny Beach" continues to be an active and even more so - a constantly changing resort. Whereas before the standard was the French Riviera and the Spanish Costa Brava, today it is more like a Black Sea Las Vegas. As a result, we have a collage pop-place, combining excess nightlife and entertainment, investment zeal and lingering nostalgia for the modernist architecture of a bygone era. A contested heritage site par excellence.

Regardless of how we talk about it and describe it, Bulgarian architecture rarely reaches heroic extremes and often suffers from its state of sustained moderation. It turns out, however, that this humble, "self-colonizing" culture is capable of producing genuine pop-cultural phenomena. This research argues with the established norms for the perception of "Sunny Beach" only through the prism of irretrievably lost past and shame of its present reality and defines its “post” and “pop” cultural value. Thus it attempts to enrich the definition of “contested” (or “dissonant”) heritage with wider scope and in various contexts also covering different cultural situations - e.g. the contested heritage of postmodernism, pop-culture and kitsch, the heritage of postsocialist architecture and the 1990s, contemporary problems of identity and self-identification, pressing issues of cultural colonization, appropriation and self-colonization.

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The Time Things Went Awry: Following Stone in Contemporary Architecture

ENSA Paris-Malaquais

Respondent: Adam Przywara (The University of Manchester)

Research seldom goes to plan and that is not a bad thing. My intervention tells of one such time.

Upon arrival in Mallorca last autumn, I learned from the architects hosting me that the project I had intended to study during my two-month stay would, after all, be built in timber from the Iberian peninsula rather than the local marès stone repopularised by Jørn Utzon in the 1970s. The use of stone on the project being the object of my in situ research, I was somewhat taken aback. As I started to enquire about the reasons for the material change however, my disappointment subsided; this apparent mishap was opening doors to conversations, encounters and visits that I had not anticipated.

The Balearic island is one of the three sites of my doctoral research into what stone — in its load-bearing capacity — does to architectural production today. It comes in light of the growing, though largely uncritical, infatuation with natural building materials. By giving attention to the habits, doubts and emotions of actors diversely involved in ongoing projects, the thesis aims to situate stone within a framework of social relations and practices. In doing so, new insights might be gleaned into what is both appealing and problematic about working with the age-old material anew.

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