Zagreb, Croatia

A curious and parallel aspect of the socialist architecture legacy are the projects that were never completed due to the fall of the regimes in 1989. Bulgaria as a particularly eloquent example in the city of Shumen, where the center is adorned with a giant but empty infrastructure. It is probably one of the best known abandoned socialist projects in the Balkans, but it is far from the only one. This Central City Square was supposed to be a pilot for a new kind of space planning in cities, that combined a shopping center and other facilities (post office, restaurants) linked by underground paths. Because it was new, mobilized a lot of resources, and was simply big, it caught the eyes. But a lot of modest buildings (apartment blocks, hotels, etc.) were also in the process of being built at the end of the 1980s, and the construction was cut short as the priorities of the transition were (understandably) directed elsewhere. Changes in ownership of projects also diverted the responsibilities of dealing with them. So these skeletons of buildings now appear as a dead legacy of socialism, next to the living one of inhabited blocks. They also tell how unexpected the fall of socialism was, and how much housing was an inherent part of the regime, that could not function without it.

Shumen’s Central City Square, from the website Ex Utopia

As unused remnants, they can be seen as a waste of space, of material, and a plain reminder of how the socialist housing dream was not achieved. Destruction does seem like the logical next step in order to make room for other projects, without having to be concerned with the ethic of historical heritage or the relocating of current dwellers. In Sofia, the demolition of a 17-stories building, whose construction started forty years ago but was never finished, was approved after the plot on which it stood was bought by a private investor. Even though demolition might be the expected outcome, it is certainly not an easy process as it must be carefully prepared, and can only happen if a buyer is interested. That is probably the main reason why the majority of abandoned buildings are left that way.

To stay within the boundaries of Bulgaria, other unfinished structures worth mentioning are Perla 2, what would have been a luxurious villa for Todor Zhivkov, the last communist leader, standing on the Black Sea coast; and, in the same area, the Arkutino school for gifted children that was being built in honor of the daughter of Zhivkov, who died unexpectedly in 1981 and who started the project.

One of the buildings of the Arkutino school, from the website Atlas Obscura

Because demolition is not always easy or possible, these unfinished abandoned socialist projects are mostly left standing but decaying, forgotten but imposing. Their fate, besides being explored by venturesome people, is an unwilling duty of carrying a symbol of the literal death of socialism.

5 commentaires »

  1. Tchernobyl est aussi un futur ‘must see’ qui se retrouvera sur plusieurs ‘bucket lists post-covid time’, I guess…
    C’est assez ‘brutaliste’ à mon goût comme site ayant laissé sa marque dans notre histoire récente, just sayin’…🤨

    My next comment could or couldn’t be entirely in english……..will see. 🤓

    (I work hard for you here, my dear Momo…)



  2. It reminds me of all the bunkers spreading on France’s Atlantic coast which are very smaller but stand still in their grey costumes, looking at sea, remnants from world war II. Some people paint nice graffitis on them.
    Demolition is very expensive, why don’t they make it a school like planned but for every child around? Maybe there is nobody living near?

    Aimé par 1 personne

    • Bunkers would make a very interesting comparison with the ones on Albania’s sea coast!
      Good question, I think that during the transitions years the money available was spent elsewhere, but now after 30 years, it could be time to look into unfinished projects… or maybe it has turned into a « dark » tourism destination and attracts travelers that way…


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