Bulgaria had a stellar, centuries-long architectural history, which was interrupted only when the country became a Soviet satellite at the end of World War II. Fortunately, after the collapse of communist rule in 1989 and an ensuing period of political turmoil, a new crop of architects and designers has emerged, eager to embrace technological innovation and develop their own indigenous brand of Modernism.
No place showcases the ambition of this new, post-Soviet generation better than Varna, known as the seaside capital of Bulgaria. Located on the Black Sea, the cosmopolitan resort attracts visitors from afar thanks to its beaches, cultural events, and relative affordability. The thriving tourism-based economy has sparked a building boom exemplified by the Graffit Gallery Hotel, a boutique hotel located in the city center and aimed at international travelers.
The six-story building has two restaurants on the ground floor, a contemporary art gallery on the second floor, and is capped by four guest-room levels. Bulgarian architect Georgi Bachev took responsibility for the shell and one hotel floor, while several other commissioned architects and designers took on different areas of the building. The risk of competing voices introduced some constraint into the design process; each firm sought to balance uniqueness with overall compatibility. One of the firms, Sofia, Bularia–based Studio Mode, was commissioned to design one of the hotel floors as well as a high-profile destination at street level: Graffiti Café.
Studio Mode’s lead designer on the café, Svetoslav Todorov, describes how he integrated the interior into the rest of the building: “We brought elements and materials of the building’s façade into the front zone of the café and applied them to the ceiling. We also used sidewalk pavers on the interior floors. This draws the textures of the street into the café, while connecting the profile of the building envelope to the café.”
With the interior, the architects chose to de-emphasize, rather than conceal, the mechanical systems and lighting in the ceiling. This led to a singular design solution that establishes the architectural character of the space. Linear plywood slats were positioned beneath the ceiling-mounted equipment, all of which was painted black. The linear slats then continue downward to create curving column covers, fabricated using CNC routers.
“The columns act as a natural continuation of the ceiling, geometrically inspired by traditional, lathe-spun, wooden table legs,” Todorov says. The covers are attached to supports made of MDF, which was scored and bent to form round columns. The repetition of identical elements recurs in tessellated floor and wall panels, the geometries of which were inspired by the work of M.C. Escher.
It’s not surprising that Bulgaria’s new Modernism looks to the past—most new movements do. But Studio Mode’s deconstruction of historic precedent, with a wink, could serve as an interesting taste of things to come.
Project Graffiti Café, Varna, Bulgaria
Client Graffit Gallery
Designer Studio Mode, Sofia, Bulgaria—Svetoslav Todorov
General Contractor Timbuild
Size 300 square meters (3,229 square feet)
Materials and Sources
Ceiling Black paint over mechanical systems; plywood slats
Columns MDF core; CNC-routed plywood-slat cladding
Flooring Sidewalk pavers; engineered stone
Walls Polyurethane-painted MDF