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Inhabitants and Balconies

The accompanying pictures examine the balconies of the residential region of “Trakiya” in Plovdiv Bulgaria, designed in the early 1970s for 80,000 inhabitants. Looking at the balcony, an everyday space negotiating private and public life, the photos focus on confrontations. Not only between these two realms, but also the confrontation of the architectural process, happening in a specific moment in time, and the inhabitation process, which survived the transitions and continues to thrive.

The nondescript concrete panel block apartments are synonymous with Soviet Union and ideas that built the Iron Curtain. The panel technology, actually originating in France, was a reinstitution of modernist ideas as Nikita Khrushchev called for an end of the architectural excess of Stalinism in 1955. With an ever worsening housing crisis and the quick and cheap construction of panel blocks, architects throughout the Soviet Union took to arranging boxes. They played their role in shaping the new modern soviet citizen with his standardized windows, doors, panel proportions and strict apartment area maximums.

These citizens moved into the concrete towers, usually as panels were still in construction, they began to make them their own. The Soviet modernism movement had convinced people to lighten their loads and get rid of old heirloom furniture and belongings in favour of manmade materials and clean lined furniture. As the inhabitants 'personalised' and decorated the interiors of their apartments, the contents, much like the floor plans and the exterior, all looked they same. Magazines of the time published DIY articles, helping people in their quest to personalise all that had been standardised, shining it in a bright light, encouraging them to play a role in the building of their collective future.

The balcony was a breath of fresh air. It was an opportunity not only for the inhabitants, but also for the architects. Before the inhabitants caged glassed in, turned into kitchens and extra bedrooms, blocked their views from the neighbors, even hung laundry to dry, the architects were using balconies to flex their underused design muscles in the creation of unique balcony details.