In one of our previous articles on the subject of architecture in Plovdiv during the time of socialism, we outlined the specifics of the different trends of the period. Today, however, we reveal more about some buildings that are an invariable part of the city's landscape and often surprise a large number of Western tourists with their identical typification and purity of forms. Probably, for their time, they were an expression of the demand for quick and cheap housing, but even now they are still a significant part of the real estate market and thus arouse the curiosity of some of the guests under the hills.
The history of panel blocks begins even before the Second World War, when various attempts were made - more or less successful - for panel construction. With it, instead of the usual construction with pouring of reinforced concrete columns and floor plates and the construction of walls with reinforced concrete or bricks, the entire wall is made in a factory as a single panel. This panel, sometimes as large as a wall in a room, is driven to the site where the panels are welded, making construction much faster and cheaper.
The first buildings of this type in the Eastern Bloc were built in the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1950s, and in Bulgaria there have been attempts to do so since the end of the decade. The first such panel blocks were erected in Sofia, and a little later in Ruse.
Many such buildings have also appeared in Plovdiv since the beginning of the 60s. Initially, they were shorter, some didn’t even have elevators. During this period, however, the height achieved by engineers grew rapidly. Other construction methods were gradually being developed - in addition to the classic monolithic construction, systems such as "package raised slabs", large-area formwork, etc. were being tested and developed.
The first higher, 8-story residential buildings as a complex in Plovdiv were built around 1962-3 - 4 identical blocks along Svoboda Blvd to Koprivshtitsa Blvd. The form of artistic gesture in these buildings was minimized. This was also part of the attempts to reduce construction costs. In addition to the lack of decoration, the other approach is also indicative - the search of large window openings for more light, large loggias and simpler forms in general.
The smaller blocks of the period seem even more typified – for example, the windows to the landings look identical to the apartment windows to the main facade (with the only difference being in level). Buildings start and end almost identically and can theoretically be continued ad infinitum.
Between 1956 and the mid-1960s, panel blocks with typified, yet somehow aestheticized elements gradually appeared. Thus, on the other side of the railway line on Koprivshtitsa Blvd, along the street on its western side, 8 blocks were built (with different number of entrances - from 2 to 5) with originally shaped stairwells and interesting details on the balconies from the first to the last floor.
Among the specific changes from the period up to 1956 to the "second Modernism" are the differences in the window openings and the approach to the roof. During the Stalinist era, the wide windows of the 1930s and 1940s were replaced by narrow windows that let much less light into the rooms. In the late 1950s and in the 1960s (and to a large extent - until today) wider windows were introduced, which gave a chance for much more natural light to enter the premises.
Pitched roofs, which also gradually disappeared in the 1930s, became common again in the Stalinist period until 1956. After that, architects again returned to the spirit of Modernism – many gently sloping or completely flat roofs again finished the buildings.
An extremely typical and related issue is that of the top floors of the blocks. A kind of trademark of the buildings from the 60s is the last one, the so-called "cold attic" floor. While the rest of the building looks identical, the top floor is always designed as a common terrace, almost necessarily with pergolas. Originally, these rooms were intended as a kind of cellars for the individual residents, or sometimes as a room for "dryers" for laundry or the like. Over the years, however, they often changed their function according to the choices of the locals.
All these possibilities for faster construction of buildings that have a similar appearance are also related to the construction of the so-called residential complexes that are an invariable part of the urban landscape even today, not only in the form of panel buildings.