A competition proposal for Sveta Nedelya Square to be transformed from a congested node of transport and parking into a dynamic, people-oriented public space consistent with its historic identity as the urban center of Sofia, Bulgaria.
The design proposes to pedestrianise 32.000 m2 of public realm to create a place that celebrates Bulgarian history and culture, improves the commercial potential of the wider district and positions Sofia as an authentic tourism destination.
Sveta Nedelya has been the urban center of Sofia since at least the Roman era. Reflective of Bulgaria’s rich history, Sveta Nedelya Square is an intersection of historically significant buildings and archaeology – among them the remnants of a supposed Roman praetorium, an Ottoman-era mosque and an early 20th century Orthodox church.
However, the legibility of the space and the continuity of the site’s history is compromised by contemporary pressures of vehicular movement, transport interchange and demand for parking. Today the square is used more as place of transition than a place to dwell.
In a square that has been reinterpreted and rebuilt many times, layer over layer, our vision for redefining Sveta Nedelya Square is not to provide yet another horizontal layer above the old – rather to slice vertically through the layers of history and compose a new series of spaces that reveal and celebrate the past, present and future of Sofia.
A singular slice, along the axis of the historic Roman Cardo, has the power to tell the complex story of Sofia’s past through a legible and consolidated itinerary. Stretching from the Faculty of Theology northwards to the Banya Bashi Mosque, the Slice forms part of a key cultural corridor running through Sofia’s city center – part of wider network of connectivity between cultural institutions and urban districts.
The Slice reveals historical layers below ground whilst also unifying the spaces of the square at ground level, which have been reorganized to accommodate a vibrant array of functions, activities and events. The Slice further defines the square into three zones: (1) an open plaza in the south, serving as a civic gateway and a place for large-scale events and activities, (2) a landscaped ‘archeological garden’, offering a quiet place to pause in the city and connect with the history of the site, (3) an extension of the plaza to the north, supporting the regeneration of an underperforming department store adjacent to the square.
The square has been made safe and comfortable by the closure of the square to through-moving automobile traffic. Existing tram service has been maintained through the square, with a new interchange proposed within a landscaped setting to improve safety and passenger experience.
Sveta Nedelya will once again become a place for people – both residents and visitors alike. Through a proposed design process where relevant stakeholders work towards a shared vision, the next iteration of Sveta Nedelya Square will be inclusive, sustainable and reflective of public interest – supporting the needs and ambitions of Sofia looking forward whilst bringing clarity and appreciation of Sofia’s layered past.
The new Sveta Nedelya Square forms a key part of regenerating Sofia’s city center, bringing new cultural and commercial opportunities to the wider district. The new Sveta Nedelya Square, together with its programming of activities and events, will also become a showcase for visitors to appreciate Sofia’s storied history and contemporary culture. The regenerated square will form part of the city’s identity and long-term sustainable tourism strategy, supporting ongoing growth of Sofia’s tourism industry and wider growth of the Bulgarian economy.