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News 24 May 17

Skyscraper Frenzy Divides Locals in Bulgarian Capital

New projects to build high-rises in the centre of Sofia are transforming the city's apprearance - but are also drawing a good deal of local opposition.

Mariya Cheresheva
The Skyfort tower at the entry of Sofia. Photo: AAA architects.

Projects to construct new skyscrapers in the trendiest parts of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, have triggered fierce debates about Sofia’s city planning and the loose regulations on large-scale property investments.

After two tall business towers recently rose up in central Sofia, transforming the look of the city centre, several further projects for skyscrapers were announced over the past few months, with one, for a 215-metre-high Paradise Tower, sparking most controversy.

“This is a normal market development. Those are private investments that function on a market principle – this is why they appear in attractive areas,” Angel Zahariev, manager of the AAA bureau, which designed two of the landmark skyscrapers and Bulgaria’s tallest buildings - Capital Fort and Sky Fort at the entrance of Sofia - told BIRN.

Zahariev, who is also a member of the independent architects' community Grupa Grad, which advocates better urban development in Bulgaria, added that there is a place for skyscrapers in Sofia - but better rules and limits on their height are needed, as well as a ban on such buildings in the centre. “The question with the Paradise Tower is how it fits in,” he said.

А model of the Paradise Tower project in Sofia. Photo: Facebook

The Russian-Georgian investment, which will rise 55 storeys high in the Hladilnika neighborhood, was greenlighted by the city government in April.

The project is designed by ProArch, a company whose majority owner is the former chief architect of Sofia, Patar Dikov.

It faces strong opposition from local citizens and municipal councillors, however, who insist the project is illegal. Over 4,300 people have signed a petition against the Paradise Tower, started by municipal councillor Voyslav Todorov on April 11.

“The problem with many of those projects is that they are irregular and use all possible legal loopholes,” Ivo Bojkov, a member of Sofia’s city government, told BIRN.

He named a skyscraper being put up by the construction and investment company NIKMI, which will rise 150 metres high on terrain designated as a green area along the landmark Bulgaria Boulevard.

The Millenium complex in downtown Sofia. Photo: NIKMI

Construction has been allowed by the Supreme Administrative Court despite the opposition of two of the chief architects of Sofia, Petar Dikov and the current chief architect, Zdravko Zdravkov, and of the Sofia municipality, Capital reported on May 17.

The same investor built the Millenium complex, the tallest building in the city centre, which many say has ruined the traditional appearance of the centre.

“There is something rotten with those skyscrapers, many of their parameters are irregular,” Ivo Bojkov said.

“When the law is not obeyed, money talks. Those decisions [construction permits] are taken on the basis of corruption schemes,” he added.

According to architect Zahariev, tall buildings can play a positive role in the city, but the municipality should toughen the regulations on their height and create incentives for investors to launch such projects in less attractive areas of the capital.

“The state should also invest in large public projects, such as museums and other public spaces, which would bring other types of private investment with them,” he concluded. 

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