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, Bulgaria–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 built up the interior as natural continuation of the architecture. By functional design we separated the area into two zones: the front zone was incorporated into the exterior creating public space and feeling of console silhouette of the building; the rear zone was separated through floor and roof design that allowed reducing depth of space while keeping the panorama.”
The real challenge was to solve all functional problems related to ventilation, sound and mostly acoustics in a way subordinated to the chosen aesthetics as an interpretation of Escher work and the structure combinatory from one side and the striving to achieve this aesthetics through sparing use of materials and means of expression on the other side.
They created identical and unique concept that generalizes and masters the space while satisfying all technological and functional requirements. The result is trendy interior with sufficient dose of artistry as intentionally wanted reference to the Gallery of Modern Art situated on the next level of the building.
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.