Design Ecosystem in Sofia

{ 🇧🇬 } – Sofia: Building a New Reputation 

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in central Sofia. Photo by Chronis Yan.

Up until very recently, the city of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, didn’t evoke the best reaction. That’s due to several reasons, but among the main ones is the fact that it was for long very run down, a consequence of years of neglect that followed the chaotic and difficult days after the collapse of the socialist political-economic system in the country. But Bulgaria has managed to shed this reputation and emerge as one of the most vibrant cities on the Balkan Peninsula.

While Bulgaria is known for some things, it stays relatively unknown to most people, even in Europe.

While Bulgaria is known for some things, it stays relatively unknown to most people, even in Europe. And, certainly, you aren’t as likely to hear about Bulgarian design as much as, say, Danish design. In Bulgaria’s defense, countries in Northern Europe didn’t face the same uphill struggle as countries like those in the Balkan Peninsula after the collapse of communism throughout the Old Continent, and in times like those, there were way more important things to do than being preoccupied with design.

Bulgaria: Shedding off the Past

Bulgaria rarely gets talked about for its positives. Economic stagnation, a certain reputation for being corrupt and a series of governmental scandals all but contributed to improving the Balkan country’s image abroad.

Nevertheless, the country has seen incredible changes in socio-economical and political changes in recent years. Nowadays, in its vibrant capital, Sofia, one can feel a distinctive European flair not too dissimilar from the one you’d find in other big European cities.

So why does the name ‘Bulgaria’ still evoke so many negative connotations …?

As we all know, reputations are hard to shake off, and so despite the efforts and positive changes, Bulgaria is still primarily known for the bad, rather than the good. Though it is probably only a matter of time – and some additional progress in particular crucial areas, such as corruption – that the country will finally do away with its less-than-flattering reputation.

Bulgaria’s State of Design

Bulgaria is not the first country that comes to mind when one thinks of design. And there are certainly reasons for that – Bulgaria has never been famous for it as, say, Germany or Finland are. But there’s definitely a kind of design energy, so to speak, in the country that is only waiting for the right moment to unleash its full potential.

Bulgaria is a Slavic nation, and, like all other Slavic nations, it has certain traditions and culture which are quite specific. For instance, embroidery is important in the Slavic world, and it appears on a vast number of items, such as the designs of national and regional folk clothing, among other things. Naturally, embroidery isn’t as important in the cities as it is in rural areas, but its importance is still respected, and this is why it is not uncommon to see ethnic patterns resembling those which have appeared on traditional embroidery on modern designs across all niches.

Photo by Stoyan Kolev.

Design in Bulgaria is on the up, something which is evident from the fact that more and more people have taken an interest in it.

That is, of course, one way to look at it. The other way would lead to the conclusion that design produced in Bulgaria tends to be somewhat conservative, rather than bold. Nonetheless, design in Bulgaria is on the up, something which is evident from the fact that more and more people have taken an interest in it; we can expect a whole new class of Bulgarian designs to appear relatively soon. This leads us to talk about …

Design Education in Sofia

Those who are interested in becoming designers can pursue their goal by enrolling in one of the institutions that offer programs dedicated to the many fields of design. The first of such institutions for higher education is Sofia University, which has programmes focused on design. Sofia University is the oldest such institution present in Bulgaria, and it regularly ranks among the best universities worldwide.

Another option would be the New Bulgarian University, founded in 1991. The NBU has a whole department dedicated to design, and students can choose between programs focused on fashion, interior, spatial, and book design.

An important distinction between Sofia University and the NBU is that the former is public, while the latter is private. Therefore, depending on where you’re coming from, you might study at Sofia University tuition-free, while to do so at NBU won’t be free of charge.

Where to Work from in Sofia …?

Whether you find yourself in Sofia to study, work, or just for leisure, finding a good place to work on your essay or get some hours of work in won’t be difficult at all. As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is still affecting many countries worldwide and more companies start allowing remote work, you might feel the need to leave the comfort of your home at some point and go to a café, just to change your surroundings.

Unfortunately, at the time of publishing establishments such as cafés and restaurants are currently closed in the country due to the pandemic, but as soon as the infection rate will go down to a level that the government will consider safe, restrictions will be lifted and cafés will open up again. When that time comes, here are some places that digital nomad types swear by when they’re in Sofia.

+ Tova (Plus Tova), with its relaxed atmosphere, fast WiFi connection and power outlets, is one of the best places in the Bulgarian capital for students and remote workers alike. The café itself, located on Marin Drinov street, is very cozy and offers everything you can expect from a quality café: coffee, pastries, cakes, tea.

If you already know you’ll be in Sofia, like co-working spaces more than cafés and want to plan things ahead for life after COVID, then you’ll probably want to know that, according to many, SOHO – Sofia Holistic Coworking Company is the best co-working space in the city. Those who have used their space and services swear by it, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t believe them!

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Gianmarco Caprio / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Content creator, editor and community manager at Phase.