Interview with architect Angel Zahariev – building Capital Fort 5 years later

TAL Engineering: Most of the buildings designed by you are becoming a distinctive part of the urban environment in Sofia. What messages are you trying to convey with your buildings and do you believe that you have achieved it with building Capital Fort?

Arch. Angel Zahariev: The buildings our studio designs are both a product of the place where they are located and the time in which they were created. For us, the connection with the surrounding environment is extremely important – how the new building “communicates” to other buildings, how it fits into the city skyline, how observers perceive it from near and far.

Moreover, it is very important for us how the project presents the era in which it is built, how human achievements are used and presented, how trends in the way of living are captured, how consumers react to the architecture. In short, the building is a function of its environment and time. This also applies to building Capital Fort – the building is designed to connect the surrounding buildings in a common ensemble, forming the “eastern gate” of the city, and at the same time convincingly presents the moment of creation and current trends in the beginning of the 21st century architecture.

TE: Is the facade of a building a mirror of society or a self-portrait of the architect?

AZ: The facade is a mirror of society in a broader sense – of economic development, of values, of relationships, of technical achievements and opportunities, of understanding of aesthetics. Architects, working alongside other participants in the process – investors, builders, suppliers – are part of society and their work is strongly influenced by social processes. The desire to break away from these processes can lead to a work of genius that revolutionizes the processes in society, but the likelihood of this happening is minimal. In most cases, detachment from social realities leads to inadequate architecture for its time. For me, the evolutionary approach is better – architecture should try to anticipate trends in society and materialize them.

TE: Building Capital Fort opened in 2015, five years later, would you change anything about it?

AZ: Looking at the building as a product of its environment and time, if we were to start designing Capital Fort now, it would look a little different, because the design trends have changed a bit, as well as our understandings. If we started designing Capital Fort in 10 years, the changes would certainly be bigger.

I am far from thinking that an architectural work can be perfect. In order to develop their work, artists need to rethink and self-analyze. This applies to any art, including architecture.

TE: Where does the architect end and the facade engineer begin? At what point did the collaboration between A&A Architects and TAL Engineering originate?

AZ: The work between the architect and the facade engineer is joint and interactive. The creation of the facade is not a linear process in which one participant completes their work and then begins the other. The collaboration starts at the beginning of the design, when technical requirements, budget and technological limitations of the project are determined. In the design process, different architectural solutions are consulted with the facade engineers, alternatives are considered and a working solution is established. Subsequently, when the facade engineers develop working designs for the facades, they work alongside the architects to connect the facade with all other elements of the building.

Overall, it is a collaborative work that follows the process from the  beginning of the design to the end of the construction of the site. Our experience in working with TAL Engineering covers all these stages.

TE: Architects are designing buildings that will characterize cities for decades to come. Now, more than ever, the future is unpredictable. How difficult is it to design buildings for the unknown future?

AZ: It is a fact that we live in very dynamic times where acceleration in the processes is huge – technological development, social changes, global processes, including pandemics, are changing very quickly the way we live and inhabit buildings and cities. Sometimes these processes are so fast that if we compare them with the time for realization of a large-scale investment project, it may turn out the project is already obsolete or unnecessary even before its completion. On the other hand, many of these processes are predictable, however in order to anticipate them, it is necessary to invest a serious intellectual and financial resource for the research of processes and trends. Nonetheless, modern technologies allow rapid adaptation to new realities and readjustment of business and lifestyle. For this to happen, we need to be more flexible and innovative. If we translate this to buildings – they must be sustainable, flexible and innovative enough to meet future challenges.