101. Buzludzha Always Centered Visitor Experience. Dora Ivanova is Using Its Structure to Create a New One.
Welcome to Museum Archipelago in Your Inbox, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Museum Archipelago, your audio guide to the rocky landscape of museums, is hosted by me, Ian Elsner.
Since it opened in 1981 to celebrate the ruling Bulgarian Communist Party, Buzludzha has centered the visitor experience. Every detail and sightline of the enormous disk of concrete perched on a mountaintop in the middle of Bulgaria was designed to impress, to show how Bulgarian communism was the way of the future – a kind of alternate Tomorrowland in the Balkan mountains. Once inside, visitors were treated to an immersive light show, where the mosaics of Marx and Lenin and Bulgarian partisan battles were illuminated at dramatic moments during a pre-recorded narration.
But after communism fell in 1989, Buzludzha was abandoned. It was exposed to the elements, whipped by strong winds and frozen temperatures, and raided for scrap. Buzludzha has been a ruin far longer than it was a functional building, and in recent years the building has been close to collapse. Preventing this was the initial goal of Bulgarian architect Dora Ivanova and the Buzludzha Project, which she founded in 2015. Since then, Ivanova and her team have been working to recruit international conservators, stabilize the building, and fundraise for its preservation.
But Ivanova realized that protecting the building isn’t the end goal but just the first step of a much more interesting project — a space for Bulgaria to collectively reflect on its past and future, a space big enough for many experiences and many futures.
In this episode, we journey to Buzludzha, where Ivanova gives us hard hats and takes us inside the building for the first time. We retrace the original visitor experience, dive deep into various visions for transforming Buzludzha into an immersive museum, and discuss how the building will be used as a storytelling platform.
Gallery Continues 🎒
I first visited Buzludzha and met Dora Ivanova in 2018. At the time, she had already founded the Buzludzha Project, but the building was continuing to deteriorate and she hadn't started working on it full time.
Episode 47 of Museum Archipelago, featuring an interview with Ivanova, captures that moment and the urgency of stabilizing the building.
Re-listening now, it's easy to draw direct lines from the initial themes that Ivanova was passionate about, including the potential for the building to be transformed into an immersive museum, to her work today.
Archipelago at the Movies🍿Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018)
In most museum heist movies, we spend the whole plot leading up to a single heist. In 2018's Ruben Brandt, Collector — a wonderful, surreal piece of animation — we get at least 13 museum heists at real-world museums. Amid the globe-hopping and high-speed chases, it can be hard to keep track of exactly who's stealing what, but boy does this movie look good doing it.
Today on Archipelago at the Movies, Rebecca Reibstein and I discuss Ruben Brandt, Collector, air our strong feelings about animated movies, and continue to plot our own museum heist.