Open Design School Maritsa
ONE DESIGN WEEK, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
The Open Design School tests a new relationship between students, mentors, public audiences, and public spaces. The project embeds the educational experience in collaborative work, design and fabrication, and confronts the messy reality of communal territory, diverse populations, and fluctuating ecological forces. The school is therefore a question in action: how can the academic infrastructure expand into the places it will inevitably come to shape, and how can it evolve to better serve its cultural, material, and environmental context?

As part of ONE ARCHITECTURE WEEK 2015 in Plovdiv, the Open Design School Maritsa confronts two underlying conditions. The first is the desire to activate the banks of the Maritsa river, which runs through the city but remains undeveloped due to seasonal changes in the water level, concerns about pollution, and minimal cultural memory related to waterside activity (besides the few fisherman who still relax along the shore.) The second is an interest in developing a point of exchange between the historic centre of Plovdiv and the neighbouring community of Stolipinovo, known as one of the largest Roma communities in Europe (although about 70% of its 50,000 inhabitants identify as Turkish). Together, these two potential lines of development suggest a new future for the Maritsa as a public space that can be shared by the entire city of Plovdiv.

In contrast to the traditional parameters for learning, the Open Design School Maritsa plunged its participants into an intense and immersive experience of direct design and intervention, unbounded by any preconceived boundaries, but tinged by many factors of urgency, including a brief time span (10 days), language barriers, communication barriers, new collaborators, and the potential to install semi-permanent installations in a site that was completely unknown to the team before their arrival. The results demonstrate the range of multidisciplinary approaches, enmeshed technologies, and complex narratives that emerge from active production outside institutional walls.