Open Design School: Maritsa

Plovdiv, Bulgaria
17 – 28 September 2015

Participants: Naama Agassi, Elena Balabanska, Ivo Popov, Carla Rangel, Raya Stefanova, Darunee Terdtoontaveedej, Merilin Todorinova, Marina Zheleva
Coordinator: Petar Georgiev
Collaborator: Asen Karagyozov, Youth Club Roma Stolipinovo
Supported by Creative Industries Fund NL


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.

Shumi Maritsa (Naama Agassi, Carla Rangel, Raya Stefanova)
A collection of stories from the residents of Plovdiv telling their personal memories of different activities around the river. Over the years, as the river’s role moved towards industrial purposes and as the people moved away from it, the infrastructure around it decayed. We spotted two gaps along the wall railing overlooking the river that people use as an improvised sit. We took advantage of this and installed two wooden benches that invite passersby to listen to the stories of the Maritsa River.

Come Closer (Darunee Terdtoontaveedej, Merilin Todorinova, Marina Zheleva)
The ecology of the River Maritsa is rich and diverse with many different species of flora and fauna. By viewing the river as a spectacle and its surrounding nature as an exhibit, COME CLOSER invites visitors to experience and immerse in the wilderness of the urban sanctuary.

Stol.ipinovo (Ivo Popov, Elena Balabanska)
Can the Martisa river be a new meeting point for inhabitants of central Plovdiv and neighbouring Stolipinovo? Using two chairs from public spaces in each community, the project is both a conversation platform and a series of interviews that encourage the two populations to collectively think about what the river means for the entire city as a new potential public space.

Sigma: Cartography of Learning 1969–1983

Art Encounters 2015
Timișoara, Romania
9 November – 22 December 2013

Curated by Alina Șerban, Andreea Palade Flondor and Space Caviar
Organised by the Romanian Order of Architects, Timiș branch (Oana Simionescu, Simina Cuc, Alexandra-Maria Garomfir, Andreea Duminică)
Volunteers: Răzvan Alexandru Todirică, Timotei Badea, Nica Mădălina, Varga Bettina, Popa Milena, Carpencu Pop Glad, Gaia Tiberiu
Photographs by Dan Purice, Răzvan Alexandru Todirică
In cooperation with Art Encounters, Triade Foundation, Jecza Gallery and Museum of Art Timișoara


The SIGMA collective spearheaded one of the most ambitious pedagogical experiments in art, design and architecture in late-20th-century Europe. Founded in 1969 in Timișoara by artists Ștefan Bertalan, Constantin Flondor, Ioan Gaita, Elisei Rusu, Doru Tulcan and mathematician Lucian Codreanu, SIGMA’s artistic concept was driven by their interests in systems thinking, visual communication, advanced technology, early 20th-century constructivism, conceptualism, and radical education. As a comprehensive platform, SIGMA’s practice became an influential model for a diverse array of practitioners in art, design and architecture.

This exhibition retraces SIGMA’s process-based approach to art in relationship to the theories of learning they tested at Timișoara High School of Arts from 1969 to 1983, extended to the School of Architecture (1970–1981) by Bertalan and Flondor and to the Electrotechnical Faculty (1971–1972) by Codreanu and Gaita. The strong interdisciplinary character of SIGMA’s work, which juxtaposed diverse theoretical references—constructivism, cybernetics, bionics, mathematics, structuralism, semiotics, psychoanalysis, and Taoist physics—marked a significant detour in the traditional Romanian institutional stance of the time. SIGMA fostered a more nuanced and experiential type of curriculum in art, product design and architecture, echoing the visionary pedagogy of the Bauhaus, Paul Klee, and Buckminster Fuller. SIGMA re-imagined the school as a relational and situational site, where education would be a continuous process of learning and open-ended experimentation.

The exhibition also asserts that SIGMA’s pedagogical principles remain relevant today, considering the flexible boundaries they developed between educator and artist, teacher and student, between institutional space and nature, art object and its context. The exhibition culminates in a workshop in which participants enact different formats and themes of SIGMA practice and creative pedagogy for contemporary study. Seeking to contextualise and reread SIGMA legacy from today’s educational and cultural realities, the workshop will generate a collective manual, a possible contemporary reinterpretation of the phenomenon of SIGMA as collaborators, educators, and interdisciplinary artistic practitioners.