Creative Industries in Former Industrial Buildings in Sofia


Location choices of creative industries have been a major concern both for policy makers and academic researchers during the last two centuries. The contribution to economic growth and employment (Scott, 2004; KEA, 2006) of creative industries is one of the main reasons for the attention towards them. Another motive is their central role in the post-industrial city, based on a new economy driven by information, knowledge, communication and sign-value production like images and symbols (Amin, 1994; Lash and Urry, 1994).

Despite, the shift from industrial to service and cultural production, discussed in the beginning of this literature review, changes became visible in the city setting. According to Savitch (1988, p.5): “Post-industrialism should be seen as transformation of the built environment”. The structures, left from the industrial era were to decay or be reinvented, reconstructed – given a new context. The regeneration by turning former industrial buildings and quarters into cultural consumption and production spots is one of the possible paths.

Where creative industries choose to locate became an important question, as more and more cities are trying to attract them. Researches on creative industries location choice have described different factors, which are influential for the decision. A division between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ location factors can be outlined (Dzembowska-Kowalska and Funck, 2000; Florida, 2002; Murphy and Redmond, 2009; Musterd and Murie, 2011). Hard factors represent the so-called classic (Murphy and Redmond, 2009) location qualities, which are tangible and represent the economic and physical rationale of a certain location. Soft factors, on the other hand are intangible and complex to measure. They can be the “look and feel” (Helbrecht, 1998), the atmosphere and identity (Zukin, 1989) or the aesthetic qualities of the surrounding environment (Smit, 2011). The first group is hard factors, also described as ‘classic’. They represent the physical rationale of the building or the location (external building scale and style, internal space configuration, basic surrounding infrastructure, proximity to the city center), the financial aspect (rent, price per square meter and possibility to extend accommodation, municipal taxes and available subsidies) or some downgrades, which can influence the decision (access limitations to disused buildings and accessibility by public transport, car or other modes of transportation).

The soft factors represent more intangible qualities, connected to the aesthetic, historical and cultural qualities of the building and the location. In the reviewed literature, this group of factors are argued to be really important for creative industries, because of their aesthetic reflexivity and sensibility towards historical and heritage values of the built form.

On the other hand, cities all over the world are left with material heritage from the previous – industrial economy. Factories, mills, power stations, water towers, warehouses etc. still exist and often shape the urban landscape. Those buildings are calling for re-use and new context. Authors claim, that creative industries appreciate historical and former industrial built form (Zukin, 1989; Hutton, 2006; Heebels and van Aalst, 2010) and are aesthetically reflexive towards their working environment (Drake, 2003; Hutton, 2006; Smit, 2011). Former industrial buildings can be attractive for creative industries, not only because of their historical and aesthetic qualities, but also because of the cheap rent they can offer (Champion, 2010; Rantisi et al., 2006), their physical configuration (high ceilings, big windows, big spaces) and the freedom for adapting the space for specific needs (Hutton, 2006).

The current research will make an attempt to show if the existing literature on western cities and settings is applicable on Sofia and its creative industries. Furthermore, we will make an attempt to bridge the gap in qualitative research on location choices of creative industries in Sofia. Narrowing down the focus on former industrial buildings as a location choice, which are the factors that influenced creative industries to make this choice?

The case of Sofia is a unique context for conducting the research for this master thesis, for three main reasons.

First of all, research in creative industries and their location choice in Sofia are scarce. The ACRE research team addresses some of the location factors, including the ones, connected to the soft infrastructure. However, this study focuses only on some creative industries and includes knowledge-based industries like financial and law services, which makes the studied sample not representative for creative industries in Sofia. Furthermore, the ACRE team focuses on creative and knowledge workers and not on the industries and organizations.

The mapping of the creative industries in Sofia, conducted by the Cultural Economy Observatory is comprehensive and based on data, collected by the National Statistics Institute, which makes it reliable. However, it shows that CCI have major contribution to the economy of Sofia and are stable source of employment, but does not examine the factors, which influence their location choice. A research on creative industries location choice has not been done in the context of Sofia.

Second of all, although the overall situation of the former industrial built form reuse in Sofia is still a big question mark, there are organizations that choose to locate in them. There are creative industries, which develop their projects there and make them their working environment. Examining the factors, which influence their decision in combination with the already proven contribution of the sector to the city economy, might result in higher attention towards these buildings from public and private parties.

Third of all, although it is a post-socialist city, Sofia’s creative industries development is dynamic and interesting setting to be examined. It is a complicated situation, because of the lack of statistical data, blurry policy making and no actual planning.

Focusing on the city’s industrial heritage, there are two types of former industrial built form in Sofia. First are the pre-war period properties, situated in the present city center, or the neighboring areas. Second are the big industrial landscapes and buildings, constructed during the socialist period, usually in the edge of the city and engaged in heavy industry production. After the central government fell in 1989, industries were either closed or privatized. Re-use of these buildings is a big question mark. However, there are creative industries, which chose former industrial buildings as their working environment.

The empirical research consists of five in-depth interviews with the owners/directors of the studied organizations. They are as it follows: a design gallery/studio in former paper house (Sklada); a tea house (Tea House in the Factory), organizing cultural events in the same building; an architecture studio (Conveyer) with an office in former sugar factory; a non profit creative organization (Water Tower Art Fest), responsible for one of the most popular contemporary art festivals in the city, using an old water tower as a main venue; and an advertising agency and studio (Fabrica 126) in a former mill. The map on p. 50 shows the studied organization’s location in Sofia. They all moved to the former industrial buildings in the past 6 years, Fabrica 126 is the most recent case, they are in this building since the fall of 2012.


The main characteristics of the studied organizations were not surprising – small creative enterprises, flat organizational structure and relaxed working culture. For all of the respondents, urban context was essential. They also proved to be influenced a lot by aesthetic and intangible qualities, both of the built form and the urban environment.

All the studied creative organizations operate in one of the creative industries sector – design, architecture, visual arts and advertising. The Tea House and the Fabrica 126 are also dealing with event management and organization of cultural events like art exhibitions, concerts and poetry meetings. Part of them are involved in the creation of products with ‘sign value’ attached to them, for which  aesthetic qualities are essential – advertisement materials and videos, buildings and design objects. The other part is focused more on cultural production with intangible qualities and meanings attached to it – exhibitions, art festival, musical concerts, and creative workshops.

The empirical research proved that creative industries, located in former industrial buildings in Sofia are attracted by the ‘look and feel’ of the old built form. They are also highly reflexive towards aesthetics both of the built form and the urban environment.

The results also confirm that there is a special relationship between the place and the creative process, according to the respondents. Furthermore, the interviewees also confirmed that there is connection between the building and the image of their organization.

Hard factors had certain influence on all of the studied organization’s decision. An interesting distinction can be drawn from the described results. There are three factors that were totally ignored and did not determine the location choice in any way. The reasons are different for all of the organizations. However, a tendency could be distinguished – all of the interviewees had no expectations for financial help from the public sector, so they did not consider it as a determinant factor for their decision.

Former industrial buildings are still not recognized as important for preservation and re-use from public authorities in Bulgaria. Some of the problems, associated with old industrial buildings in Sofia are: no public stimulation of the revitalization processes and private investments and extensive problems with ownership of the buildings, inherited by the privatization processes in the 90’s. The results show that public authorities are still considered to be inefficient and unhelpful. This can be further understood by the answers of two of the interviewees (Conveyer and Fabrica 126), who said that the best they can expect from the municipality is not to stand on their way. As for the access by public transport and the basic surrounding infrastructure, they were not considered influential for the location decision of the creative industries, located in former industrial buildings in Sofia.

The empirical findings show that three of the soft factors group, influenced the location decision of the creative industries, situated in former industrial buildings in Sofia. The distinctiveness and authenticity, historical and heritage values and freedom that the space offers all were considered as essential qualities of the chosen buildings and were implemented when the location decision was made.

Sanja Spassova

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