BULGARIA - Viara Jeliazkova and Georgi Katov are rising young stars on the Bulgarian architectural scene. Their first project, in 2004, entailed converting a 1960s military building into a modern hotel. At the time Jeliazkova was in Bulgaria while Katov was doing an internship in Japan – she was In and he was Out, so they became I/O. But the name stands for many other things – the ambiguity of the studio's work, Input and Output, interior and exterior design, and maybe even for the fact that the founders are male and female.
Despite market domination in Bulgaria, they have managed to maintain their integrity and their refusal to sell out attracts a particular breed of investor as well as critical acclaim. Last year they won a 'Vizar' (European awards for Bulgarian architecture) for the second time. This time it was for their 'distorted mirror building' in Burgas, a city on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Here, as in many other projects, I/O used ordinary materials in an unusual, even slightly ironic way. In a country where the mirror-glass curtain wall is as modern as modern architecture gets, they placed mirror glass panels at different angles to reflect different aspects of the landscape – the street, the trees and, most importantly, the sea. Here the use of 'good old' mirror glass actually serves a purpose and is not an end in itself.
I/O approaches every single project individually and they try not to be slaves to any particular style. Nor do they shy away from interior design projects and small-scale buildings. In fact, they first became well known in Bulgaria with their interiors rather than with their architectural designs. Although the presence of popular interior design magazines and the dearth of good architecture magazines may have had something to do with this, the fact is that small assignments allow for greater creative freedom. In a market experiencing a building boom, where the focus is on quantity rather than quality, experiments are not often welcome.