Finished project

The Aircraft Social Lab Silistra (BG)

Renovating an abandoned passenger airplane as a social and technical hub for innovative educational and community-building activities, reviving the functionality of the structure and adapting it in order to address the present challenges that the town faces.

About 30 years ago, a TU-134 passenger aircraft was placed at the banks of the Danube River near the middle-sized Bulgarian town of Silistra, located in the northeastern part of the country next to the Romanian border. In the 1990s, the aircraft functioned as a children’s educational space for aerospace and informatics. During this period, the aircraft had become one of the modern symbols of Silistra. However, as the town experienced an economic decline at the beginning of the century, the structure lost its function as an educational space. Since then, despite remaining one of the town’s icons, the aircraft has remained abandoned.

In recent decades, the town has faced a critical challenge: a severe demographic crisis. Most young people born and raised in Silistra seek personal development in other cities within the county and abroad. This has led to the ageing of the town’s population, hampering the possibilities for the socio-economic rehabilitation of the region. Even more critically, this trend has given rise to popular perceptions that the town is not an appropriate place for young adults to unfold their professional careers.

Aircraft Social Lab as a catalyst of urban redevelopment

In order to transform Silistra into an attractive place for the young and talented, the town needs to support the (co)creation of unique spaces where creative people have the chance to improve their specific skills. Combined with an encouraging and hopeful narrative, this could contribute to creating a positive image of Silistra. With the Aircraft Social Lab, Team Silistra hopes to establish such an exemplary experiment.

By ‘bringing back to life’ such an emblematic structure for the town, Team Silistra intends to initiate a sustainable renovation, based on active community engagement. In this way, they aim to ignite a long-term transformation process that can contribute to the re-imagination of Silistra, especially amongst young people and professionals.

In a similar manner, the team already managed to renovate the public space surrounding the machine in 2018. As part of the Actors of Urban Change program, they  want to continue this positive process and physically transform the aircraft as a social and technological innovation center.

At the initial stage of the process, the team formed a strategic partnership and agreed on a vision for the physical renovation of the aircraft, which will involve rehabilitating the space and providing the minimal infrastructure to host various types of events. After the initial design, the team proceeded towards implementing both the renovation of the aircraft and the ongoing rehabilitation of the space around it.

During this process, it has been possible to involve local citizens in the actual work of maintaining the vegetation and improving the facilities for leisure. As part of this stage, multiple hands-on workshops on diverse themes – such as art, ecology and design – provided citizens and local volunteers with practical knowledge and strengthened their engagement in the process. The team hopes to adopt a similar approach during the internal renovation of the aircraft, which will be done primarily by specialist entities and external experts from the Burgas Aviation Museum.

After the physical renovation, Team Silistra plans to involve the general public, allowing every citizen in Silistra and beyond to contribute to the process of establishing an operational structure for the Aircraft Social Lab. Through a series of dialogues regarding the use of the renovated space as well as actual events, the team wants to involve different perspectives about potential uses of the lab. As a result, they will be able to shape the long-term vision regarding the future of the aircraft and extend the social aspects of the initiative.