The imposing Buzludzha Monument in central Bulgaria once invoked infallible power, a power that once rested with the nation’s Communist Party. The brutalist megastructure, opened to the public in 1981 and later abandoned after the lifting of the iron curtain, now lies in ruins, with the grand mosaics of the dear leaders chipped from their walls, and the domed ceiling reduced to little else than a metal framework. But what if the Bulgarian government revived the building? What then?
Buzludzha VR answers that question with their VR re-imagining of the monument, available for HTC Vive headsets and desktop monitors.
The breathtaking view from the UFO-shaped concrete behemoth’s observation deck is exactly what you’d find today, which shows a wide swath of the lush Central Balkan Mountains, but the creators of the virtual monument have done away with the building’s rotting interior decoration almost entirely, replacing the worn frescoes depicting the struggles of the proletariat with framed photos of the country’s landmarks, and restyling the whole building with a sort of earthtone minimalism. A piano, playable with Vive hand controls, sits in the middle of the monument, almost as an invitation to the viewer to re-imagine the space as a posh concert hall.
As a self-guided tour, the facility is littered with clickable question marks that both translate the written Bulgarian and give some brief audio clips on the building’s history. Created in Unreal Engine 4, with object modeling and textures done in Autodesk Maya and Substance Designer, the VR experience is remarkably lifelike, and shows serious attention to detail.
As a result, you’ll need a hefty GPU to run it on the Vive, with the creators suggesting and minimum of GeForce GTX 980 or newer, although you can eek by with a lesser GPU in most areas of the building.
While the new conceptualization of the monument isn’t exactly what you’d call virtual tourism, the creators’ Todor Rusanov and Rafal Czarnowski main reason for making Buzludzha VR was to instead “raise awareness about the monument and suggest a new purpose for the abandoned mega structure.” According to an interview with the creators on Bulgarian TV program Nova (subtitled in English), the developers visited Buzludzha Monument to take measurements and reference photos, and worked on the project for 5 months before turning it in as Digital Media Honours Degree Project at Edinburgh Napier University.
We’re hoping they received high marks.