'A perfect storm of problems'

Assistant Professor of Architecture Nik Nikolov receives AIA Award of Excellence

Nikolov's portable Weihnachtsmarkt hut

In 2013, Bethlehem’s Downtown Business Association (DBA) sought design options for portable huts they need for the city’s annual Weihnachtsmarkt, an open-air Christmas market also known as Christmas City Village. Architect Nik Nikolov provided a solution and his design was recognized last month when he received an Award of Excellence from the American Institute of Architects, Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter.

The award, given annually by an independent jury of architects, recognizes “the best built project of 2015 that exhibits excellence in architectural design and promotes urban and environmental sensitivity.”

“It’s a pretty cool recognition,” Nikolov said, “It’s just a small project that got recognized over multi-million dollar hospitals and urban developments.”

The DBA’s Christmas Committee requested the design of 35 new huts for the market’s vendors. Each year, Bethlehem closes Main Street to traffic to create a temporary market in which people can purchase Christmas goods from vendors. The challenge in the design work was a limited budget for materials as well as the need for a design that could be disassembled and taken down annually.

Nikolov’s design was based on Southern German minimalism, architecture found in the Alps, as well as Moravian architecture. Nikolov said that the issues facing the project, such as limited budget, transportation needs, limited building time and limited crew for fabrication, created a “perfect storm of problems” that inevitably led him to create an amazingly simple design.

The huts featured a steep roof made from polycarbonate material designed specifically for snowfall. Each component of the design was created as a single unit that could be easily taken apart, transported and stored for the next Christmas season. Only nails and wooden screws were used to put the components together.

Nikolov designed the huts to allow for the use of standard construction materials, meaning that very little cutting or modification was needed to build the huts. The cost for all of the materials for each hut was just under $300, which Nikolov said is extremely low for a project like this.

“It’s largely a house of cards,” Nikolov said.

The design also intentionally allowed for sunlight to come in during the day, which warms the inside of the hut for the vendors and customers to enjoy. At night, the polycarbonate roofing allowed the huts to emit a glow that added to the Christmas atmosphere.

Nikolov added that this project was unique in that it allowed the local community to look at Lehigh and reflect on and recognize the work that the school is doing.

This project was also unlike anything he had done before, something that Nikolov said he enjoys about his job at Lehigh. At Lehigh he teaches architectural design and technology but through his research and practice he is able to work on many different projects at the same time. Each project he works on is distinctly different from the others due to the different criteria and circumstances under which the project is being done, he said.

“I’ve been fortunate to have new research projects come in often enough that it keeps me going and one day maybe I’ll start repeating myself,” Nikolov said. “But so far so good.”

- by Sara Blatchford '16