TIRANA STORIES – The 2016 Albania AA Visiting SchoolProfile
by Vanessa Norwood, Head of AA Exhibitions and co-Director of AAVS Albania
18 July 2016
View from the Palace of Brigades
Albania is a country on the cusp of great change. Under the careful stewardship of former artist Prime Minister Edi Rama, Albania is undergoing an economic and cultural makeover. In capital city Tirana you’re more likely to encounter The Cloud -a large scale installation by architect Sou Fujimoto – than find Europe’s ubiquitous chains that have turned urban metropolises into facsimiles of each other. Edi Rama is a charismatic leader who famously painted grey, communist era buildings in bright colours, igniting a civic pride in Tirana that continues to grow. The city is opening up, and the democratisation of once state owned spaces has become a priority, with barriers being dismantled to create new public spaces.
Albania is a country that is often much misunderstood; prior to his recent downfall, Michael Gove commented that as a result of Brexit, Britain’s relations with the EU could mimic those of Albania with its free trade agreement. Had he been properly briefed he would know that Albania is an official candidate for accession to the European Union.
It’s in this climate of change that the unique opportunity to orchestrate the first AA Visiting School in Albania presents itself. Invited by Edi Rama’s government to advise on the re-functioning of four historic buildings in Tirana, I participated in a fascinating process of investigating the potential of cultural programming to bring life to a collection of different but equally important buildings.
Each of the buildings; The Palace of Brigades, the National Historical Museum, the house of communist Dictator Enver Hoxha and the former Union of Writers, have unique histories but share the need for sensitive solutions. Through discussion with the Ministry of Culture it was decided that rather than finding a purely architectural solution for the buildings, a curatorial concept could be sought to link the four buildings and to revitalize them through a programmatic proposal.
In collaboration with a small team of international architects and curators, a brief was written calling for responses to consider how to open up the buildings and create a network of spaces dedicated to cultural production and consumption. The priority of the process has been to reopen the three buildings that remain closed to the public and to breathe new life into the National Historical Museum.
The buildings are sited within a 1 kilometre radius of one another and are framed as a ‘cultural quartet’. Atelier Albania launched a competition in November and after a process of short-listing, the team of experts met again at a jury to evaluate the presentations and to agree a winning team for each of the buildings. The brief itself was a challenging call for restoration, cultural programming and strategic architectural solutions. The jury ultimately awarded prizes for two of the buildings in the quartet; the Union of Writers and the National Historical Museum. The villa of Enver Hoxha and the Palace of Brigades, arguably the most sensitive of the quartet, will be reassessed and a new brief will be considered. The intention must be to lovingly restore and thoughtfully revitalise these amazing buildings.
The first AA Visiting School in Albania will enjoy the privileged position of having the Palace of Brigades as its site. Completed in 1942 the palace was briefly the residence of the Albanian Royal Family and is now used for governmental and diplomatic events. This will be a rare opportunity to work in one of Tirana’s finest buildings. The Palace of Brigades sits in a crucial position – a restricted section of Tirana Park developed around an artificial reservoir, which was built by the communist regime. The park, which marks the boundary of the city, has become, with the recent government reform, a very important connection between Tirana and its South Metropolitan Region.
Co-Director Fabrizio Bellabio – AA First Year Tutor and co-founder of ÅYR, an art collective reflecting on contemporary forms of domesticity whose work can be seen in the show Home Economics at the British Pavilion in Venice – and I will be working alongside Milan based architecture practice PIOVENEFABI. Led by Ambra Fabi and Giovanni Piovene, the office is currently working on several projects in Tirana, including a park in the Tirana-Dürres economic corridor and a pedestrian path linking Tirana to its southern conurbations.
The workshop will operate at different scales: at a territorial scale by means of cartography and topographic studies covering the area of intervention and at an architectural scale, with measured drawings and models and at 1:1, developing a narrative for a new future for the Palace. Guest lecturers will also be invited each day to tell us a story from Tirana’s past and future.
Named Tirana Stories the workshop will suggest alternative narratives for the Palace. An open day at the end of the workshop will present our findings. Through the work of some of the best contemporary architectural practices including 51N4E and Dogma, Tirana is becoming a place of real architectural experimentation and the city is transforming with culture at its heart. Tirana Stories is an opportunity to be part of that change.
For more information:
AAVS Albania Programme Brief
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