Submitted by Eneida Berisha

Opinion: Tirana New Municipality Competition

Albania Architecture News - Sep 27, 2020 - 20:49   2271 views

Opinion: Tirana New Municipality Competition

In the month of July, the Municipality of Albania announced the 10 finalists for the competition of the new municipal building - and a new possibility for an “identity” of the city. The attempt to bring forth such a difficult design brief is to be congratulated, and the inclusion of internationally renowned studios is a feat in itself. The topic of competition, especially when it includes some degree of public opinion and decision is always a tricky one. 

The architect Reinier de Graaf illustrates it even in his book Four Walls and a Roof - when speaking about an international competition, a major urban development in Russia, where the public’s opinion is to be considered - how precarious the act is. 

“A contest between the abstract and the picturesque is rarely decided in favor of the abstract - not when it is up to the people, whoever they may be.”

Though, the competition for Tirana’s new municipality building seeks out the opinion of others, the means of it are through an internet poll.  It's not clear whether the decision for the new municipality building relies only on these presentations and the online polling - and when the deadline is. Should an important building of a city be in the hands of online polls, where the voter is more often than not, a worried citizen that judges based on visuals? Furthermore, while it is an international competition that once again places Albania in the map - the one of relevant ongoing projects and memorable events occurring - it is again questionable if the voters are internationals as well. As it is the city, and its citizens that will continue to live with the results of the final selection, and not the studios per se. It is not the same voting for politicians as it is for a building. Should there be a jury that compares and contrasts figures and data for each project? And what happens to the citizens of Tirana who want to know and contribute to the happenings of their city but lack internet access - do they have a say as well? Why is the international vote equal to that of a citizen of Albania?

 The studios are already brandished with fame and acclaim in the countries they are based at, but their struggles in finding the “brand” of the real Tirana, and subsequently that of Albania, since it is the capital, fall short. If it isn't the pattern, or the actual letters of the word “Tirana '', then it is by default the Albanian flag, sprawled and ceremoniously hung on every surface of the volume proposed. So you know that it is in fact, Tirana. If the choice of the project relies only on the voters, and those voters are presented only with the material on the website, then the specific requirements from the city hall are not readable or understood by them. Specifically, the sustainability requirements - that of a zero emission building, should not only be deduced from the building and maintenance costs, but also on the methods of construction, form, structure and other complementary factors. None of these are presented to the voter - not substantially at least.

Winy Maas of MVRDV presenting their proposal, ©MVRDV,  Courtesy of Municipality of Tirana

Opinion: Tirana New Municipality Competition

Proposal by Mario Cucinella Architects, standing at the top of the voting (making 29% of all votes) © Mario Cucinella Architects, Courtesy of Municipality of Tirana

Each proposal sells a green product - but the voter does not have the tools to see if that is factual. On the other hand, the polls continue to tell us that the two studios still in the race are those of MVRDV and Mario Cucinella Architects. While the first, the cofounder and architect, Winy Maas presents in a podium, accompanied by visual aids, the second relies solely on an automatic video player with no narration or any information of the project. That is, apart from a very much needed paragraph on how the sustainability requirements are met because the volume is inspired by a clover - nature's best zero-emissions structure. All in all, the competition is a nice attempt at making us all question what is the perfect building for a city hall, and is it supposed to actually represent the whole country in itself to the world? Is it not just a building? Maybe with less pressure, the competition would have procured more resonating proposals.

Nevertheless, we await the results patiently. 

Find all the presentations here

All Images © the respective studios, courtesy of the Municipality of Tirana

> via Municipality of Tirana, Albania