RDA Team visits Tirana
Last month, the Rodić Davidson team spent the weekend exploring the vibrant streets and eclectic mixture of architecture in Tirana, Albania. The city has been shaped by Albania’s recent history, with a noticeable absence of a characteristic style running through it, resulting in a mosaic-like quality to the architecture that incorporates neoclassical, modernist and contemporary influences.
The city is undergoing a transformation following the relatively recent end to Albania’s Communist regime. An influx of new developments designed by local and international architects is spreading across the city to provide new cultural centres, housing, retail units and office space. During our trip we visited some of Tirana’s most prominent new buildings, which included the ‘Resurrection Cathedral’ – a circular structure, which is considered the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the Balkans, and the ‘Pyramid of Tirana’ – a former museum that became a conference center after the end of Communism. This building was recently renovated in 2023, by MVRDV, to include a stepped, illuminated roof, allowing visitors the opportunity to walk up to the top or traverse across its looming structure, and has become a modern landmark for the City.
The RDA team were afforded the opportunity to tour the construction site of another of the City’s new developments on our first day. The Book Building, a large-scale mixed-use development, spanning 24,000m2 in the center of the city, was designed by Belgium-based architecture studio, 51N4E. It was a fantastic opportunity to understand the comparative development process from planning and local authority consents to construction techniques and timescales.
We continued our exploration of the city by visiting one of its many purpose-built bunkers. Built under the direction of Albania’s former Communist leader, Enver Hoxha, the structures were designed to protect Albania’s citizens from perceived potential aerial threat during the Cold War. Hoxha’s regime constructed over 173,000 bunkers from 1967-1986. The former military structure now known as ‘Bunk’Art 1’, was the largest of the bunkers built with over 105 rooms, including a large assembly hall and living quarters for the Communist leader. In addition to being a piece of Albania’s history, the bunker displays modern art installations, many of which are inspired by the zeitgeist of the time.
As part of the trip we also visited the House of Leaves – a beautifully curated and eye opening museum covering the invasive and constant surveillance activities of the ‘Sigurimi’, or, secret police, during the Communist regime. As well as learning about local architecture and history, we perused local markets and vintage shops and visited ‘Grand Park of Tirana’, a purpose-built public space with an artificial lake covering nearly 300 hectares. In the evenings, we navigated the wonderfully varied and rich cuisine of Albania, sampling local specialties such as cottage cheese peppers and baklava served as meze for sharing, and sipping raki – the locally-distilled spirit. The team also witnessed a live performance of traditional Albanian folk music by a local band showcasing Albania’s rich musical heritage, with acapella and instrumental songs that are protected pieces of Unesco World Heritage as important pieces of Cultural heritage.