A bright and colourful new style of urban design emerges in Albania

A bright and colourful new style of urban design emerges in Albania

When Albania emerged from communist rule in the early 1990s, it embarked on a programme of modernisation and growth. A major milestone was reached in June 2006 when Albania signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union, bringing it one step closer to membership.


One legacy of its time behind the Iron Curtain is now changing, as the near-derelict old communist blocks and drab squares are being transformed, having been given a bright and colourful new facelift. A whole new Albanian style of urban design has begun to emerge in the 21st century.

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Urban designer and RUDI member Adelina Greca called in to see us when she made her first visit to Britain for the quality Streetscapes conference in May 2007. She talked about recent achievement in urban design being made by the Municipality of Tirana, a city with a population of around 700 000.

In particular, she talked about the Tirana: Greening and Painting initiative, being led by the Mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama, who was first elected in October 2000. Mr Rama who served as Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports from 1998-2000, is an artist, publicist, and a politician. He was voted World Mayor of the Year in December 2004.

We publish below an extract from the book; Tirana: Greening and painting, Re-inventing the Wheel: when colours become politics, written by Edi Rama.

 

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Around the year 2000, some scaffolding appeared on the façade of a living block in Rruga e Durresit in Tirana. A renovation process had earlier involved several governmental buildings in the centre of the city, all of architectural value representing a landmark of rational architecture in Tirana. All buildings were built by Italian architects in the 30s but their facades had degraded after long years of forgetfulness or sporadic renovation of a “free style”, totally disconnected to the original colours of the buildings.

However, the rest of the city was still the dull grey of blighted communist architecture, mortar falling apart, windows and balconies changed as people liked and could. A couple of weeks later, when the scaffolding was removed, some strong, blitheful colours painted in square shapes and different forms, were revealed.


This was the first building painted by Edi Rama, the newly elected mayor of Tirana, and it marked the beginning of his project to transform the ruined facades of the city into fascinating paintings. In the following days more scaffolding appeared and more squares of colours covered other facades of that street. In the months to come, all the streets of the city centre were one by one covered by scaffolding and then reappearing with new, sparkling colours. Alongside with the painting, at the crossroad at Rruga e Durresit, the first street lights were installed, causing an unusual sensation during the first nights, as no part of the city had never before been fully lit.


As soon as the first colourful compositions had been painted on the facades, people started to react. Some didn’t like what was happening, some enjoyed it very much, but most felt unsure and started to talk and discuss the phenomena. For the first time there was a sense of a shared public space, and the feeling of collective responsibility crept out from the historical abyss where Albanians had condemned it.
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Besides painting the facades, sidewalks were being repaired, lights were being put up, and the amount of greenery was increased. Instead of only men in leather jackets smoking slim cigarettes, women and children, old people and young couples slowly started to reclaim the space that earlier had been socially denied to them. The sun seemed to shine differently from the reflection on colours and fresh green grass.
Tirana started to change.

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In 2003, the second Tirana Biennale was held in the city, representing works by more than 120 artists from all over the world and collaborating with a number of international curators. It was inevitable that the painted city would catch the attention of the invited collaborators. Thus, an entire section of the Biennial, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and the Albanian artist Anri Sala, was dedicated to the continuation of the façade treatment project.

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International artists turned whole living blocks in central Tirana into unique works of contemporary art. The city is now open to taking the project even one step further ahead. A larger number of both Albanian and international artists will be invited to turn blocks of buildings into art works.

New ways of involving and working together with the different communities are being prepared. Tirana is an open source to contemporary art, offering an unprecedented interaction between artists and public, attracting an ever growing number of visitors and tourists. As the city continues its strive on the way towards the future, the spectacle of colours, already turned into a political investment for development, unfolds everyday and lies in wait for its continuation.