By Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
Bjarke Ingels Deaf and Blind to Corporate Land Grab

In a recent effort of the Municipality of Tirana and the Albanian government to whitewash the corporate land grab of the public grounds of the National Theater through a “special law” that circumvents all public procurement and expropriation legislation in force in the country, they has sent a small group of preselected journalists from government-friendly media outlets on a trip to Barcelona to meet with Bjarke Ingels, the Danish architect responsible for the redesign of the National Theater.

As we reported before, Ingels’s company BIG publicly declared to have won the tender to design the new National Theater building, through a “public competition.” After repeated requests by Exit.al, BIG failed to produce any evidence of such competition to have ever happened, and subsequently claimed to have signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Municipality of Tirana, referring me to Renato Kalemi, Media and Communications Advisor to the Mayor and Denis Dedej, Director of Information. Neither of them has so far responded to repeated queries about the project.

A freedom of information request filed by Exit.al to the Ministry of Culture regarding any competition or project for the National Theater received the following response, on May 11, 2018:

The Ministry has not received any masterplan or drafting duty and is not developing any procurement procedure or partnership, in relation to the National Theater. For this reason, we do not hold any of the materials requested by you.

This reply is particularly remarkable, as at that very moment the Ministry of Culture was drafting the “special law” that would turn all the public grounds occupied by the National Theater and several other public buildings to Fusha shpk construction company.

If we are to believe the Ministry of Culture, they thus drafted the “special law” without any reference to a government masterplan for the National Theater. That is indeed very reassuring!

Fusha shpk, a company which has been the beneficiary of several dubious public tenders, is in fact the company that Bjarke Ingels officially lists as their client, not the Municipality of Tirana or the Ministry of Culture. Of course, this is conveniently very practical in terms of circumventing any real public scrutiny of his project.

In the interview with the Albanian reporters, Bjarke Ingels speaks incessantly about how amazing his design is, and how the city and cultural life will benefit from a new National Theater.

This all may be very well the case, but the core of the artist protests and public outrage over the government’s plan is the absolute disregard for the rule of law surrounding the entire project, which is now culminating in a “special law” that will set a legislative precedent for unparalleled, boundless government-sponsored theft of public assets. We have seen nothing yet!

If we are to believe the TV Klan reporting of the interview, Ingels moreover claimed that his team has worked “for a year” on the design, a year that he spent without meeting a single time with the most important stakeholders in this project: the actors and directors of the National Theater. It is difficult to see this gesture as befitting an architect who loudly proclaims to care for society and the environment, and has built his entire brand around such fashionable attitudes.

In fact, Ingels erases the grim reality of Tirana’s cancerous urban development in a ceaseless, alpha-male, sun-burnt outpouring of “vision.” But in fact, he has become a sad prop in a play that he is not directing. He has been coopted in a scheme that Prime Minister Edi Rama has been using since 2001: deploying “starchitects” as propaganda tools to whitewash criminal, predatory politics.