By Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
“Anti-Corrupt” Bjarke Ingels Dives Deep into Corrupt Deal with Albanian Government

In their “Global Compact” from 2015, architecture firm BIG opens with the following grandiose statement: “At BIG, architecture is not about building monuments, but about creating possibilities for human life.”

Under the header “Anti-Corruption,” the architecture founded and led by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels declares the following:

We […] maintain a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption in all its forms. […]

When choosing projects to pursue, BIG also makes sure that our collaborators and clients are not involved in any activities that suggest corruption. We will not give or accept bribery in any form, and we will not use deception, trickery or breach of confidence to gain an unfair or dishonest advantage.

BIG will not participate in corruption; BIG will not contribute to corruption; BIG will not support corruption.

Over the last few months, as a result of BIG’s involvement in the scandal of the expropriation of the public land on which the National Theater will be built, it has become clear that its “anti-corruption” position is an utterly shameless charade.

As already documented on the pages of Exit, BIG first engaged in deception by claiming that it had won a “public competition” for the reconstruction of the National Theater. This was a claim, once we reached out to the architecture firm, that was quickly withdrawn behind a non-disclosure agreement allegedly signed with their “client” (they also refused to confirm their actual client).

BIG Director of Communications Daria Pahhota also claimed in an email to Exit that the Municipality of Tirana would provide the public with proof of this competition, its regulations, jury members, and report. Also this turned out to be trickery.

Not only did the Municipality of Tirana refuse to hand over public-access documents, it turned out that the Tirana municipality had only a marginal role in the entire project of reconstructing the National Theater. Instead, the Ministry of Culture formulated a legally unprecedented “special law,” which will remove the agency of the Tirana Municipal Council in expropriation of public lands it owns. The same law furthermore fully circumvents the standard public procurement procedures by writing a single private company, Fusha shpk, into law.

In the meantime, as actors and directors staged protests every week while they were vilified in government-allied media, architect Bjarke Ingels gave a good-weather report from Barcelona while the government approved the special law. This was nothing but a complete breach of any confidence in his claim of “creating possibilities for human life.”

In the justification of the special law that the government has now sent to Parliament through an expedited procedure, it values the entire, highly coveted, public territory of 8,465 sq.m. in the center of Tirana that it intends to “sell” to the predetermined buyer, construction company Fusha shpk, at a total of 95,567,619 lekë (~€760,000), or €470/sq.m. To compare: apartments in the same area are sold for €2,500/sq.m.

We are therefore faced with an unprecedented form of state-sanctioned land grabbing by a private company and a full-on attack on the principle of equality before the law. Not to mention that this transaction, fully withdrawn from the market and public scrutiny, does enormous damage to the state finances.

There is only one reason why a state would inflict such damage on itself and the rule of law: massive corruption.

BIG thus participates in corruption; contributes to corruption; and supports corruption.