Nearly twenty years ago, when Edi Rama was elected as the Mayor of Tirana, he designed a masterplan for the transformation of the entire centre, stretching from Skanderbeg Square right to the Lake.
The plan, put down on paper by the Architecture Studio in 2003 envisaged Skanderbeg Square being surrounded by around 10 tall towers, as well as the construction of additional towers flanking the main Boulevard of the city.
In 2005, the plan was updated to include the reconstruction of Skanderbeg Square, designed by 51N4E studio and artist Anri Sala. In 2008, the Lake Master Plan of Tirana including the construction of several towers nearby was designed by MVRDV studio.
Before becoming Prime Minister in 2013, Edi Rama could have only a few of these towers built. When Erion Veliaj became mayor, Rama’s plan to eradicate nearly everything that existed before him and to replace it with his own designs, began to pick up steam.
These are examples of what has been done, and what is still on the agenda of the Prime Minister, and Mayor of Tirana.
Rama wants to turn the National Museum into an entertainment centre including a bookshop, cinema, event hall, bars, restaurants, and shops. Whilst a few ethnographic exhibitions will remain, the majority of the exhibits detailing the history of Albania will be removed. In the middle of what is currently a museum, will be a glass structure with a “stylish restaurant” at the top.
The description is a rough translation of Rama’s own words in his book “The Sacrifice” (Kurban). He also said that the current building is an “embarrassment” that still stands over 20 years after the fall of communism.
The Puppet Theatre Building
Earmarked for transformation into the Museum of Religious Harmony, it is not clear where the current theatre will be relocated for. The space between this building and the Ministries has already been concreted over, providing a few benches and umbrellas hanging from trees. Rama claimed that the theatre will move to a new building near the lake, whilst Veliaj claimed it will be located in a part of the new zoo that is planned to be built.
Rama previously described the theatre as “a parable of shame”.
The building was Albania’s first parliament, turned into a puppet theater by the communist regime.
Palace of Culture
Stopping short of demolishing the Palace, Rama has said it will be rebuilt instead with fundamental changes to the architecture. The opera and ballet part will be rebuilt, retaining much of its individual features but the central part of the building will be demolished leaving only columns and a large sort of courtyard area which will serve as another entry point to Skanderbeg Square.
In his book, Rama referred to the Palace of Culture as “an oath of the communist-era” and laid out his vision for its transformation.
The National LIbrary will be removed from its current location and rehoused in a yet-to-be-built building at the site of the Republican Guard, near the lake of Tirana.
Small Park at the Scanderbeg Square
The green area behind the Scanderbeg statue will be covered in synthetic grass and used for concerts and similar entertaining events. Again, Rama’s vision for this part of the square is detailed in “The Sacrifice”.
Towers surrounding the Square
The square will be surrounded by 10 tall towers and will contain a number of private buildings including offices, restaurants, shops, cafes, and cinemas, as well as a revival of an Old Bazaar area.
Towers that have been built so far in the centre of Tirana
— ABA Tower next to the Italian Embassy
— Tower TID / Plaza Hotel
— 4Evergreen Tower- opposite the Orthodox Chuch- still incomplete
— Tower Ambassador 3 next to the new stadium
Towers that have received permits to be built
— The Eyes of Tirana Tower which will be built on the Western side of the square next to the meeting of Rruga Kavaja and Rruga Durres.
— Book Building Complex situated by the Clock Tower which will consist of one 11-storey tower and one 17-storey tower. One will house offices and the other will be a hotel.
— Tirana’s Rock Tower will be just east of the Tirana Hotel, at the site of the former Flora Book Store.
— A 25-storey tower behind the Tirana Hotel which will include a shopping centre and other facilities for the hotel.
— Two towers, as of yet unfinalised are planned to be built in the park behind the Palace of Culture.
National Theatre Complex
The area between the current theatre and Toptani Centre is planned to be completely demolished and filled with towers. This will include the destruction of the theatre, a pedestrianised avenue, and a number of existing buildings. One of the plans includes a 35-storey tower where the “Sarajet” old building stands but its owners have resisted the demolition. Much of the proposed area is public land and the government rushed through a Special Law allowing its transfer to private companies, something that is unconstitutional but cannot be challenged because there is no constitutional court at the moment.
Republican Guard Area
The area which currently houses the Republican Guard, next to the lake will be demolished and repurposed to house several state buildings including the new National Library. There are also plans to have a number of private construction projects in the area, but the Municipality has refused to provide further information.
National Stadium Area
A 24-storey tower is currently under construction along with a new stadium that sits on the site of the former stadium- a building which was a part of a historical complex linked to Nene Teresa Square. Another tower “Vertical Forest” is being built right behind the stadium.
A 17-storey tower is under construction after Hotel Dajti and a 35-storey tower, “Downtown Albania”, is being built in the area just to the southwest of the Elbasan Street where the “7 Dwarfs” playground used to stand. It will be the highest tower in the city.
Two towers are scheduled to be built in the Blloku area which will include shops, offices, apartments and one will have a concrete facade, decorated with trees.
What is concerned with these plans is the fact that almost all of the remaining communist-era architecture will be completely eradicated from public areas over the next few year. Furthermore, landmarks, areas of public use and interest, and important historical views will be completely demolished with no added value to members of the public.
There are also significant concerns around the impact of so many towers on the ambience of the area and whether the centre of Tirana will retain any of its original features that make it quintessentially and unmistakably Albanian.
The cultural and historical heritage of Tirana is being systematically erased by a Socialist government that is embarrased (using the words of the Prime Minister) of its ties to the past.