From: Alice Taylor
Exclusive: After the National Theatre, Government Plans to Demolish Rrogozhine’s Historic Cultural Centre

Not content with destroying buildings of historical and cultural interest in Tirana, the government is looking further afield.

This time, they have set upon the small Municipality of Rrogozhine, located in the Western Lowlands of Albania. Under Socialist Party control following the 30 June single-party elections, the town and the wider Municipal area has a population of just over 22,000 people.

In the center of the urban area lies the Rrogozhine Cultural Centre. Built in the Socialist Realism style in the early 1970’s, it was considered state-of-the-art architecture during the communist regime. Comprising of clean lines, functional forms, and symmetrical design, it remains a prime example of modern architecture amongst the more traditional style of the area.

Laim Halili, one of those responsible for overseeing its construction said that it was built carefully and designed to withstand the test of time. From the foundations to the prefabricated panels that were manufactured in Durres and transported to Rrogozine, the whole process was quality controlled and monitored at every stage

The building lies of 646 square meters and consists of two changing rooms, a ticket office, an office, two toilets, a library, a bookshop, two rest areas, a design room, and a showroom. The performance hall is still in use for events attended by schoolchildren around three to four times a year. It is also used by the community during local and general elections. Meanwhile, the Municipality uses some of the rooms as storage spaces as well as the office which is used by the Director of the Center.

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Over the years, the building has been badly neglected. Poor management and a lack of funds have resulted in issues with humidity in the perimeter walls and around the windows. There are cracks in the plaster, the paint needs redoing and it needs modernizing. That said, the building is structurally in good shape.

Following the November 2019 earthquake that destroyed a number of buildings in the Rrogozhine area, no damage has been observed to the building.

But that hasn’t stopped the Municipality moving to demolish the building. 

During inspections by the Construction Institute after the earthquake, several instances of “poor architecture” were identified. Strangely, the section on the “findings during the inspection” was less than half a page long and the full report contained little information about the work carried out by the inspectors.

The report, in the possession of Exit, noted that there was damages to the foundations, cracks in the ceiling, and damage to construction materials due to ageing over the years. They conclude that the structure of the building was damaged and there was no need for further forensic examination of the building.

An independent and experienced engineer who wished to remain anonymous inspected the building and presented their analysis of its current condition. He disputed the supposed findings of the Municipality and questioned the need to demolish it.

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They said; “there is no damage to the structural elements and masonry caused by the 26 November earthquake. Sometimes, cracks in the walls or plaster, or detachment from the walls do not give us a clear picture to conclude whether it is dangerous or not.”

In other words, cracks are not always indicative of serious structural damage and the expert did not note any damage caused by the earthquake. 

In terms of the structural soundness of the Centre, they said; “The beams that pass through the structure do not present any cracks…The building needs a clear seismic study to see whether it should be reconstructed or demolished.”’

Furthermore, the expert stated that the quality of the materials used to build the Centre needed to be checked to see if they are in line with EC standards. So far, he said they have not seen any sampling of materials and there has been no drilling with probes to conduct the geological study of how the building is supported. He added that the dimensions of the building had not been measured either, to see if there was any deviation pre and post-earthquake.

In other words, the Municipality has not carried out any of the necessary processes that are usually required to decide whether a building is safe or not. In fact, in their own reports, they said they didn’t think it was necessary to conduct such tests. 

The experts however disagree.

“We want to be clear in understanding how this building has been given the status of being demolished. It should be noted that demolishing it will have a high cost. That money could be used for the construction of other dwellings, instead of being used here,” he added.

Since the earthquake, a number of local residents including members of the Roma community are living in tents, prefabricated cabins, or unsafe structures. Work to provide them with new homes has stalled and no funds have been made available for reconstruction. There are approximately 150 homes that are in an unsafe state and should be demolished and rebuild, according to a local architect.

Those working on the ground to support them say they have relied on the kindness of NGOs and citizens that have fundraised to buy cabins, food, and supplies for the families there. While the state has distributed some parcels of aid, this is not enough.

Furthermore, considering the dangerous state the building is supposedly in, it seems strange that the Socialist Party held a gathering on the premises last week. Against all social distancing measures, the party event took place within the walls of the Centre without any issues or concern for the dangers apparently posed by the structure.

A popular train of thought is that the demolition of the Centre is a part of the current trend of erasing history through the destruction of Communist-era buildings.

“When you look at the evidence, you have to ask why is this building being destroyed? If the goal is to destroy the collective memory, let us remind you that 1984 is just a book and the party will never succeed in erasing its history,” one local man- an architect- told Exit.

He added: “It’s a beautiful building. It seems they have corrupt intentions but we have documented it with photos and videos. It doesn’t need to be demolished.”

Olsi Nunaj and Elbarina Kola who conducted the report on the Rrogozhine Cultural Centre have been reported to the Prosecutor’s office for “abuse of office”. The complaint was filed by the Alliance for the Protection of the National Theatre. They accuse Nunaj and Kola of failing to carry out the inspection procedure according to law and for coming to a false conclusion that the Theatre was an unsafe structure.

They go as far as to claim that Nunaj didn’t even visit the Theatre and stated that he was under the control of the Municipality and was being “used”.

It seems history is repeating itself once again.

The building is not only of historical and cultural value but it has architectural value as well. In Rrogozhine, there is a need to foster community spirit and to have space where children, youths, and adults can come together to enjoy events. Not only that, but it is a part of the history of the town and while it may not necessarily be a pleasant memory, it is not one that should be destroyed.

Prime Minister Edi Rama has made no attempts to hide his disdain for remnants of his party’s communist past. He has referred to communist-era buildings as shameful and is on a mission to demolish many of them that remain in the capital.  The point that was raised at the time of the destruction of the National Theatre is that these historical buildings are not ours to demolish. They belong to the collective history of the country and should be preserved.

It seems that there is also a recurring theme of corruption that runs alongside the desire to demolish these old buildings. The official report is rushed, unthorough, and conducted by two ‘experts’ who have complaints filed against them for writing off the National Theatre. Furthermore, independent experts and photographs taken have disputed their findings.

One must wonder why they are in such a hurry to destroy this building, and what is planned to be built in its place and who is going to benefit from it.

Halili, a now an octagenarian, said he was saddened to hear it was earmarked for destruction.

“I am very sorry it will be demolished. I really think it could be rebuilt in the way that we did. To that level of stability and quality. I am sad to hear this.”