On August 26, the Albanian Development Fund (FShZh) opened a tender for an “installation with a wooden structure in the inner courtyard of the Prime Ministry, ‘Park of Eden’,” at a value of 431 million lekë (~4 million euro). This tender followed the Decision of the Council of Ministers (VKM) no. 496 from July 27, and subsequently it was posted on the eProcurement website of the government, although it is as yet absent from the website of the FShZh itself.
The tender, posted by multiple news websites, describes the project as follows:
The draft of the project is developed on the basis of the concept formulated by the international architecture studio Studio Precht, with main offices in Austria. The concept of “Eden” is a response to the situation created in the courtyard. Instead of a garden on the ground, a 3-dimensional garden will be created that guarantees recreative, vitality, and leisure functions on different levels. Eden is a sustainable and living solution for a coutryard that creates spaces, an open and permeable structure for private leisure and public events, a man-made spectacle, and a reminder of the nature for a long time lost in our built environments.
The “Eden Park” project is the second large-scale intervention of the Prime Minister in his offices and ties together many of the architectural preoccupations of the Prime Minister Edi Rama. Just like the Center for Openness and Dialogue (COD), designed by 51N4E about a decade ago, this intervention makes claims about “public events” and “open and permeable” stuctures, deploying a rhetoric of transparency that can be traced through the “open” redesign of the Pyramid by MVRDV and the project of Bjarke Ingels’s “transparent” National Theater, all the way back to the 2016 “temporary installation” of Sou Fujimoto’s “Cloud” in front of the National Gallery to which it is formally reminiscent, all in the direct vicinity of the Prime Ministry. This rhetoric, or propaganda, of transparency masks the fact the COD is anything but open and transparent, and that the procedures around the redesign of the Pyramid and National Theater, as well as this new intervention into the Prime Ministry, have been thoroughly opaque. To start with, in none of these cases was it made public how the architects were selected (obviously they were hand-picked by Prime Minister Rama himself).
Also the religious thematics of the “Eden Park” as paradisical garden are in no way novel. In particular, they recall the “Park of Faith” originally designed by UNLAB for the public spaces surrounding the Pyramid, which was incorporated into Stefano Boeri’s “Tirana 2030” masterplan. The “Park of Faith” would “accommodate series of landscape interventions inspired by the holy books” through “landscape design actions that seek spiritual comfort and contemplation.” The new “Park of Eden” folds this project into a 3-dimensional volume inside the private courtyard of the adjacent Prime Ministry, like a bare-bones vertical forest à la Stefano Boeri, a skeletal garden of Babylon.
Despite the mention of “public events,” the courtyard inside the Prime Ministry has never been open to the public. Likewise, the Center for Openness and Dialogue is more often than not closed, for the simple reason that it is located in the offices of the ruler of the country. No measure of propaganda of openness can deny the necessity of operational security. The “Park of Eden” project should therefore be interpreted primarily as a private garden in the tradition of the famed gardens of sultans and pashas during the Ottoman period, Edenic landscapes where rulers could escape from the miseries of everyday life: “a reminder of the nature for a long time lost in our built environments.”
But why has nature been “for a long time lost in our built environments”? Certainly, the man who has dominated Albania for the last decade has something to do with that? After all, the Prime Minister presides over the National Territorial Council and it is he himself who has initiated, since his tenure as mayor of Tirana in the early 2000s, the unchecked urbanization that has destroyed so much of the green spaces in the city.
Studio Precht’s vision of the “Park of Eden” is the complete inverse of utopian works such as Bert Theis’s “Tirana pa makina,” who envisioned a Tirana without cars, covered in a horizontal forest. The “Park of Eden,” despite its rhetoric of openness, is in fact a radically closed work, a dystopia inspired by a mind that has increasingly shuttered itself to the harm he is causing his country. Unlike the communist dictatorship, which envisioned a man-made paradise for all, Edi Rama’s garden of delight is privatized, concentrated inside his courtyard, blocking most of the outside light coming into the offices. But like a communist utopia, it remains “a man-made spectacle,” without a single touch of the divine.
God has absconded from the Prime Ministry, and left in his wake a green, pagan Ka’aba, in which the ruler may walk around unchecked, to withdraw and enjoy its unlimited fruits for his “private leisure,” away from the country he continues to rule without any sizable opposition. Outside, inflation is wreaking havoc, forced power cuts have been announced, and sports gambling will be relegalized to steal even more money from the people (and for the upcoming elections); inside, far away from that earthly realm of sin, birds, butterflies, and heavenly smells surround the sole figure of Rama Pasha, as he contemplates the unbearable burden of leadership.
The website of Studio Precht was offline for maintenance. The author reached out to the architects for comment.