miercuri, 3 decembrie 2008

Belgian architects rebuild Skanderbeg Square in Albania

A team of Belgian architects is set to start with the reconstruction of the Albanian capital Tirana’s most important square. 51N4E, the Brussels-based architects who are already working in Tirana on the construction of a prestigious office building, have recently won the competition for the reconstruction of Skanderbeg Square.

An international jury, made up of 11 experts, unanimously elected the Belgian design – created in cooperation with Albanian artist Anri Sala – ahead of five other finalists (Architecture Studio from France, Atena Studio from Italy, Daniel Libeskind from the USA, Josep Lluis Mateo from Spain and MVRDV from Holland).

The centre of Albania

The reconstruction of Skanderbeg Square is estimated at 10 million Euros and will be completed by the end of 2009. “The centre of Tirana was constructed around a large axis”, explains Johan Anrys, “built by the fascist regime in 1930. At the end of this axis, you arrive at the central Skanderbeg Square, which used to have a statue of Stalin and then later of Hoxha. It was designed as a square of power. All central lanes flow into it and forge a relationship between the population and their leader. It features several important buildings, like the Opera Building, the National Museum, the National Bank and several government administrations. Today, however, the square is in a neglected state, transformed into one big heavy traffic area.”

Albania borders on Greece, Montenegro and Macedonia. It was under communist rule from 1960 until 1991. Since 1991, its capital has known a true construction boom. Private buildings of questionable quality rise up like mushrooms, without any town and country planning whatsoever. The Skanderbeg Square competition is one of the first sizeable government assignments for the reconstruction of a public space. “During the past ten years, a lot of effort has been put into the removal of illegal buildings, the surfacing of roads, the installation of public lighting and the construction of parks. At this very moment, the city is working to create a structural plan for the capital”, according to Anrys.

Tirana traffic-free

51N4E’s design turns the 170 m by 170 m square into a traffic free zone and elevates its central part no less than three metres above ground level. Surrounding this area, there will be various parks and gardens. “Right in the centre of a belt of newly planted trees, we will construct a low pyramid no taller than three metres high. Buildings are being constructed in Tirana at a frightening pace and we want to create a space where you can escape from the chaos of an over-consumed city submerged by cars”. The masterplan was approved unanimously. As mayor Edi Rama put it “The design demonstrates respect for the city’s history while putting it into perspective. Every Albanian will be able to stand at the top of the pyramid, in a position of absolute power”.

Belgian - Albanian

The execution of the plans will be in the hands of 51N4E’s Tirana branch which currently consists of three foreign architects who cooperate with local counterparts. The design itself was created in Brussels.

51N4E is a Belgian architects firm based in Brussels and was founded by Johan Anrys, Freek Persyn and Peter Swinnen. The name 51N4E refers to the coordinates of the Belgian capital. The team has received several awards (a.o. the prestigious Maaskant Prize in 2004) and is currently working on three large construction projects (C-mine in Genk, CD&V headquarters in Brussels and the TID Tower in Tirana), along with a dozen of design projects. For more info, please visit www.51N4E.com.

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