Albania & Kosovo : Urban Planning and the Historical Landscape of the City

by arc. Olesja Lami

Friday 27 June 2014 by en

The first National Conference of Albanian Architects and Urban Planners was held in Tirana on June 2014. The event was organized by the sector of built heritage within the Albanian Architect’s Organization.

Talks were held by researchers, urban planners, architects, sociologists, annalists from Kosovo and Albania, representatives of non profitable organizations, representatives of local government, and professors from the Polytechnic University of Tirana, Epoka University, UFO University, researchers from of Institute of the National Heritage etc.

The topic of the conference confronts the urgent need for intervention and reflection, with the actual problematic that today’s architecture and urban planning is facing. The conference is referring to the recent strategies of UNESCO declared throughout: “UNESCO Recommendations endangered cultural heritage by private and pubic development”, “UNESCO Recommendations on preservation and the importance of historical areas”.

The topic of the conference on “Urban Planning and the Historical Landscape of the City” included a lot of talks about several cities in Albania and Kosovo, where most problematic where the cases of abuse with national heritage and the urgent need for its protection.

‘Urban Healers’: a dialog between permanent and temporary architecture for revitalization of leftover industrial areas

Following the same line of discussion brought up the Albanian Architect’s Organization; I would like to give my contribution on introducing my thesis topic, given on July 2012. Not without purpose, being in a context where every day the cultural heritage is at risk of losing it’s values, I decided to develop a topic related to the revitalization and protection of memory, more precisely Industrial Archeology. For this topic I detached a part of the research, which talks about the historical background of Tirana, and the importance of ex-industrial sites in the whole urban pattern of the city.

TIRANA and its urgent need for revitalization of ex-industrial sites

TIRANA and its urgent need for revitalization of ex-industrial sites (part of the research: ‘Urban Healers’: a dialog between permanent and temporary architecture for revitalization of leftover industrial areas)

Tirana is a city developed in a short period of time: starting as a small village located in the middle part of Albania; thereafter being declared the capital of the country; undergoing through a process of transformation during the 30s; being reshaped after World War II; hosting new housing, industrial, cultural interventions during the 70s-80s; suffering an invasion of informality during the 90s; enduring a process of public space disappearing during the beginning of year 2000; and now starting a new phase of healing of the wounds left by the harsh interventions of the past.

One of the most evident marks left in the city are “left over” relics (spaces, buildings, ex-industrial sites, etc.). Now days these relics act like non-places, de-territorialized places, forgotten, but potential for future interventions. To find out a cure, a strategy for a further redevelopment of these left over relics, will be an effort on improving the city itself.

Albania ran through very intensified processes of transformation that are reflected in city shaping, historical interventions and diversity in space typologies. Through its genesis Tirana is characterized as a vernacular settlement. Located in the central part of Albania, in the interruption of the north-to-south and east-to-west regional roads, Tirana offers a strategic development location. Along the caravan roads, the village (of that period) was generated from the bazar and the old mosque. Characterized by ottoman influences, in the years to pass, grow up from a small village to a city. After being declared the capital of Albania in 1920, it started a new period of development. Italian architects were brought in the country and worked on creating a new appearance for the center of the newly declared capital. After this flourishing years, came war and afterwards the dark time of communism. But what caused isolation with the outer world, brought a cluster of reforms. Through harsh interventions, old parts of the city were entirely demolished, while new developments were popping out of the ground all in peripheral areas. Beside the development of dwellings, also a huge expansion happened with industry.

Industrialization played a very basic role in the development of the country during the 50s and 60s. They were acting like catalyzers for the creation of future settlements around the industrial areas. In Tirana showed up several industrial sites dedicated to various industries. Some of them located near the central part of the city, while others were located more in the suburbia. The word industrialization is also related to thousands acres of land occupied by this function as well as an increasing level of industrial pollution.

After the approach of democracy came a whole new process of transformation. The migration of thousands of inhabitants from one city to another was reflected mostly in Tirana. From 250,000 people in 1990, the city had 350,000 people in 2001. This space invasion resulted in an occupation of land and transformation of the suburban landscape. Beside dwellings a very characteristic intrusion was the evolvement of shacks (kiosk). Shacks were located almost in every ‘prior public area’ of Tirana, but mostly located in the central piazza and along Lana River. This horrible ‘assassination’ of public space was healed after year 2000, with a cleansing program applied by the Municipality of Tirana.

Through the following years, marks caused by the removal were quite evident in the city and resulting in the creation of vast land. Hereby, we read categories classified as outdoor central spaces, urban ‘courtyards’, indoor abandoned space and ex-industrial field or brownfield. The actual situation of these categories demonstrates the urgent need for a project of revitalization and reuse. The focus group are brownfields (ex-industrial areas), because of their occupation of massive land surface, state of decay and various locations around the city, they offer a wide variety for treatments and interventions. Transformed into brownfields, these areas are vulnerable to severe decay. The emphasis of this issue is the possible creation of a network of ex-industrial sites, revitalized throughout a different use and working in correlation to each other. Through the revitalization of left over areas, a new active layer will be created in the entire city, a layer of events, social life, movement and cultural education.

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