On the 02/2018 edition of [ark] The StoJournal for Architects, head and founder of commonsense.studio, Jurtin Hajro, was featured in the [Views of the City] section. The article titled “Tirana – the city of colours!” is written by Saimir Kristo and includes interviews by Jurtin Hajro (commonsense.studio), and Ermal Bleta (Studio B&L). In it, different sociological, cultural and urban aspects of Tirana as the capital of Albania are discussed and analyzed.
The full interview submitted by Jurtin Hajro of commonsense.studio:
– What are the unique features of Tirana as a city?
– If I must draw the city in some words and lines, I would prefer staring at Tirana as an act of play, put in the scene. Where the actors enter the scene, each time during their rehearsal, with the very same lines to remember, face the audience, envision their contact with people staring at them, forgetting all about the script and recreating all the scenario to the end. The play is applauded for its inborn creativity, its energy transmitted to the public, and a sincere revolt to the master. The scene will not change, the play will, the actors will, the masters too, but the show will remain the same, with the play never premiered.
To my sense, present-ness is the main feature of Tirana.
Currently, all the actors of the city perform, each of them, individually, to the making of the city. Tirana is a city composed by – a lot of – little hands, where the individual is an active part of a whole unity, not brought in parts, but as one entity.
Rasmussen, in his book ‘Experiencing Architecture’, defines the latter as an art of organization where the inputs of each craftsman constitute in the final design of the architectural piece. The citizen of Tirana, by spontaneously transforming his bedroom to a barber shop, in fact has acted like a craftsman, a member of a larger organization, neighbour to his tailor, or his butcher on the street across. the appropriation of his own function beside the constituted powers, becomes an act of ideological statement, addressed to the dignity of those who live the city.
It is on the ground floor level where the city achieves its highest peak of human interaction. The generous offer of each ground floor owner, has contributed to the forming of an ingenuous but sincere semi-public layer of the city. The un-programmed and spontaneous way all this transformation has occurred is seen as an act of individual behaviourism affecting deeply urban transformation. And all of this, raised and led by humanity at its core. The ground floor of Tirana is a space that allows no lack of perception. It is a space, on the zero level – technically speaking, zeroed of physical obstacles, creating a medium of being-ness in an existentialist point of view.
Tirana could be sensed as a scene around individuals, to be lived in and not to be analysed from a distance; to be perceived, of hot, cold, shrill or hard colours, of sounds that are clear, sharp, brilliant, rough or mellow, of soft noises and of penetrating fragrances.
– What does it mean for you to work as an architect in Tirana?
– High individual participatory environment in Tirana for sure has its own direct effects on professional establishments. The way how architecture as a practice has positioned itself in between urban laws and community, and how it is strongly related to human interaction, sometimes finds itself toward challenges for new and fresh contexts to explore. This allows for fast and pragmatic answers to the problem, pushing architects for creative solutions. Still, most of the time architects wandering in these vague setting, suffer in the building step by step and the developing of their own know-how. In this metamorphotic way of work architects are obliged to adapt to the continuous change of the rules.
As an architect, it is important to me to be at the same pace with, as I earlier defined as, the present-ness of the city. It is almost imperative to acquire and approach to each job as it is an independent entity. In order to foresee the end of the process as a happy end, for both, the client and the studio I see it as very important to develop unique methodologies. This inquires a lot of pre-organization and a fine strategy, how one should schedule the timeline from the understanding of the project, analysing, developing of the concept till to the implementation drawing phase. Throughout all these phases, the communication with the client is maybe the most crucial one. A well informed and conscient client, most probably eases the flowy steps of project phases.
The above said would not be an exclusivity to our context. What is quite site specific is what makes the project done. In this aspect, the responsibility of the architect is to understand very well the capacity terms of not only the client, but especially of the market variety of meeting the designs’ requests, or the economical budget of the client to meet architect’s proposals. The next challenge would be, providing a construction company with the right ability to provide the proposed materials and systems of the project. The next challenge would be, given the provided materials and systems, being sure the construction company has employed an appropriate team possessing craftmanship skills to implement the exact details of the project.
Working as an architect in Tirana charges me with a lot of inter-sectorial responsibility, as key person among the non-well-informed clients, provision of limited material and system varieties, and inherited craftmanship skills.
– Which are your three favourite places/buildings in Tirana and why?
– Though being a city that has undergone many authoritarian policies, which have been determinant on urban decision making of the city, Tirana has a unique feature, where people has found ways to de-monumentalize top-down urban spaces and contributing on the making of places. In this transformation process certain spaces or buildings have gained new values by and for, people. There is exactly where this positive tension is created where I would like to illustrate.
Printing over the old organic city pattern, laying on the city during the monarchical system, idealized during the fascist and later by the communist regime, the Skanderbeg square has always kept its monumentality in size and rhetoric. It became the space for power manifestation. Left over, designed, turned down and redesigned, even in the post-communist era, for a long time the square has inherited its feature as a political tool, instead of representing the public urban authority.
Organized by Tirana municipality throughout an international competition, won and implemented project by 51N4E, the Skanderbeg Square is one of the most curated public spaces in the country, and probably the hugest pedestrian public area in the region.
In accordance to the city’s character, where people tend to spend time in the street and interacting with others in the ground floor layer of the city, Skanderbeg square reflects similar as it is disposed to be naturally, instinctively, and unceremoniously used. I appreciate the presence of vegetation in the square as an ambition or an appeal of bringing nature back to the city center. On the other hand, they soften the dominant monumentality of time and invites for human presence to the central void.
The Tirana Pyramid building
Inaugurated in the late 80’s as the Enver Hoxha Museum, the actually so-called Tirana Pyramid was designed to celebrate the communist dictator leader. Since then, the building has embraced a variety of programs such as media center, nightclub, exhibition galleries etc. Abandoned without maintenance the building has lost a lot of its elegance and nowadays is in deteriorated condition. Succeeding to sick mind’s demolishment attempts, very recently it is made official an intervention project by MVRDV, creating big dilemmas on the future identity of one of Albania’s most iconic modernist buildings.
Though ordered to representing the political authority, the building creates a soft relation with the ground. Rather than trying to oppress, it invites to interact with it, offering young people keen to climb on its roof. It creates a humble careful silhouette to the Dajti mountain, being in coherence with the city’s most significant natural feature. The building is gently melt with the ground, elongating its connection with the landscape, as it is meant to be based with the roots on the ground.
The Pyramid and its surroundings used to be the friendliest areas along the monumental boulevard, it was a landmark for the youth to meet and chat and for the children to play, creating a humanizing presence over the dictator’s imprint.
As a post ottoman city born out of organic urban pattern, though Tirana started getting a well-defined shape by the programmed socialist urban blocks within the urban modernist’s meticulous schedule, the city never lost its spirit on the human scale public areas. Small in scales, these neighbourhood voids bear a vital fill inside. It these areas where the urban life happens in the most naïve and original way.
Emerging within strictly residential quarters, these lots compose the centre of a human interactive system supplied of spontaneous functions and services. Apart their social contribute, they serve for the establishment of low and middle size economy supporting neighbourhood community.
– What challenges will Tirana have to face in the future?
– In terms of instrumental planning, Tirana is already a city with a clear attitude and a recently confirmed general local plan to achieve its goals as a polycentric city with the aim on landscape recovery. The general masterplan strategy proposed by Boeri Architects, UNLAB and IND relies on the creation of urban voids to reintroduce public space, by generating a new dialogue between nature and the city. As romantic as it sounds, meanwhile the city must challenge an urge to the pressure of commercial development. It is obvious that uncontrolled development of the 90’s and 00’s has affected not little the public space quality of the city. As it is true that, ‘what is done wrong cannot be repaired’ perception, push the city towards a delicate and real estate valued urbanization.
In this new condition, to my perception, it is fundamental that the city should draft a clear strategy onto acknowledge its own values that form its identity, while seeking to re-establish the position of decision makers and ‘city makers’. Tirana citizens has showed that they can endure political propaganda, activating their own little space, by making a huge contribution to the city social life. By creating mixed-use zones spread all over the city, they have shown resistance to the forming of monofunctional districts.
In my opinion, preserving this feature would be Tirana’s one of the main challenges for the future.
Maintaining the city for people, in Jan Gehl terms, where the eager to invest of some corporates, would not allow their children to be grown in gated communities; allowing the mixed-used and lively ground floor phenomenon to continue to co-exist homogenously throughout the city, despite market hall tendency; activating public space as areas of whether beside institutional, commercial or residential blocks; redefining the periphery between the aggressive urban expansion towards the fragile natural assets by integrating agricultural issues and encompassing all the components at once would be part of the immediate development models in the actual metamorphosis of the city.
And last, but not least, while trying to give answer to the temporary issues via permanent methodologies, integrating, motivating and supporting the local know-how and human resources. Tirana as many other cities are struggling against brain migration, the addressing of these issues would cease to be sustainable with the exclusion of the ones, who wishes not to leave, but live the city.
For more, take a look at the original article below: