Thu, May 02, 2019 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Tirana’s ‘pyramid’ to be reborn as technology hub

AFP, TIRANA

A former museum that was named after former Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha is pictured in Tirana on Feb. 7.

Photo: AFP

The sprawling, space-age “pyramid” in Tirana’s center had many uses before falling into ruin: Built as a museum for a dictator, it later hosted a NATO base, TV studio, nightclub and more.

After years of neglect, the crumbling structure is now set for another rebirth as an information technology hub in the heart of Albania’s fast-changing capital.

“I don’t think there is anyone who thinks it is beautiful, but it’s a sort of a landmark of the city and people want to preserve them in a city that has lost a lot” to development, said Joni Baboci, a city hall architect involved with the redesign.

The 11,400m2 behemoth has triangular wedges of graffiti-covered marble and dark window panes that meet at a peak, giving it the pyramid look.

For the project’s architects, its overhaul is about striking a balance between preserving and reclaiming a relic from a dark period of Albanian history.

The bizarre building was erected 30 years ago to glorify the life of then-dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruthlessly ruled Albania for four decades until his death in 1985.

After communism collapsed a few years later, the museum was shuttered and the pyramid became a venue for a merry-go-round of uses, reflecting the explosion of culture in a nation that had been hermetically sealed under Hoxha’s iron grip.

However, for the past 10 years the building has sat virtually abandoned, aside from the locals and tourists who can be seen scaling its walls for the 360° city view at the top.

When authorities announced plans to demolish the pyramid several years ago, protests broke out, revealing how the unusual monument had won its way into people’s hearts.

The demolition plan was scrapped and city hall came back last year with a project to turn the pyramid into a digital learning center.

“We thought there couldn’t be a better symbol than giving the building back to Albanian society in its best form, to the kids, for their future education,” said Martin Mata, of the Albanian-American Development Foundation, which is funding the more than US$10 million renovation.

It is a fitting purpose for a nation suffering from high youth unemployment and emigration rates.

Designs revealed last month by Dutch firm MVRDV open the structure on all sides of the ground floor, bring light into the atrium with more glass, surround it with trees and carve stairs onto its exterior to make the pyramid walls a safer climb.

“The pyramid will be open to everyone” and the building will be nearly “transparent,” chief architect Winy Maas said at a presentation in Tirana.

Inside will be a mix of commercial space and a learning center for young people, run by non-profit group Tumo, offering classes in computer programming, design and other digital skills.

For Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj the project is a “story of resurrection” — for the pyramid and Albania itself.

“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the start of [Albania’s] transition, the question has been how do we make Albania great again?” he said.

The pyramid’s renovation is part of a dizzying amount of transformation that the nation’s capital has undergone.

The collapse of communism unleashed a massive wave of migration from rural areas to the capital, leading to unchecked construction, an explosion of vehicles and chaotic urban spaces.

As mayor of Tirana in the early 2000s, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama gave the city a major facelift by splashing its drab communist buildings with bright colors and bold patterns.

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