Skanderbeg Square

Skanderbeg Square—in its 2008 state—inspired a sense of awe, and possessed a certain indefinition that created a feeling of openness.

The design reorganizes the vast ex-communist space in a simple yet radical manner, opening it up to new ways of reading.

In a complex and dense urban context, on this site that is both the core of the Albanian capital city and a symbol for the whole country, the project presents itself as a void in the chaos of the city: a flat pyramid (177m x 157m) lined by a densely planted periphery, formed by a collection of old and new public spaces and gardens. The resulting green belt acts as an antechamber negotiating the transition between the congested city and the square, but also linking the existing monumental buildings together. The oppressive monumentality of the Communist architecture is counteracted by the ample and low pyramid making up the square. Indeed, from the center of the void, when standing at the tip of the pyramid, the citizens find themselves at par with the authoritarian architecture of the past.

The green belt around the square is made up of 12 gardens, each of them linked to one or more of the public or private institutions lining the square. The spatial organization of theses gardens, as well as their technical aspects were studied in dialogue with all the main actors of the project over the course of several workshops. The result is a set of contextualized interventions, inviting public and semi-public neighboring functions to spread into the exterior space, thus activating the edge of the central void.

In the end, the project has delivered a set of situations ready to be embodied. With boundaries as places, as possible points of connections that generate openness, at once orchestrated and by chance. The goal is that this openness will invite the citizens of Albania to take over, to use the stage as an opportunity to produce themselves.

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The execution of the first phase of Skanderbeg Square took almost a decade to complete and is the result of an intense and “fusional” collaboration. While collaborating on the design, 51N4E and Anri Sala erased the boundaries between disciplines and focused on what it means to make public space.

During the execution of the design, the collaboration was experimental, introducing new ideas and testing new practices. 51N4E and Plant en Houtgoed jointly developed the concept of the Urban Ecosystem, merging a spa-tial and ecological approach. With iRI, a new Albanian company, the notion of project implementation was expanded to create a learning environment that integrates local and international expertise.

The project was revised in 2016 along with a wide range of collaborators and stakeholders, which together and through a ‘process in dialogue’ tackle the main questions for an ambitious plan on Tirana’s future. Skanderbeg square will become the first reassuring step for Tirana’s strategic compass. As the central square of an age old country that is developing into a very young democracy, the project compresses all the hopes and tensions that come with that transition.

Another aspect of the project is its full extent design with local materials. In the case of the central square, both materials (stone) and implementation details have been tailored to local solutions. Different stones from all over Albania were used for the 129.600 tiles that build the square. When the many fountains are active the leaking water reveals the multi-coloured surface showing its beauty. This process brought about a detailed research on the location, capacity and qualities of the various natural stones of Albania contributing to the creation a living catalogue for Albania’s natural stone resources.

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The square’s green belt was treated as the beginning of an urban forest, the starting point of a reflection on the whole city as an urban ecosystem. The square was approached as part of a metabolism, contributing to the improvement of its environment and conscious of the various connections with its immediate as well as more remote surroundings.

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