Despite adopting a new masterplan for Tirana supervised by Italian architect Stefano Boeri, which was approved on April 4 by the National Territorial Council, it appears that Mayor Erion Veliaj will continue the implementation of the so-called “French Plan,” the first masterplan of Tirana drafted under former Tirana Mayor Edi Rama.
In an interview with with Blendi Salaj from blog Peshku pa ujë, 51N4E architect Johan Anrys confirmed that several skyscraper will be built around Skënderbeg Square.
The TID Tower made the small Belgian company famous, it was their first big work. Now they are drafting also a skyscraper behind the Clock Tower, in an area that so far has not been utilized. Anrys only has one worry, that the new tower will partially block the TID Tower, the Plaza Hotel, for those who look at it from the square. But it will completely block the Drini Tower, which is a good thing. The one behind the Clock Tower will not be the only new tower. The entire square will be surrounded with skyscrapers. One immediately behind Hotel Tirana, which will make it look small. Another one will be erected between Kavaja Street and Durrës Street. The new boulevard and polycentric Tirana are on the way, but also Skënderbeg Square will be surrounded by high towers. At 100 meter distance you can go from the Ottoman mosque to fascist or communist architecture, all of it in the shadow of modern skyscrapers.
Salaj’s interview thus announced three new towers: one behind Tirana International Hotel, one between Kavaja Street and Durrës Street, and one behind the Clock Tower. Nothing has been made officially public about these projects, nor is it clear whether the National Territorial Council has approved any of these projects as the council – against the law – has not published any decisions on its website since April 14.
The tower behind the Tirana International Hotel was apparently approved by the KKT on April 14, although its website does not mention the decision. The tower will be 111 meters high, and, according to the digital renders, golden.
According to documents secured by Gazeta Shqiptare, the application for the building permit was made by Alban Efthimi, the owner of architecture studio Atelier 4. Atelier 4 has been one the main collaborators of Rama since his time as mayor of Tirana. Atelier 4 was recently involved in the scandal surrounding the illegal Gjirokastra Bypass.
The skyscraper between Durrës Street and Kavaja Street is called “The Eyes of Tirana,” and is the result of an architecture competition from 2003, which was won by the Danish Henning Larsen Architects. The project will comprise
flats, offices and shops totaling 55,000 m2 with a 26-storeyed tower as landmark. Situated in the city centre the building will be the first visible result of a large-scale ambitious masterplan for Tirana.
The “large-scale ambitious masterplan” is the French Plan, discussed below.
The Eyes of Tirana will be developed by Edil Al-It, which project construction work to start in 2018. Edil Al-It, a company owned by the Dulaku brothers, is very close to Prime Minister Edi Rama. They recently won also the tender to renovate the Theater of Opera and Ballet, across Skënderbeg Square in the Palace of Culture. They are also the owners of TV channel Vizion Plus.
The company is involved in a lawsuit against regular Exit contributor Artan Rama, who recently won a journalism award from the European Union.
About the third tower behind the Clock Tower, nothing is known. The plot has remained unused for years, most probably due to ownership issues. The apartment block next to it is of architectural significance, as it was the first “high-rise building” built by the Italians in the city, and was for a long time the tallest building in the city.
The “French Plan”
The French Plan is the result of the first masterplan competition held by Mayor Edi Rama in 2003. The jury was chaired by then Prime Minister Fatos Nano, and further consisted of Mayor Rama, Helmut Schroeder, Jean-Michel Guénod, Mario Pisani, Rudy Stroink, Olafur Eliasson, Lothar Greulich, and Elia Zenghelis.
The competition included plans of Architecture Studio, Bolles+Wilson, and Mecanoo, and won by the first one. The “French Plan,” as their project was dubbed later, contained the following components:
- Skënderbeg Square: An additional competition was held, which was won by 51N4E + Anri Sala. The plan was partially executed with Kuwaiti funds, but was aborted in 2011 when Lulzim Basha became mayor of Tirana. In 2016 Erion Veliaj pledged to implement the original designs, including additional park space. Recently, the square was reopened, with an additional, unplanned parking garage.
- Mother Theresa Square: No plan was made for the square, which was hastily “restored” for the visit of Pope Francis in September 2014.
- Ten Towers: Of the ten projected towers that were supposed to surround the center of Tirana, only two have been (partially) realized. The TID Tower, designed by 51N4E was opened in 2016, whereas the 4EverGreen Tower (Arcea Architetti) is currently bankrupt. The Eyes of Tirana was part of the original ten towers, whereas the Tirana International Hotel and the tower behind the Clock Tower are additions also visible on the architectural renders of the plan.
- Underground parking: Realized underneath Skënderbeg Square through a last-minute addition of Rama. Underground parking is also planned underneath the Youth Park. Underground parking is also an integral aspect of the 2016 Tirana Masterplan of Stefano Boeri.
- Museum for Religious Harmony: An architecture competition was organized in 2011 under the title “A Mosque for All,” which was supposed to include the museum. It was, however, never realized. The idea returned in 2015 under the project title “Faith Park,” which has been absorbed as “World Park” into the 2016 Tirana Masterplan.
- Train Station: The renovation of the train station and the square in front of it was never realized. In 2012, Grimshaw Architects and DAR Group won Lulzim Basha’s 2012 Central Tirana Masterplan Competition. Their plan envisioned the extension of the main boulevard northward toward the Tirana river, and has been absorbed into Boeri’s 2016 masterplan. The train station and surrounding infrastructure was subsequently destroyed. No official news about a new train station has reported.
- The New Ring Road: Owing to expropriation issues, the New Ring was never finished. However, works seem to have restarted in 2016 under Erion Veliaj and completion is expected.
Who are 51N4E?
51N4E is a Belgian architecture firm that has been involved in corruption with Albanian government tenders, leading to the dismissal of his colleague Peter Swinnen as state architect of Flanders. Swinnen is still the legal representative of the Albanian branch of 51N4E. They have been part of nearly every urban regeneration initiative of Edi Rama since he took office as mayor of Tirana.
51N4E has been involved in both acknowledged and unacknowledged projects, including the grave of Dritan Hoxha, former owner of TOP Channel and close friend of Rama, the Skënderbeg Square renovation (with Anri Sala), the TID Tower, the Center for Openness and Dialogue in the Prime Ministry, the monuments for the victims of January 21, and the private villa of Rama in Surrel. Anrys and his colleague Freek Persyn have also been jury members for many architecture competitions organized by Rama both as mayor and as prime minister.