Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dictatorship, propaganda and architecture

By Gjergj Erebara
Bunkers, in the subliminal of Albanians are not only symbols of isolation or military defense system but they are mainly the symbol of unclean public toilets that can be used in extreme cases. Unfortunately, for those whose youth years happened to occur in early '90s, the bunkers are a symbol as the place of the first kiss, premarital love or whoring. In this context, Albanians has developed a different meaning from foreigners on the matter.
After '90s, freedom and economic development brought among other things "per hour hotel services" and coffee shops, so the bunkers were transformed in a symbol of the nonsense past. But since they have not any function now days, they are fading away from people's mind. Our eyes are used to see such structures while our mind does not pay attention.
Anyway, foreigners that visit Albania are amazed by such defense system so two Albanian students has developed the idea to transform the bunkers in hostels or gift-shops.

Concrete apartment blocks
The bunkers are only a part of the landscape that was created by the communism. Prefabricated apartments appeared in Albania in the beginning of 80s, when the government discovered a cheap and fast way to build homes in a country that experienced, in that time, an unusual population growth and faced severe scarcity in dwelling space. Such buildings are also hated in whole east countries. In East Berlin after the collapse of communism, facades were covered with stones to look better. The complete centralization in fiscal revenues in Albania made it impossible for Tirana’s local authorities to run such expensive projects.
The Major of Tirana Edvin Rama tried to resolve the problem by creating a "Disney Land" town by painting the prefabricated concrete apartment blocks in bright colors and with strange figures. That was the only way to make the communism era architecture look interesting.
Another Albanian painter commented in that occasion that Mr. Rama's work with colors was something like "covering the shit with a paper", this is an Albanian saying. So the prefabricated apartment blocks will remain a shit although they are now colored in unusual forms.

The communist shrines
The communism created many other buildings that served to represent the new religion. They were like shrines for communism and really, no one likes them despite the fact that some may look interesting.
Several foreign architects, those who were serious in their duty, advised Albanian governments to simply put down several buildings in the "Skanderbeg" square and on "Deshmoret e Kombit" boulevard. It is told like a legend that, the last communist government invited in 1989 an Italian architect to be advised for managing the central square of Tirana. He suggested to put down Tirana's International Hotel, (the so-called the Fifteen stores building), the National Museum that was build as a propaganda place and the Palace of Culture; (build during the soviet alliance). Some Albanian intellectuals call it The Palace of Anti-Culture.
In 2002, an Dutch architecture studio advised to destroy the Piramida, the somehow luxury mausoleum build for the former dictator Enver Hoxha, which doesn't take much to understand that is like a Pyramid for the last pharaoh. It was a very expensive project build when Albanians were dying hungry. Now it is neither functional, (it could not be used for anything), nor beautiful.
All such advises, although logical in urban context, are not realistic because of economic reasons. So, the main solution was based on reinventing Tirana instead of preserving the past. But the reinvention looks far away too from the economic reality. So, it good or not, Tirana will remain a strange town were several low-cost experiments created a non-town environment that will last.


Anonymous said...

hello gjergi, i am a photographer from berlin coming to albania for a project with 5 other germans and 5 albanian photographers... i would like to talk to you about albania... how can i contact you... email, phone.... thx a lot, jan zappner

Anonymous said...

oh gjergji, u are maybe as much a product of tirana life as tirana its self. its a pity not to enjoy what we are as i think there is brightness and will always be, no matter the ugly things all around us