‘Build it and they will come’: Tirana’s plan for a ‘kaleidoscope metropolis’
If you stand in the middle of Tirana’s vast Skanderbeg Square and turn 360 degrees, you will see Italian fascist architecture, buildings in the Russian and Chinese communist style, a mosque, an Orthodox Christian church, the gleaming glass rectangle of the Tirana International Hotel and the bleak carcass of the unfinished Archea tower.
Tirana doesn’t follow the pattern of most European cities. The square is in the middle, but there is no city centre as such, and no major shopping street comparable to Regent Street or the Rue de Rivoli. Nor is there the familiar conjugation of chain stores – no Zara, no Mango, no Nando’s or McDonalds.
Everything about the city feels haphazard. And now one man is charged with bringing it to order.
Tirana’s lively, chaotic urban fabric reflects its extraordinary history. In 1912, Albania won independence from the Ottomans, only to be occupied by Mussolini’s fascists in 1939, then liberated by the communist militias who ushered in a repressive and paranoid regime under the personality cult of Enver Hoxha. For 45 years, it was a Balkans version of North Korea.