Apr 23, 2015

Public Realm | Throwback Photos of Tirana in 2012

While cleaning out a few old files, I found these photos I took circa 2012 in Tirana. The city center was under heavy construction at the time. One of the worst public realm projects ever.


Public Realm | In search of missing pieces

Earlier tonight, I sat in a wonderful lecture by Lisbon-based CVDB Arquitectos at Lawrence Technological University, College of Architecture & Design. Their interest and work encompasses all aspects of public realm (schools, theaters, museums, etc.) which is great of course, but what struck me most, is their intimate and tactile design response to such a broad scale. In order to create successful places of quality and sensibility - where people can gather as well as transform - they draw inspiration, understanding and resources from local cities and own country: its history and heritage, its terrain and changes in topography, its everyday culture and artistry by bringing together local materials, the abundance of natural light, and colorful gestures and forms. They see “color as material” and to understand it and its spatial effects as such, they work closely with color consultants in collaborations that always turn into eye-opening teaching experiences. Fascinating, isn't it?! The science behind the design.

Listening to this process, (while thinking how thoughtful and fantastic it all is) I realize that i haven't even considered to ask (publicly) if there are any color consultants or scientists (not artists) in Albania, and what would be their professional take on its colorful (now fading) capital Tirana. Do we even have any color scientists in Albania? Also, if the entire city has been through the 'painting urbanism' movement, what would a successful public realm architecture be like now (be that a plaza or a building)? Would it refuse color? What is the science that backs up the design?

So many questions I have about the public condition in Albania as a potential (latent or not) catalyst for restoring, re-stitching, or re-directing our identity (or what's left of it) that I can't help but wonder if we've framed the problem correctly before mimicking copy-pasted readymade solutions. As our city changes, our awareness and demands of it change accordingly, so what worked or was forced upon it a decade ago might be (and probably is) obsolete today. A lesson learned, not a round #2. A city changes because we change (ever so slightly). How do we, then, design public space, a cityscape, for our past, present, and future selves? A smart-city (not only tech-savy) that is clever and witty, approachable, resilient and user friendly, intuitive of our past-to-future character (even identity)? What remains, changes, and is created anew? What would a future Albania and Albanians be (known for)?

Tapestry Museum in Arraiolos by cvbd arquitectos

I mention the work of CVDB Arquitectos because from what I saw and heard tonight, I think their design approach and subsequent proposals for public realm projects that include architecture + landscape + urbanism are successful, not only in quality and sensibility, but in transformation and resilience of people, cities and country, using architectural elements and gestures (tectonic and phenomenological) in knowing and choosing what to emphasize, change, and create anew. They understand people, the material resources their country provides, its climate and aesthetics, the values of its artistry and heritage, and how the public(s) (user and object, old and new, city and building, behavior, mentality, complexes, etc.) is made of all of these things and does not appear out of thin air. Although this last one is not improbable, it is a discussion for another time.

Braamcamp Freire Secondary School by cvbd arquitectos

**The photos I have included here are from two of the projects they presented that stayed with me: the Tapestry Museum in Arraiolos and the Braamcamp Freire Secondary School.


Apr 21, 2015

Dérive #Tirana | In search of missing pieces

“not a town planning project, but rather a way of thinking, of imagining, of looking at things and at life.” 1
On the eve(s) of new competing campaigns for the ultimate power honor of reigning over serving Tirana, I'd like to point out that the city is a public space and the ultimate power is held by its people. Their vote will elect. Their vote does not mean ownership, but participation. Engagement. Responsibility. Competence. Their vote and subsequent implementation of what it represents will determine the kind of comprehensive public(s) we will have (physically, socially, economically, politically).

Will it be a (Roman) Arena or a (Greek) Agora?
Will it favor:
Spectacle or Discourse?
Spectatorship or Participation?
Separation or Integration?

Materialism or Idealism?
Image or Value?

Power or Demos(cracy vs. crazy)?
Ownership or Accessibility?

Public polity in Albania is in desperate need of “a stiff, clarifying test...” 2

There will be a lot of talk about the (physical) infrastructure of public space, which is fine because Tirana definitely needs it - but again, I think many will steer away from the real problem, identifying the real public polemic. A public that has been hiding in plain sight. A public in fight and/or flight.
Once identified, how, do we then see it? How do we engage it, not enforce it?
What is its public dimension? Is it a landmark or an entire urban context?
Is it made of signage, architecture or bodies?
What is its public threshold? Is it edging domesticity, privatization, or blighted voids?
What are its public multitudes? What are its habitats: humans, ecology, pollution, etc.?
What is the public condition in Tirana?
“Is it possible to imagine collective human agency as productive of something playful, joyous, communal, even beautiful?” 3
As we approach election season, I'd like to remind all involved: those who are strategizing the implementation of what public vote stands for (i.e. campaign promises) and those of us who will indirectly be involved by writing, discussing, consulting and challenging along the way and from far away - to not be so short-sighted and get lost in the creative promises of town planning projects of art and architecture, but dig deep into our capabilities as citizen voters, holding the power of electing our public servants, that these elections are our public space, that our vote is our right to access, use and transform the city.
“Beneath the pavement, the beach. Wherever the boredom with given forms of art, politics, thought, everyday life jackhammers through the carapace of mindless form, the beach emerges, where form is ground down to particles, to the ruin of ruins. There lies what the old mole is always busy making: the materials for the construction of situations. These too might be recuperated into mere art or writing some day, and sooner rather than later, but not before their glorious time. Our species-being is as builders of worlds. Should we consent to inhabit this given one as our resting place, we're dead already. There may be no dignified exits left to the twenty-first century, the century of the flying inflatable turd, but there might at least be some paths to adventure. The unexamined life is not worth living, but the unlived life doesn't bear thinking about.” 4


1 Constant, “Lecture Given at the ICA, London” (1963), The Decomposition of the Artist, p. 9 (a). As noted in McKenzie Wark's The Beach Beneath the Street, p.144.
2 William H. Whyte and Albert LaFarge. The Essential William H. Whyte, New York: Fordham UP, 2000. Page 317.
3 McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street, p.144.
4 McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street, p.159.