Pyramid of Tirana by MVRDV

In the heart of Albania’s capital city, a new kind of cultural hub is now open and accessible to the public. The Pyramid of Tirana, originally built as a museum dedicated to the communist dictator Enver Hoxha, has been dramatically transformed by MVRDV. Reusing the concrete structure, the Pyramid is now an open sculpture in a new park.

The park and the sculpture are home to an ensemble of colourful boxes, scattered in and around the original building that now house cafés, studios, workshops, start-up offices, incubators, festivals, and classrooms where Albanian youth will learn various technology subjects for free. Steps have been added to the building’s sloping façades, allowing the people of Albania to literally walk all over the showpiece of the former dictator.

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Even though Tirana’s Pyramid was until recently a building site, it was already heavily in use the past summer. Besides Albanians enjoying the city views, the Pyramid was also discovered by tourists as a hidden gem. With an EU Summit and the official inauguration of the building as a free educational faculty for Albanian teens by TUMO on October 16th, the Pyramid is now officially giving back to the people. First opened as a museum in 1988, the Pyramid of Tirana has led numerous lives.

Since the fall of the communist regime, the building was variously used as a radio station, a nightclub, a conference venue, a broadcast centre and, during the 1999 Kosovo War, a base for NATO. The ever-changing uses, along with incomplete previous renovation plans, left behind a patchwork of alterations that made the interior cluttered and dark. In recent decades, the question of what to do with the building proved highly controversial.

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

A study published in 2015, however, showed that the majority of Albanians were opposed to demolishing the building, and in 2017 this desire was honoured when the government announced plans to transform the concrete monolith. This promise was carried out with the help of the Albanian#American Development Foundation (AADF) and the Municipality of Tirana, with the decision made to turn the building into a nurturing environment for young Albanians.

For many Albanians the Pyramid is a symbol of victory over the regime, and MVRDV’s design was inspired by the way that they had reclaimed the building. After the death of the dictator, the deteriorating structure had long served as a hangout spot for Tirana’s youth, who would climb the sloping beams and – not without risk – slide back down. Now, steps rise up the sloping sides, allowing people of all ages to climb to the top of the building.

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

On the western side, a lift gives access to the top of the Pyramid for those who can’t climb the steps, while one beam incorporates a sloped section where people can still slide to the bottom.“The first time I saw the Pyramid being walked all over by the youth of Tirana, I was deeply
touched by its symbolism and by its incredible optimism”, says MVRDV founding partnerWiny Maas.

“Keeping in mind this was the most expensive building the communist state had ever realised in a time when the oppressed Albanian population was living in poverty, we removed all symbols glorifying the dictatorship in our transformation. We did keep some of the original details so visitors are also aware of the building’s dark past. The structure is completely open as a ruin in the park, and all these boxes are ‘squatting’ in and around the structure.

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Once sardonically called the ‘Enver Hoxha Mausoleum’, the transformed Pyramid has now become a monument for the people and their ability to overcome and outlive dictators.” The work of MVRDV’s design team encompasses and encircles the existing structure, using the structure as a blueprint to which publicly accessible spaces and boxes for education and events were added.

A stack of coloured boxes containing rooms for education and events are scattered in and around the structure and the park. These colourful additions are also found on top of the structure, and in the park at the front of the building, giving the surroundings the atmosphere of a festival and even a “squatted” area.

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Around half of these spaces will house non-profit educational institution TUMO Tirana, which provides free afterschool education for 12- to 18-year-olds in new techniques such as software, robotics, animation, music, and film. The other half of the coloured boxes will be accessible to the public, hosting rental spaces for cafés, restaurants, start-up offices and labs, incubators, studio spaces, and more.

The transformation of the Pyramid shows how a building can be made suitable for a new era, while at the same time preserving its complex history. As the majority of the structure is open to the surroundings for most of the year, only the added boxes housing the educational program need to be climate-controlled, reducing energy consumption. Social sustainability is advanced in the building’s new use, with the educational programme advancing education and preparing the next generation for success. Source by MVRDV.

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Location: Tirana, Albania

Architect: MVRDV

Founding Partner in charge: Winy Maas

Partner: Stefan de Koning

Design Team: Ronald Hoogeveen, Stavros Gargaretas, Guido Boeters, Angel Sanchez Navarro, Boris Tikvarski, Jasper van der Ven, Mirco Facchinelli, Manuel Magnaguagno, Leo Stuckardt

Visualisations: Antonio Luca Coco, Luca Piattelli, Jaroslaw Jeda, Luana La Martina, Gianlorenzo Petrini

Strategy and Development: Willeke Vester, Daan van Goo

Education partner: TUMO Tirana

Co-architect: iRI Architecture

Contractor: Fusha shpk

Project coordination: Albanian-American Development Foundation (AADF)

Landscape architect: iRI; JESHILE; MVRDV

Structural engineer: ARUP; Gentian Lipe; Luan Murtaj

MEP: ARUP; iRI; Nikolin Risilia; Artur Dado; Isuf Kore

Monuments Expert: Daniel Gjoni

Cost calculation: iRI Architecture

Environmental advisor: Arben Liç

Client: Albanian-American Development Foundation (AADF)

Programmes: Educational , Mixed use , Retail , Cultural

Surface: 11835 m2

Year: 2023

Photographs: Ossip van Duivenbode, Courtesy of MVRDV

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode

Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode




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