Tirana is perceived as ideal city not just because the fathers of our nation-state had exactly this thing in mind when they decided in 1920 to designate Tirana, a relatively small and unimportant city in the middle of Albania as our capital city, or because during the communist period, centralized dictatorship diminished the role of everything that does not served the centralization and creating an ideal center. Nor is it because the fact that our politicians after failing their promise for reform in order to integrate Albania into European Union, are using precisely this ideal in their rhetoric. As the failure to comply with EU standards casts a shadow over everyone of us, bringing Tirana closer to its ideal notion (as they call it “Tirana a European City” made reality by projects imported from European design studios) certainly is easier, free, and comes with its own heroes. Tirana the ideal city is a ready-made product for any politician. And that has its own reason. It is because its hundreds of thousands of inhabitants and the rest of the Albanian people see it this way – the political and economic center of their nation. Tirana is an ideal city because for hundred of thousands of newcomers, in the mass migration after the collapse of communism, is the most important place where their aspirations for a better life and opportunities can become reality. It is an ideal city because it is brought through a nostalgic image by its old inhabitants who remember their city with public spaces, with specific architecture and urban fabric, now all replaced by high-rise building typology (the symbol and the reality of real-estate), with parks and playgrounds deteriorated or no longer existing and with a strong presence of nature already gone. It is an ideal city for all Albanians who look at it as it represents nation’s educational and cultural aspirations. It is a symbol of unity and neutrality (it is chosen to be the capital city precisely for this reason). Tirana is a city that has never been perceived inside any simple reality, always outside the simple existence, trying to find its way through the ideal conditions that its and big aspirations that its inhabitants and the nation set for it.
It is hard to say in case of Tirana whether the “ideal city” comes before the “nation city”. As Sami Frasheri, Albanian philosopher, one of the most important minds of our nation creation, conceived it way before he would have thought of Tirana as the capitol city, in his book “Albania, what it was, what it is, and what it will become”, Tirana would incorporate later both his geographical and political visions as its main conditions for a capitol city. Before it was designated the capitol city of Albania, Tirana was a small medieval town, with a rural undeveloped infrastructure, where rather than for its architecture was known for its gardens and waters going in the middle of the city. Choosing Tirana, a relatively unimportant city as the Albanian capitol city, came as a compromise (mostly to avoid any resentment among different important cities and regions). As geographical and political factors played a big role, its urban and architectural structure was mostly ignored. This fact would prove later to be crucial on the organization of the capital city. Its urban and architectural structure was not fit to accommodate the administrative needs of a government. Faced with property and infrastructure problems, the new administrative center of the city had to be developed separately from the structure of the existing city, and for a considerable period of time they had to lead their own lives, growing in different directions. The attempt to unify the city will appear later under the presence and the pressure of the ideologies, first fascism and later communism. In both cases different plans to unify the city were conceived, changing drastically the existing fabric, opening the way to tabula rasa zoning and planning.
As the fall of the ideologies was unavoidable the notion of a united city remains. A unity that is constituted by one identity; the identity of “nation city” which competes with that of “nation-state” (Appadurai, “Modernity at Large” p.189), its social and cultural identities that contradict the political frameworks and global identities. This nation city, as much as it longs for its own unity, it also needs to open in different directions and different perspectives, towards a city without boundaries, a city without form, a “rhizomatic” city (Deleuze, Guatari).
Planning is an important part of Tirana’s notion of the ideal city. It was used for different goals and means whether political, ideological, or mere practical. Ideological planning is Tirana’s ever-present companionship in its modern development (Tirana has experienced four different master plans comprising both Italian fascist occupation and communist period). But the nature of this planning does not recognize the city’s older identities, neither does it recognize the ideologies that it was supposed to serve. The nature of planning is arrogant. After the ideologies are gone planning becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy, and the synonym of modernization. On the other hand thisideological dangerous weapon (Planning) is in constant opposition to the self regulating organisms of the city. It can be used by everyone, everywhere without any meaning and for every purpose. It is empty from any content and so is the city it produces. It is the worst enemy of the “rhizomatic” city, of the city without dominant ideologies. It is a suffocating tool, it is the prison of the self regulated city.
City of resistance is the city of expression. Tirana is the perfect example to show how outside ideologies can shape the architecture and even its urban environment but they cannot change the nature of the city. What is perceived as chaos today in Tirana is the natural reaction of the city towards ideological planning, and what is perceived as order is what is causing the chaos. The planned city is replaced by the city of phenomenology; the reaction against the public space. As in the communist period the city was constructed around the public space, the private space was constantly ignored, undeveloped, and progressively violated through the phenomenology of kiosks, occupation of the public space for private means, and finally the deterioration of the public space. It all appears like metamorphoses of the planned city, a moment of hallucination, more than an abuse of economic freedom and movement; it is an overreaction towards the public space. On the other hand, outside the city, another city very different from the first is taking shape. Hundred of thousands of people, deprived form their freedom of choice during the communism, finally were free; destroyed but hopeful. They create a new lifecycle for the city. Looking for the fulfillment of their aspirations, they occupy the old city during the day, but during the night they occupy the other city, the ghost city, the periphery of the city, as in a way to emphasize even further the contrast and the awkward relationship of the center and the periphery “…a disguised insistence on the priority of and dependency on the center; without center no periphery….The persistence of the present concentric obsession makes us…..second-class citizens in our own civilization” (Rem Koolhaas, Bruce Mau, “S,M,L,XL” p.1249). And more so are the new ‘citizens’ of the ghost city, as they challenge the notion of Tirana as a unified city, formal and informal structures. On the other hand, both of these structures are supported by another phenomena; the informal market without any connection to the structured economy, which regenerates and connects everything that is informal, jeopardizing the existence of any legitimate structure. But the final transfiguration has still to come from an opposite direction. The ideological planning meets real-estate, both formal and informal. Different building typologies appear, and the morphology of the city changes fast. This brings the final transfiguration which is overwhelming. The city gives up any resistance.
Tirana’s aspirations lay deeper in its inhabitants dreams. They lay on the new appreciation for their public space. In the desire of people to bring together and respect even most incompatible ideas, cultures and religions, and put them above politics. On the respect for the city laws from its most recent and newest citizens. On the understanding and the respect of spaces and boundaries, both public and private, according to their higher principles. On the understanding of the important role the people who serve this city have to shape its future. As they gradually wake up also their dreams are articulated, and translated into notions and aspirations. Not only of its architectural expression, but of very important political and social notions. On the understanding of city’s economy, where the structured economy meets the formal economy, under the diagnosis of “temporary fusion between informal processes and “mature” institutions might be read as blueprint for progressive urban strategies”. (Rem Koolhas, “Mutations” p.708). On the self-regulatory city where the city law and community self organization meet each other, where “the transformation of spaces into places requires a conscious moment” (Appadurai, “Modernity at Large” p.183). They lay on the city that has still to come.
- Deluze, Guattari, “Introduction: Rhizome,” in A Thousand Plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia (Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press, 1986), pp. 3-25
- Ajurn Appadurai, “The Production of Locality,” in Appadurai, Modernity at Large (Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press, 1996) pp. 178-99
- Rem Koolhaas, “The Generic City,” in S,M,L,XL (NY: Monacelli Press, 1995), pp. 1248-64
- Rem Koolhaas, et al., eds. Mutations: Harvard Project in the City (Bordeaux: ACTAR, 2001), pp.652-719
GSAPP August, 2005