Conceptual diagram of the transportation in center of Tirana, showing two main direction of circulation: North-South in red and East-West in blue
There have been few articles in this blog intended as a critique on the state of transportation in Tirana. Still, besides criticizing, as an architect and urban designer, one has to offer solutions, which are two roles that go hand in hand. In fact, the act of proposing something is a downright critique of reality, taking the ultimate position on an issue, whether endorsing the status-quo or proposing something new (going against the status-quo is actually the position coined as “critical” in academia).
The problems one faces with the transportation in Tirana are not simply design issues; most of them are managerial, economic and even political issues. At the same time I believe, nothing helps resolving problems more than having a footprint on things that one can do.
Yet, as a cautionary note, i like to point out that rather modest presentations in this blog are a far cry for being solutions. They serve to approach more critically the proposals, or the lack of proposals, for the transportation in Tirana. On the other hand, it is not through the critique itself, but through the reaction, or more precisely the ability to embrace criticism – which in itself is a sign of health – that serves the system the most. Yet, this reaction kind of reaction, openness towards criticism, is the one lacking the most in actual political or bureaucratic system in Albania.
How does one look at the issues of transportation and urban design critically in Tirana, or of any city of historical significance for that matter? Is there any model that can be easily adopted?
Certainly not! And still, from the past experience, or known facts, one can make few assumptions about the city that can serve either as a starting point, or as a framework.
In my opinion two are the main problems one faces dealing with the transportation. First; the role of the transportation in defining the city, considering its capacity to reconstruct both activities and spaces in the city. Second; the homogenizing and sometimes contradictory nature of the infrastructure development in historic centers.
Although, the resolution of the transportation has the ability to frame the project, it is hardly what would drive the project’s ideas, especially when one considers the widening in the scope of urban design to historical and cultural issues. Yet, historical centers, as they being to surround themselves by commercial infrastructure and auto-routes, and transform towards more metropolitan or megalopolis developments with ever growing relationship between the center and periphery, are made possible only through transportation infrastructure as a physical platform. The choices on the type of transportation means that one can decide whether; to isolate, or open historic centers; to give access to public transportation, or to advance private ones; to densify the usage of the land, or not; to provide access to certain resources to different populations, or to deny them the access; to frame the landscape, protect the environment and preserve it, or allow access to development and to rapid change; to promote certain activities against the others (for example: industrial vs. cultural), and so on.
But the development and choices on infrastructure do not always appear to be positive. The cultural and historical diversity of the city – the trend of development today – that the projects in historic centers pretend to promote, opens them to homogenizing commercial developments. Most of the time they reduce the architecture and urban design to image-making, collapsing them under the weight of issues that can not be possibly controlled thru the rational of design, such as politics, commerce and real-estate.
All these do not reduce the importance of a blueprint in infrastructure. On the contrary for these reasons it is elevated from being just a technical issue, to one that is strongly related to the larger vision of the city and the policies that govern over it, bringing clarity to them, as one has to deal with its contradictory effects (necessity and homogeneity) of urban development in the historic centers.
Decentralization diagram of Tirana
Linearity and autonomy
Certainly the project for Tirana cannot be developed out of its context, and its particular problems. It cannot be developed without considering its relationship with other cities that, together, form the Albanian metropolis, Durrës, Elbasan, and Krujë. It cannot be conceived under the notion of the centralized development, envisioned by the totalitarian planning of communist period, simply because that is not anymore a reality. It has to take in the account several issues such as; the problems of density, the development around the axes of transportation, for both efficient transportation and efficient land-use. The public transportation should be priority in order to ensure density. It also has to take into account the problems of autonomous centers that, as they are reached by infrastructure, allow immediate access to green recreational areas framed by them (already an utopian idea considering the uncontrolled development that still goes on). It also has to take into account the peculiar characteristics of those centers, whether; industrial; semi-oriental; commercial; communist housing blocks; or new developments, that the autonomy can help to preserve.
When it comes to Scanderbeg Square being an intersection of main arteries, that serve as entrance and exit to the city, or serve as an intersection to different parts of the city (Tirana e Re, Tirana e Vjeter, Ali Demi, Kombinati, Lapraka), has been one of the most ignored facts. The constant introduction of ideologically motivated interventions, whether nationalist, fascist or communist; or simply the need to introduce an administrative presence almost a century ago, to the newly designated political center for what would be modern Albania, in a city otherwise dominated by more organic semi oriental structures and medieval morphology, has gradually shifted the focus of the space towards representation, so much so as everyone seemed to have forgotten its innate organizational role. Extending the linearity of the center to match that of the city, while creating multiple autonomous spaces (something that has to be explained in another writing), seems to be quite the opposite of the status-quo, of the homogenized scheme put forward by the Master-plan of 1988, borrowed again and again from any other proposal in the center.
In my proposal above, instead of using the “small ring” , as it was proposed in the Master-plan of 1988, and in any masterplan thereafter, that transfer the transportation from the center to the so called ring, and unifies and homogenizes the space on the center, the transportation is used instead to evoke the old historic center, reviving some of its old paths. In my proposal transportation is used to diversify at the same time the means of transportation and the number of axes that one can reach the historic center. Two main directions from north-south and from east-west are all intersected in the center to be distributed in other points in the main directions whether in Kombinat, Kamez, or even Vore and Durres using the connection with interurban lines of public transportation. This is a platform that emphasizes the relationship that the revival and vitality of the historic center might have with potential the development of the new metropolis, a center that speaks more about the city than about itself.