Tirana's 'pyramid' puts checkered past behind it for new tech future - GulfToday

Tirana's 'pyramid' puts checkered past behind it for new tech future

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The sprawling, space-agey 'pyramid' in the centre of Tirana has cycled through many uses before falling into ruin.

The sprawling, space-age "pyramid" in Tirana's centre had many uses before falling into ruin: built as a museum for a dictator, it later hosted a NATO base, TV studio, nightclub and more.

After years of neglect, the crumbling structure is now set for another rebirth as an IT hub in the heart of Albania's fast-changing capital.

"I don't think there is anyone who thinks it is beautiful. But it's a sort of a landmark of the city, and people want to preserve them in a city that has lost a lot.

The 127,000-square-foot (11,400-square-metre) behemoth has triangular wedges of graffiti-covered marble and dark window panes that meet at a peak, giving it the pyramid look.

For the project's architects, its overhaul is about striking a balance between preserving and reclaiming a relic from a dark period of Albanian history.

The bizarre building was originally erected 30 years ago to glorify the life of former communist dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruthlessly ruled Albania for four decades until his death in 1985.

'Open to everyone'

"We thought there couldn't be a better symbol than giving the building back to Albanian society in its best form, to the kids, for their future education," said Martin Mata, of the Albanian-American Development Foundation, which is funding the more than $10-million (nine-million-euro) renovation.

It is a fitting purpose for a country suffering from high youth unemployment and emigration rates.

Designs revealed last month by Dutch firm MVRDV will open the structure on all sides of the ground floor, bring light into the atrium with more glass, surround it with trees and carve stairs onto its exterior to make the pyramid walls a safer climb.

"The pyramid will be open to everyone" and the building will be nearly "transparent", the chief architect, Winy Maas, said at the presentation in Tirana.

Inside will be a mix of commercial space and a learning centre for youth, run by non-profit group Tumo, offering classes in programming, design and other digital skills.

'Making Albania great again'

For Tirana's mayor, Erion Veliaj, the project is a "story of resurrection" -- for the pyramid and Albania itself.

"Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the start of (Albania's) transition, the question has been how do we make Albania great again?

The pyramid's renovation is part of a dizzying amount of transformation that the country's capital has undergone in recent years.

Architectural hodgepodge

The changes are raising Tirana's profile on the tourist map.

Its vibrant cafe scene now comes in for praise, as well as the unique hodgepodge of architecture, including Italian fascist buildings, Soviet-style tower blocks, Ottoman-era mosques and, of course, the pyramid.

But not all of city hall's revamps are popular.

Agence France-Presse