MVRDV begins construction on Pyramid of Tirana, Albania

Rotterdam-based MVRDV has started work on the renovation of the Pyramid, a Brutalist heritage building, that will now be transformed into a cultural hub for Albania’s capital city.

by STIRworldPublished on : Feb 27, 2021

The last decade has witnessed a fundamental shift in how people perceive Brutalist architecture. This shift is a result of the aestheticisation of Brutalism on social media and also the re-evaluation that comes with passage of time. These buildings now stand as a fading memory, dreading to fall foul of demolition order someday. The Pyramid of Tirana in Albania until recently feared a similar fate. This building has lived several lives in the past. Constructed as a museum dedicated to Albania’s former communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, it went on to become a temporary base for NATO during the War in Kosovo, until not too long ago it was turned into a nightclub and eventually left behind as a hangout spot and Tirana’s graffiti canvas. Despite its state, MVRDV saw the potential concealed within the Pyramid and recently started construction on it with a promise to give the Brutalist monument a new lease of life.

“Working on a Brutalist monument like the Pyramid is a dream,” says the founding partner of MVRDV, Winy Maas. “I immediately saw its potential, and that it should be possible to make it even more of a ‘people's monument’ instead of demolishing it,” he adds.  

  • The original brutalist building which was originally built as a mausoleum celebrating dictator Hoxha, and then left abandoned for many years | Pyramid of Tirana designed by MVRDV | STIRworld
    The original brutalist building which was originally built as a mausoleum celebrating dictator Hoxha, and then left abandoned for many years Image: Courtesy of MVRDV
  • MVRDV plans to add steps to the sloping beams for people to climb easily to the top of the Pyramid | Pyramid of Tirana designed by MVRDV | STIRworld
    MVRDV plans to add steps to the sloping beams for people to climb easily to the top of the Pyramid Image: Courtesy of MVRDV

MVRDV plans to return the 11,835 sqm Pyramid and the surrounding plaza to their function and make it a heart of cultural life of Tirana, Albania’s capital city. Elements added from the previous renovations will be stripped away to unveil a voluminous interior space that had earlier been hermetically sealed and inaccessible. The Dutch firm will also add steps to the sloping concrete beams, making it safe for the visitors to climb to the top of the monument for sightseeing during events and festivals. Well aware of the ritual of the youth sliding down the slopes of the pyramid at night, the firm plans to preserve one of the slopes, which the visitors can slide down at their own risk.

“It is striking and interesting to see how the country struggled with the future of the building, which on one hand is a controversial chapter in the country’s history, and on the other hand has already been partly reclaimed by the residents of Tirana,” states Mass in an official statement, while adding that “the challenging part is to create a new relationship between the building and its surroundings. I am confident our design establishes this. I am looking forward to seeing young people and for the first-time older people climbing the steps to the rooftop!”

Boxes housing cafes, classrooms and other amenities will be placed inside, above and around the existing structure | Pyramid of Tirana designed by MVRDV | STIRworld
Boxes housing cafes, classrooms and other amenities will be placed inside, above and around the existing structure Image: Courtesy of MVRDV

MVRDV will completely open up the building, with trees and other green areas providing the space a welcoming appearance. In the new plan, boxes designed for various activities will be placed inside, upon and around the Pyramid. These boxes will house classrooms, studios, cafes and restaurants for the people of Tirana. The Pyramid will chiefly be used by a non-profit educational institution called TUMO to provide free afterschool education to 12 to 18-year-olds in the fields such as software, robotics, animation, music and film.  

The classrooms inside the pyramid will also be used for after-class educational programmes | Pyramid of Tirana designed by MVRDV | STIRworld
The classrooms inside the pyramid will also be used for after-class educational programmes Image: Courtesy of MVRDV

With the dramatic renovation of this heritage building, the project also meets a number of the Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations. Instead of wastefully demolishing the structure, the design reuses it, adapting to circular economy principles that are further inculcated in the design by creating steps on the sloping beams from the stone tiles that originally adorned the façade of the pyramid.

  • The existing structure | Pyramid of Tirana designed by MVRDV | STIRworld
    The existing structure Image: Courtesy of MVRDV
  • How the structure looks post clean-up | Pyramid of Tirana designed by MVRDV | STIRworld
    How the structure looks post clean-up Image: Courtesy of MVRDV
  • Stairs added to the sloping beams of the Pyramid of Tirana | Pyramid of Tirana designed by MVRDV | STIRworld
    Stairs added to the sloping beams of the Pyramid of Tirana Image: Courtesy of MVRDV
  • The added programme with boxes in and around the Pyramid of Tirana | Pyramid of Tirana designed by MVRDV | STIRworld
    The added programme with boxes in and around the Pyramid of Tirana Image: Courtesy of MVRDV

As the structure will be open to its surroundings all-round the year, only the added boxes housing the educational activities will have provisions for climate control, thus reducing energy consumption. While the project is big on enhancing the social sustainability of the site, the educational program associated with it is a cherry on the top. 

The transformation of the Pyramid of Tirana is an example of how a building from one era need not end up as an eyesore in another era. The project proves how historic Brutalist buildings are ideal for reuse. MVRDV, based in Rotterdam not only attempts to transform the image of the monument but in the pursuit also preserves its complex history.

  • Visualisation of the Pyramid on completion | Pyramid of Tirana designed by MVRDV | STIRworld
    Visualisation of the Pyramid on completion Image: Courtesy of MVRDV
  • Aerial view of the Pyramid of Tirana | Pyramid of Tirana designed by MVRDV | STIRworld
    Aerial view of the Pyramid of Tirana Image: Courtesy of MVRDV
  • The primary connections to the structur| Pyramid of Tirana designed by MVRDV | STIRworld
    The primary connections to the structure Image: Courtesy of MVRDV
  • A drawing depicting the secondary connections | Pyramid of Tirana designed by MVRDV | STIRworld
    A drawing depicting the secondary connections Image: Courtesy of MVRDV

Project Details

Name: The Pyramid of Tirana
Location: Tirana, Albania
Year: 2018+
Architect: MVRDV
Client: Albanian-American Development Foundation (AADF)
Size and Programme: 11,835m2 - educational facility
Founding Partner in charge: Winy Maas
Design Team:  Ronald Hoogeveen, Angel Sanchez Navarro, Boris Tikvarski,Stavros Gargaretas, Leo Stuckardt, Guido Boeters

(Text by Sharmin Oanali, intern at STIRworld.com)

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