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The Tirana Pyramid

Tirana, Albania
1 of 11Via Atlas Obscura

The main characteristic of Tirana’s city center is its monumentality, with administrative and cultural buildings as well as public institutions concentrated along the main boulevard. In 1985, a pyramid building was erected on a former park, today known as Pyramid Square. The pyramid was constructed in Tirana, after the death of communist leader Enver Hoxha. It was originally built as a museum for Hoxha and designed in 1988 by his daughter Pranvera Hoxha, his son-in-law Klement Kolaneci, Pirro Vaso and Vladimir Bregu. The function of this building should be a museum about the legacy of the Chairman of the communist party named “Enver Hoxha” museum. The building is raised on platforms and stairs which create a square that looks like a pedestal holding the Pyramid.

The location of the Pyramid on the main boulevard of Tirana between two other iconic buildings, the Prime Minister’s office and the Dajti Hotel, designed by Italian architects in the 1940s, required great sensitivity from the architects. They sought to develop an architecture that would respect the existing context of the boulevard but also be present as a lithic echo of Mount Dajti which has always been an important natural element in the city of Tirana. As for its sacrality the Pyramid evokes at the same time the effect when the sunlight penetrates radially the dark clouds. The architects combined the socio-realistic principles (star shape, symmetry, processional stairs, raise into a pedestal, etc.) with a quite a pure and articulated form attributing a modern aspect to the building. The inclined façade of the Pyramid created an illusionary perspective, a unique feature at that time. The place - ment of the glass windows follows a radial composi - tion around a central axis of rotation. The architectural volume rises 21 meters in height but appears lower due to the inclined planes throughout its exterior and a series of platforms and stairs that lead from street level to the Pyramid entrance, that allow human scale to prevail. An inclined platform and an underground floor enable an additional entrance on the eastern side. Seen from above, the octagonal umbrella of the façade front is reminiscent of an eagle-wing shape. According to architect Pirro Vaso, the architects’ main objective was to create impressive architecture while function played a secondary role. Consequently, the architects didn’t choose a grid structure with strictly separated floors but used an open plan, allowing later transformations of the interior space of more than 17,000 m 2. The floor levels are designed as a series of platforms jutting out from the circumference and creating a big amphitheater with a white marble statue of the former dictator at its center.

High-quality imported materials and numerous expensive types of marble which covered the exterior and the interior of the Pyramid reveal the symbolic and ideologic importance this building had for the politburo in Albania. Over 4 million dollars are said to have been spent on this building in the 1980s, a time when the poverty level in the country was at its peak. The interior was designed to draw attention to the statue of the dictator, carved in pentelikon white marble (the same marble used for the construction of the Parthenon), at the center of the circular pyramid, which, like the statues of the gods in ancient Greek temples, was to demonstrate a divine presence, enhanced by the communist star on top. The characteristic structure allowed natural light to enter from all sides of the building as well as from a cupola at the very top filtering additional light through its glass cover. The realization of this structure was important not only due to its design and technological achievement but also because it expressed ideological and typological archetypes, such as the linear window development and the lack of vertical walls. As such, this project represents a conceptual shift in Albania at that time.

After 1990

The Pyramid served as a Museum for the dictator from 1988 until 1991. After the fall of the communist regime, the Pyramid was used as an exhibition and fair hall and the square in front became a venue for different public and private events until it was abandoned and left to slowly deteriorate. Along the square vegetation and trees made this area a pleasant space for people to use it as a public space. After the fall of the communist regime the meaning of the pyramid as a museum was lost and during and the building changes function lots of time and also many competitions are done on it. In ‘90s it became the National Cultural Center, while the square in front of it started to be perceived as a public space used by the citizens of Tirana and also became one of the main tourist attractions of the city. Its pyramidal shape creates the possibility to walk on its walls, and so has been done over the years with people of different ages climbing to the top and sliding on the marble tiles. The main function of the building after the communist period has been exhibition and fair center, while the square has often been occupied by private investors of short periods of time with different activities. In 1999 the museum was used as a base by Nato and humanitarian organizations.

Renovation ideas after 2000

After 2000, a great discussion regarding the future of this monument began: while some wanted to change its function, some others considered it as a living provocation reminiscent of the communist period and took a radical position for demolishing it. However, finally it was decided to preserve the monument. In 1992, the pyramid became the National Cultural Centre, while the square in front of it started to be perceived as a public space and was used by the citizens, becoming at the same time a main tourist attraction. In 2000, the building underwent a process of renovation that never came to an end. In 2007, an international competition was held in order to transform it into a drama theatre and center for the visual arts. None of the proposals has been realized. In 2010, another competition was organized – won by Coop Himme(l)blau – proposing the demolition of the pyramid and the creation of a new parliament building in its place. A public debate ensued, and much petitioning and many protests took place in front of the building putting an end to the project and keeping the Pyramid alive. By this time the Pyramid became the ground for many experiments including alternative architecture competitions such as the one organized by Tirana Architecture Weeks. Lately, a new proposal for the Pyramid was presented by the Dutch architecture studio MVRDV intending to convert the former museum of the dictator into a new center for technology, art and culture.

Deshmoret e Kombit Bulevard