Thursday, March 31, 2011

Walking the City- 2nd episode

Central post offices – “Cameria” bazaar – “Myslim Shyri” road – Former “Enver” factory – Old Tirana airport – The western side of the new ringroad – “Casa Italia” shopping center – Tirana Durres highway – Polis University.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

10.00:              The second tour of Walking the City was designed with double intentions: to continue establishing the new tradition, and to use it as an instrument for participants to better understand the relation of the city center with the new campus of Polis University that was just transferred into the western side along Tirana-Durres economic and business corridor. The new venues are located next to the area of QTU shopping mall (Qendra Tregetare Univers) where several other universities are located in the last 5 years. This is practically becoming a kind of alternative/second pool of universities, despite the historical one in the city center. Polis staff and students have designed and developed there a pragmatic experimental campus concept, involving adaption of former industrial building and production of completely new buildings. In few words bringing students and staff there simply by walking 10-12 kilometers would be e kind of demystification process towards lack of information and prejudice for such distance. Indeed such relocation made Polis having more metropolitan features, while repositioning it towards the ‘traditional” city... 

But before we meet all together at the corner of the central offices of the National Post Offices (built during 60-s almost in the same style influenced by Bauhaus, as in the case of the Radio Tirana building in the center), which is just behind the historic building of the National Bank of Albania (built during 30’s by King Zog on basis of the architectural design of Mussolini’ personal architect Vittorio Morpurgho); and next to the building of Socialist Party’ headquarters, an architectural creation of the socialist modernism era in Albania during 70-s. Indeed the area we meet is known for most of its own developments as a symbol of modernization during the communist era, including here the famous modernist housing complex of the local architect Petraq Kolevica, nowadays unfortunately painted by the colorful facade experiment of mayor Edi Rama.

Also at the second meeting there were in total around 15-20 people that joined the walk. Some new faces appeared while someone from the first walk already missed due to some other personal obligation. However, I had a good feeling as this showed that more people were curious and interested on Walking the City, after the first tour. Indeed you could notice in the air some kind of enthusiasm of people for being part of initiative and experience. As usually, me and my colleague Sotir Dhamo, we explained to the participants the second route tour with a simple A3 format map, underlining always the walk to be undertaken and informing again the nature of areas and the social-architectural-urban context. Than we started walking via the so-called “Cameria bazaar” (Pazari Cam). The area is so vivid and packed with people selling and buying goods in a kind of flea market. I warned participants in any case to watch carefully their bags and pockets, instead of loosing totally mind over the market atmosphere. After a short walk we got out the bazaar area, and continued to the west via ‘Myslym Shyri’ road which is known as one of the shoping areas developed after the changes of early 90-s. Before it was just a housing neighborhood, which than transformed the first and second floors into shops, bars and business services due to its vicinity to the city center, good access, and presence of wide sidewalks and big green trees. It is a nice area to be in Tirana at present days.

Along way we reached to the Dajti Cinema area, which together with several building developed during 50-s and 60-s in Tirana as part of e network of 10-12 cinemas of Tirana. Unfortunately today few of them exist (probably 3-4) and functions still the same function. Dajti Cinema is now a modest local multifunctional cultural center, under the administration of Tirana Municipality. However the cinema and the adjacent housing complexes are again a testimony of the unfinished modernity of Tirana between 50-s and 70-s. We stopped nearby at a petrol station in front of the complex and analyzed the buildings for a while. Earlier phases of communist era architecture, the style was more liberal and less influenced by ideological limitations or the policy of savings in material and technology. Then we penetrated behind the “Dajti” Cinema area, which is also developed between the same period. Despite the informal interventions in the buildings during the last two decades, it was not difficult to distinguish the Bauhaus of 50-s, the socialist modernism of 60-s, the first signs of crisis of the system at that time, including the experimenting of prefabricated constructions or housing complexes made of silica-based white bricks, up to the urban decay of voluntary labor made buildings of red bricks and no plaster facades. However, in terms of urbanism the area remains quite interesting again as a symbol of modernist planning, were do not miss housing complexes with clear distances, school and social faculities, green-public spaces and playgrounds, including the famous propaganda building of the era of friendship with China: the so called Ekspozita “Shqiperia Sot” (Albania Today Expo), nowadays in total collapse and in use of other functions, including few studios of the Top Channel, one of three main national televisions in the country.

We moved further in the west and passed with difficulty the heavy traffic inner ring-road, known as ‘Myslym Shyri’ road. The area was the one where the existing mayor Edi Rama grew up, and probably that is why one of the first painting-facade experiment started here. Nowadays the paint vanished and little thing has remained, with exception of the widening the road and dividing it in unique sense traffic lines. This probably ordered a bit the traffic, but in fact increased it more and made the neighborhood less human. I remember from my childhood that this was one of the most green and beautiful roads of Tirana. There were just houses and not shops in the ground floor. Sidewalks were wide and strips of green gardens were continuously following the main road. Today it has transformed in a busy shopping area, with limited green, lots of noise and pollution by the heavy traffic.

After passing the inner ring-road we continue to walk into a housing area built during 50-s, which was considered as the end of the city before 90-s. After that boundary it was considered as economic area, and within 100 meters we could see the silhouette of the former mechanical factory called after the name of past communist leader: Uzina Enver. Today part of such infrastructure is just left alone, while some parts have been renovated, including the municipal services like, tax department and municipal police, etc. Some of the forms of the industrial complex are very interesting architectural memory. But In Albania this is not yet considered as heritage, so few people like us could appreciate it and regret that the structure is dying everyday.

We walked for a while along the main city access to the southern regions (Kavaja road) confronting a recently developed housing estate of high-rise and high density constructions. The architecture is aggressive, ambitious, with nlo respect for the local context. It is the best example to illustrate the typical design mentality of the local school of architecture here at the public school, to which Polis is very critical. I invited participants to visit the nearby housing complex of “100 vitrinat”, which is a underground space developed as a kind of bazaar area, supposedly aiming to solve the problem of Roma community that was once living before in that area, but than pushed away by the private developer. To certain moment this became an issue in the local media, so municipality tried to intermediate a kind of solution for both parties. However our visit there made it clear, that at the end of the day the Roma community was totally pushed away, and that the only thing missing there was indeed the Roma people/sellers in itself. From the other side the “100 vitrinat” bazaar somehow accommodates and regulates street vendors in a pragmatic way, and it is to be considered also as a partial solution.

After such interesting visit, again we struggled to pass the alienated and motorized Kavaja Road with lots of fears and strees because of the heavy and furious traffic. Luckily we managed to pass the informal path created by people over time, because there is no alternative otherwise to pass the road at this area. In contrary you had to walk quite some times to find a safe normal solution. Further in the north we could see the architecture of 70-s and early 80-s of prefabricated concrete housing blocks. They remain still ugly, despite the fact that the virus of informality has penetrated throughout the once strictly planned neighborhoods. This again was considered as a boundary area for the city in the past, and beyond that you could see some economic activities/depots, including the facilities of “Partizani” sport club, at that time glorious club of Albanian communist army. We noticed also some interventions by municipality, mainly in terms of road asphalting/improving or melioration of sport/public spaces.

After some times we could clearly walk among informally developed areas, loosing twice the road and getting nervous towards dead-end situations. The roads become more and more muddy and more labyrinths. Interesting enough the municipality of Tirana or the so called the mini-municipality (administrative subdivision of the local authorities) has put everywhere street names signs with names of well-known artist or intellectuals of Albania. I though how would feel, let say a famous writer, artist or intellectual seeing his name in such ruined situation? Probably still the consideration could be treated as a honor! In any case there is a lot to do by the local authorities and communities, to make use such respectable names in such circumstances. Nevertheless as a planner I am happy to see that the identification and registration of people, properties and addresses is happening. We have been lobbying with Co-PLAN for more than 10 years about it! So it is finally happening… after 20 years transition!

Suddenly the road opens up and than we are in the middle of the former airport of Tirana, nowadays left ignored, but recently undergoing a project of urban renovation. The airport indeed was developed by the administration of King Zog during 30-s, and functioned like that up to the late 60-s. Some of us still remember old Italian and Russian planes practicing there, including the tupolev plane of politburo mainly used by Hoxha. During 70-s the new airport of Rinas (nowadays Mother Theresa international airport) was developed leaving the old airport with lots of memories. Here landed and departed over time important and controversial people of like Mussolini, Tito, Kruchev, Cu En Lai, Hoxha, etc. Despite the replacement of airport it remained a military camp and a heliport. It is still used today as an emergency heliport by the Ministry of Health. During the last decade several 12-15 floor housing towers has been developed along the landing strip. Few years ago municipality organized an international competition for the urban transformation of the area. The winner was the idea of Atena Studio from Rome Italy. Nice people they are present in Tirana with other projects, and last year organized one of the architecture studios at Polis University. The final project maintains most of the winning project ideas, which transform the former airport area in a pedestrian boulevard with social, sport and leisure activities/themes and improved access to the adjacent new shops and housing complexes. I believe that the project will seriously improve the quality of urban infrastructure and life. I am not sure on the quality of works but combination of concrete, wood, metal and grass, water materials is a new culture for Tirana.

One of the participants of the walk and student of the fourth year at Polis – Eduina – tells us that she lives here at her own apartment. Parents also live not far in a low rise private house, which her father (a former pilot) could inherit/privatize while he was the last commander of airport by early 90-s. She is happy with the new project of the municipality. Than she guides us towards the western extreme of the old airport area, up to the moment we get ourselves again among pure informality. Finally we could get out of the area and cross the new ring-road at the crossing of the western-segment with Lana River. At the other side we are out of Tirana Municipality boundaries, and entered an informal neighborhood of Kashar Commune at western Tirana. This area has been intensively urbanized and developed with high-rise housing estates, mostly in fraud speculative way. Today most of such housing complexes are empty, due to the collapse of real estate boom. However we did not explore such complexes this time. We will do another time and more carefully as it is a big lesson for all society. We just tried to pass the informal area where the former prime-minister Ilir Meta was said to live by the late 90-s. It is said that this is the reason why he pushed hard to open up the first segment of the western side of the outer ring-road. At least also people and city benefited. Listening the story someone from students says how to bring together the interests of people and politicians, when the last ones have not so “basic” needs…?

This subject dominated for sometimes, up to the moment we found ourselves lost. The map is not practically useful. The road is heavily muddy. Suddenly we ended up by the highly polluted banks of Lana River. It is a dead end. There is no more escape. To go back it is too much. Some participants become depressive. They are tired and want a break, or eart-drink something. But where? An old man suggests to pas the wall, but there are dogs behind. He calls it: the wall with holes (muri me gropa)! We smiled. I tried to pass myself using holes to step up. The same did also Axhion-a participant student of the third year at Polis. Eranda is filming the “show”… Everyone is confused. How about if the owner from the other side is angry? What about the angry shouting dogs next to the wall? After some comical debate, we decide to go back and forth. Finally we go back!

My colleague Sotir asks few kids that come to watch us. One of them explains, that there is a path via a private informal house. The boy explains us in a pragmatic way: the owner has a bar. If you ask him to buy something he will allow you to pass. Otherwise it is not possible and we have to go back. I go to knock to the door that was told us by the local kid. The owner, a tall and fat man, opens the door. I explain him the situation. We want to drink a coffee at his bar and than pass to the next side/road. Everyone is nervous to get the right answer, instead of spending another 30-60 minutes way back. The owners tell me he knows me by television!!! He knows me that I am a city planner and that among others I talked also about formalization, which to them means a solution for their own problems. He is not happy that the government has not progressed well with such promises. But he is very positive on me. So everybody benefits. He adds; you don’t need to buy anything at me! Just pass the other side. We are welcomed! So we thank him by h.eart and leave. But again I ended up in ‘cul de sack’ situation among mud, poverty and frustrated people that whisper among lips and mouth; what a hell want this people here? Are they making tourism with our own problems? I advice participants to hide cameras. I have enough experience in such situations. We go back. Nothing happens but participants feel headache and are stressed. We need to correct mistake by walking back. Finally we could get the right directions and after sometimes we end up to the intersection of Kamza and initiation of Tirana-Durres highway.

Well next to the intersection is the “Casa Italia” mall area. There is food, coffee, and possibility for a good break there. Everybody is surprisingly feeling better and smiling. We get to the ground floor bar and everybody orders what he wants. Well this is another type of city. It is comfortable but it is artificial. Something is missing. I am confused. Probably the life and problems of people! Probably the mud and informality? I don’t know. But we can go to the toilets here and drink our own coffee or Coca-Cola, and relax. Everywhere there are advertisements, heating and nice music. It is clean and good service. It is another world. Highly perfectionist! After 30 minutes we feel much better and we start walking again: this time along the highway. Most of participants are curious to see the new premises of Polis University. It is going to be our own new common house.

We pass headquarters of private companies, like Agna Group, Digitalb, Coca Cola, Vodafone, CEZ, etc. We pass the highway through a pedestrian metal bridge. Good opportunity indeed to make some nice pictures of the new services corridor between the capital and main port city. Polis is going to be in the heart of such Motor-Town. Sotir explains that the new Polis canteen will be called Motown, exactly inspired from such phenomena and the movement that started in the famous Detroit of general motors industry. Not the best example, but very similar and somehow representing what’s going on. The so called super-Dutch, the architect Winy Mass few weeks ahead told me that Polis is practically moving to the “Las Vegas” of Albania, to the city of signs he said… I told this to participants! The debate emerges… But most of people seem proud of being here. They can’t expect to start lessons at the new campus. It is a real metropolitan dimension… I am exited too, although very tired by preparation works during last weeks. Sotir says that living at city center and around “Blloku” area, seems boring and very traditional… Again debate is open. Not everyone agrees. But Sotir insists: please open your mind, and become metropolitan people… I started smiling. It is fun. We almost finished the second tour of Walking the City. I even don’t feel tired now. Interesting enough…

15.00               But I am tired leading the group. So when arriving the new campus I ask Sotir to give a professional guided tour to the new building. Students are highly curious … and clearly proud. This makes me happy. At the and we did a conclusion, but I am thinking what will be the next third tour of the Walking the City…? Students are adviced how to get back. There are 4 alternatives of public transport. One of them is free by the shopping area. Polis is also going to provide free transport from and to the city center in the rush hours of morning and afternoon. Students seem happy. They all go to the shopping area to enjoy canteen there. Soon we are going to have our own canteen at Polis. But now we deserve also a break… weekend is ahead… things went really smooth. 

~ Photos from Walking the City- 2nd Episode ~

Article by Besnik Aliaj
Photos by Eranda Janku & Eduina Jaupi

No comments:

Post a Comment