MVRDV's pyramid of tirana in pictures: inside albania's newly-renovated brutalist landmark

MVRDV's pyramid of tirana in pictures: inside albania's newly-renovated brutalist landmark

new pictures by MVRDV show Pyramid of Tirana in full glory

 

Inaugurated earlier this year in the Albanian capital, MVRDV’s renovated Pyramid of Tirana has opened to the public as a new cultural hub. The brutalist landmark originally served as a museum dedicated to the communist dictator Enver Hoxh, and later stood as a ghosted architecture that filled people with mixed emotions. As MVRDV partner Winy Maas explained to designboom in a 2018 interview, ‘they went to parties there, they went to communist appearances. Then, afterwards, they used it for graffiti, they used it for films. they went up and slide down, and some people were killed, because it’s very dangerous.’ Despite its bittersweet past, the structure witnessed a dramatic transformation today. MVRDV reimagines its concrete structure as an open sculpture in a new park, home to an ensemble of colorful boxes scattered in and around the original building that now house cafés, studios, workshops, start-up offices, incubators, festivals, and classrooms where Albanian youth will learn various technology subjects for free. Take a tour inside Albania’s recently-renovated landmark and explore our earlier coverage featuring Danica O. Kus’ photographic series of the Pyramid. 

MVRDV's pyramid of tirana in pictures: inside albania's newly-renovated brutalist landmark
all images © Ossip van Duivenbode

 

 

a 1980s controversial landmark in albania

 

First opened as a museum in 1988, the Pyramid of Tirana has led numerous lives before MVRDV (see more here) took over. Since the fall of the communist regime, the building was used as a radio station, a nightclub, a conference venue, a broadcast center and, during the 1999 Kosovo War, a base for NATO. The ever-changing uses, along with incomplete previous renovation plans, left behind a patchwork of alterations that made the interior cluttered and dark. In recent decades, the question of what to do with the building proved highly controversial. A study published in 2015, however, showed that most Albanians opposed demolishing the building, and in 2017, this desire was honored when the government announced plans to transform the concrete monolith. This promise was carried out with the help of the Albanian-American Development Foundation (AADF) and the Municipality of Tirana, with the decision to turn the building into a nurturing environment for young Albanians.

MVRDV's pyramid of tirana in pictures: inside albania's newly-renovated brutalist landmark
Pyramid of Tirana is a new cultural hub in Albania

 

 

For many Albanians, the newly-renovated Pyramid of Tirana symbolizes victory over the regime, and MVRDV’s design was inspired by how they had reclaimed the building. After the dictator’s dictator Enver Hoxh’s death, the deteriorating structure had long served as a hangout spot for Tirana’s youth, who would climb the sloping beams and – not without risk – slide back down. Now, steps rise up the sloping sides, allowing people of all ages to climb to the top of the building. On the western side, a lift gives access to the top of the Pyramid for those who can’t climb the steps, while one beam incorporates a sloped section where people can still slide to the bottom.

MVRDV's pyramid of tirana in pictures: inside albania's newly-renovated brutalist landmark
renovated by MVRDV, the brutalist landmark was once dedicated to Albania’s dictator Enver Hoxh

 

 

offering a new cultural hub filled with colored boxes

 

Perhaps one of MVRDV’s most intriguing interventions is the steps added to the Pyramid of Tirana’s sloping facades, allowing the people of Albania to literally walk all over the showpiece of the former dictator. Even though the brutalist landmark was, until recently, a building site, it was already heavily in use the past summer. Besides Albanians enjoying the city views, the Pyramid was also discovered by tourists as a hidden gem. With the first summit of the Berlin Process outside the EU borders organized on October 16th, 2023, and the official inauguration of the building as a free educational faculty for Albanian teens by TUMO on the same day, the Pyramid of Tirana is now officially giving back to the people.

The work of MVRDV’s design team encompasses and encircles the existing structure, using the structure as a blueprint to which publicly accessible spaces and boxes for education and events were added. A stack of colored boxes containing rooms for education and events is scattered in and around the structure and the park. These colorful additions also make their way to the top and in the park at the front of the building, giving the surroundings the atmosphere of a festival and even a ‘squatted’ area.

MVRDV's pyramid of tirana in pictures: inside albania's newly-renovated brutalist landmark
steps are added to the Pyramid of Tirana’s sloping facade

 

 

Around half of these spaces house the non-profit educational institution TUMO Tirana, which provides free afterschool education for 12- to 18-year-olds in new techniques such as software, robotics, animation, music, and film. Founded in Armenia in 2011 and since spread throughout Europe, TUMO helps provide education and opportunities that can be a tool against the ‘brain drain’ that threatens the economy of countries like Albania. The other half of the colored boxes are accessible to the public, hosting rental spaces for cafés, restaurants, start-up offices and labs, incubators, studio spaces, and more.

The transformation of the Pyramid shows how a building can be made suitable for a new era while at the same time preserving its complex history. It demonstrates that historic brutalist buildings are ideal for reuse. The project also meets several of the Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations. Rather than demolishing the structure, its robust concrete shell is adapted along circular economy principles. As most of the structure is open to the surroundings for most of the year, only the added boxes housing the educational program need to be climate-controlled, reducing energy consumption. Social sustainability is advanced in the building’s new use, with the academic program advancing education and preparing the next generation for success.

 

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MVRDV's pyramid of tirana in pictures: inside albania's newly-renovated brutalist landmark
a stack of colored boxes containing rooms for education and events

MVRDV's pyramid of tirana in pictures: inside albania's newly-renovated brutalist landmark
housing cafés, studios, workshops, start-up offices, incubators, and classrooms

MVRDV's pyramid of tirana in pictures: inside albania's newly-renovated brutalist landmark
social sustainability is advanced in the building’s new use

mvrdv-pyramid-of-tirana-designboom-full-1

MVRDV's pyramid of tirana in pictures: inside albania's newly-renovated brutalist landmark
aerial view showing the colored boxes added on top and in the new park

MVRDV's pyramid of tirana in pictures: inside albania's newly-renovated brutalist landmark
Pyramid of Tirana was inaugurated earlier this year

MVRDV's pyramid of tirana in pictures: inside albania's newly-renovated brutalist landmark
Albanians are reclaiming the space alongside tourists

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added stairs by MVRDV
added stairs by MVRDV
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turning the controversial structure into an open sculpture with a park
turning the controversial structure into an open sculpture with a park
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demonstrating that historic brutalist buildings are ideal for reuse
demonstrating that historic brutalist buildings are ideal for reuse
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circular skylight
circular skylight
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vibrant colors engulf the interiors
vibrant colors engulf the interiors

project info:

 

name: The Pyramid of Tirana | Piramida

location: Tirana, Albania

architect: MVRDV | @mvrdv

client: Albanian-American Development Foundation (AADF)

founding partner in charge: Winy Maas

partner: Stefan de Koning

design team: Ronald Hoogeveen, Stavros Gargaretas, Guido Boeters, Angel Sanchez Navarro,
Boris Tikvarski, Jasper van der Ven, Mirco Facchinelli, Manuel Magnaguagno, Leo Stuckardt

strategy & development: Willeke Vester, Daan van Gool

copyright: MVRDV Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries

co-architect: iRI Architecture

collaborators: AADF, Municipality of Tirana, Albania Ministry of Culture

education partner: TUMO Tirana

contractor: Fusha shpk
project coordination: AADF

landscape architecture: iRI; JESHILE; MVRDV
structural engineering: ARUP, Gentian Lipe, Luan Murtaj
MEP: ARUP, iRI, Nikolin Risilia, Artur Dado, Isuf Kore
monuments expert: Daniel Gjoni

photography: Ossip van Duivenbode | @ossipvanduivenbode

project period: 2018-2023
total area: 11,835 sqm 

maximum height: 24.5 m
pyramid center height: 20.2 m

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