While Tirana has a modest history compared to many other European metropolises, it deserves special attention not simply because it is the capital of Albania, but because the city has a unique model of urban development compared to the rest of Europe.
Evidence suggests that between the 17th and 19th centuries there was a continuous expansion of the city, progressed forward through economic development and trade. The craftsmen of the city expanded their reaches through the construction of a bazaar along with other religious and social constructions. The urban construction of Tirana was primarily made possible through increasing socioeconomic development and thus, trade centers and residential areas were the two primary forms of construction built during this time.
It wasn’t until February 11th, 1920 when Tirana was declared the provisional capital of Albania and not until January 31st, 1925 when the city would finally take its definitive status. Meanwhile, in 1923, Austrian architects and engineers developed the First Regulatory Plan of the City and despite its significant lack of feasibility, the plan led to the opening and expanding of the city’s first main roads and streets.
Under President Ahmet Zogu, a second regulatory plan of Tirana was developed in 1924 this time with an Italian architect by the name of Armando Brasini. Brasini is responsible for creating what is known as New Tirana in particular, which includes Skanderbeg Square and its accompanying boulevard, both of which continue to act as the center of the city. In constructing the new boulevard on a north-south axis, Brasini hoped to limit the amount of demolition needed to achieve his projects. While he managed to spare Et’hem Bey Mosque and the Vlach built church of Saint Procopius, he was unfortunately unable to save the old church of Saint Prokop and Karapici’s Mosque.
Later on, another Italian architect by the name of Florestano di Fausto oversaw the construction of the Ministries center, which was relatively small and oriented north-south until another architect, Gerardo Bosio, later oriented the buildings to face east-west. This latter period of development would be marked by the first use of European legislation on urban planning, wherein the same regulations used in Italy for expropriations, building permits, etc. would now be enforced in Tirana.
Stepping away from urban life, the history of Tirana’s households began with the construction of single room buildings marked by a single fireplace placed in the middle. In some cases, porches would be constructed on top, effectively making the building into two floors. The 300 year old villa of Sali Shijaku, a famous Albanian painter, is a prime example of this form of architecture and is open to the public to view.
With continued economic growth, the households of Tirana began to change in the 19th century as architecture and decoration became important values of Albanian culture. Villas built during the 1920s – 30s offered a variety of stylistic tendencies popular at the time. In this period, architects and artists would’ve offered to the families of Tirana the best of their technical and creative experience. In the historic areas of Tirana, villas with more modern architecture would’ve been built in amongst the traditional residences that were constructed by distinguished masters in earlier centuries.
The end of the Second World War coincided with the end of King Zog I’s rule and the rise of the communist government in Albania, which lasted until the early 1990s. Architects and city planners were given the “freedom” of revolutionaries during this transitional period to transform the city in direct alignment with communism’s opposition to private ownership and its emphasis on centralization. Soviet influence over architecture in Tirana was marked by the 1957 Urban Plan which oversaw the construction of new industrial enterprises that incorporated distinctive Soviet style of architecture. The Kombinat Stalin Textiles Factory in the southwest part of the city is a prime example of these post-war building projects. Other buildings constructed during the communist period were the Palace of Culture, the Palace of Congresses, the Pyramid of Tirana and numerous apartment complexes. This period continued to influence the city even after its end as evidenced by the 1990 urban plan which restructured the road network until 2000.
The future of Tirana’s urban development is laid out by the New Urban Plan 2030. The work of Italian architect Stefano Boeri, the TR2030 plan connects culture, society, and geopolitics to ensure Tirana’s future as an environmentally sustainable city. Tirana is a geopolitical center of the 21st century, whose historic epicenter is the central axis of the city. The main monumental boulevard created by Armando Brasini in 1925 continues to traverse the city from north to south, and into the future.
1. Dossier “Art & Trashëgimi” – maj 2012, nr. 4
2. Vera Bushati – “Vilat e Tiranës”, Tiranë 2012
3. Artan Shkreli – “Zhvillimi i qytetit të Tiranës”, Tiranë 2016