Skanderbeg Square and TID Tower by 51N4E. (Romeo Kodra)

51N4E … commissions abroad, although ‘abroad’ is Albania.[1]

If the work of 51N4E represents a paradigmatic example towards understanding the relationship between political power and art as a production of subjectivities through the generation of meanings in public space, then Creating Space Where There Appears To Be None,[2] the contradictory title of the text and project coauthored by the artists Anri Sala and Edi Rama, may be viewed as the deciphering axiom of the aforementioned studio and artists’ sphere of action, a domain in which appearance – ignorance or, rather, the ignoring of a preexisting space – is a precondition for the existence of their work.[3]

One of the most recent projects of 51N4E, in collaboration with the Albanian artist Anri Sala, was the redesign of Tirana’s Skanderberg Square, the capital’s main square, a project which won the 2008 competition launched by the former Mayor of Tirana and the current Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama. The Square is the centerpiece of Tirana’s monumental boulevard – conceptualized as a spectacular and speculative repository of political power[4]– and, thusly, it faithfully reflects the dispositif governing mentality by reestablishing and fostering the spectacular and speculative aspects of the current powers that be.

skanderbeg square

As an expressive “creative” act, the “new” Skanderbeg Square echoes, in an iconographic manner, the main boulevard’s axis and, in an iconological manner, what Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama refers to as “big bold strokes”[5]. These correspondences were clearly suggested in the authors’ presentation of the project’s conceptual genesis summarized as a “kind of abstract representation of Tirana.”[6] (There is a bag full of Legos in the middle of a room. A person enters the room, takes them and purposefully empties the Legos onto the floor. The same person, now in the center of the Lego formation, moves downward from above them to gather the previously purposefully-thrown Legos, which perhaps may be perceived as casually moved, “creating” space with one hand, by first cutting across them and then, wiping the Legos away from the center of the formation. Certainly, then, this Tirana‘s city center represented in an abstract manner – although, I believe, not abstract enough[7], considering its ideological content of the political powers of the last hundred years – seems to irritate the reasoning of every political authority which, through the same purposeful ignorance and disregard of the context, irrecoverably wipes away – through a construction of yesterday’s megalomaniacal Boulevard or redesign of today’s Square for commercial spectacles – an entire historical and material culture.

This ignorance or willful ignoring, whichever the case may be, is evidenced in 51N4E’s official presentations wherein Scanderbeg Square is referred to as a vast ex-communist space or an oppressive monumentality of Communist architecture,[8] inexact designations which lack actual support. It should be made known to the authors of this project that, while the square is quite stratified, none of its strata can be officially termed as communist. The term, although widely used, is not only indefinite and unsupported scientifically but also inapplicable to Albania as the country has never had a so-called communist regime. In fact, the buildings surrounding the square such as the Palace of Culture, Tirana International Hotel and the National Historic Museum belong to the period of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania; the Fascist invasion period (Bank of Albania, designed by Vittorio Morpurgo in the architecture of Italian Rationalism); the period of Ahmet Zogu’s government (Tirana’s Municipality, designed by Florestano di Fausto in an eclectic Italian style); and even earlier (the first Albanian Parliament, today’s National Puppet Theatre, built in 1925 in an eclectic Austrian style and Et’hem Beu Mosque, constructed in the 17thcentury, in a late classic Ottoman style).

In addition, 51N4E’s and Anri Sala’s “new” Scanderbeg Square, as a result of ignorance or ignoring, adheres to the three archetypal pillars of the vectorial-spatial rationalism of Tirana’s “dispositif boulevard”: the alignment along the axis of the boulevard (the ideology of power), the objective of verticality (hierarchy) and hermeticism (exclusiveness).[9] Alignment is indicated by the two 170-meter-long sides, running parallel to and along the square, and two others which cut across the Square perpendicularly, forming a perfect square and, thus, establishing a sense of order. The objective of verticality and hermeticism is reached through the square’s pyramidal shape.

From an iconographic and iconological perspective of urban planning, the pyramidal shape of a city square is doubly strange in Tirana as, firstly, the agora of the ancient Athens or elsewhere, has never assumed such a shape and, secondly, because in the Albanian language the word for square is shesh, a term which, unlike the term in English, does not denote a rectangular shape but flatness, i.e. horizontality.

Nevertheless, were this shape a product of the true anarchy[10] of 51N4E and Anri Sala’s art, a pure Derridean différance or an authentic Deleuzean creative act of resistance, it would be entirely acceptable. Unfortunately, this shape stems from the anarchy of political power (Pasolini), the representatives of which, following a propaedeutic, micro-political strategy, stimulate the fascistoid impulsions of the citizens’ ego, on the one hand, while, on the other, offering them a fictional spectacle of climbing on top of the pyramid as its release valve. Indeed, as confirmed by 51N4E, “standing at its tip, the citizens find themselves at par with the authoritarian architecture of the past”[11]. Thus, the structure is little more than the monumentalization of the Albanian ego, its illusory elevation to the level of architectural objects.

In addition, the shape of the 51N4E and Anri Sala’s Skanderbeg Square reminds, as a sort of ekphrasis, Edi Rama’s The Tale of Goldfishes (in the Albanian language the goldfishes are literally referred to as “red fishes”, used by the author as a clear reference to the Albanians during the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania/Red Water Republic): “The red fish species is of the bastard type. Its main ideal is climbing the high peaks of the omnipotent but, being as it is a species which lacks a definite personality, for the red fish, a small rock, even a miniscule one, even a potty trainer thrown in the depths of the sea, that is distinguishable from the rest of the swimming bodies, can have a highly attractive impact.”[12].

Clearly, not to be ignored is the speculative interest behind a dubious concept which incites the consumers of the public space with the construction of an underground parking. Johan Anrys, the cofounder of 51N4E and Erion Veliaj, Mayor of Tirana,[13] present this addition as an efficient way of lessening the city’s ever-increasing traffic but several important facts are whitewashed, primarily that Fusha Co., the company that implemented the project, was approved as the author of the project without a proposal, tender or open call. In addition, the speculative aspect becomes even more telling when considering the familial ties of the head of the company with an international drug trafficker and Tirana’s former General Prosecutor[14]. The latter closed the murder case of Ardit Gjoklaj,[15] a teenager killed in the landfill managed by the Municipality of Tirana, without finding a guilty party. Mayor Erjon Veliaj was directly implicated in this case.

But, there is more. The pyramidal Square aggrandizes the monumentalization of the ego by promoting a general and generic national identity. During the construction period and until its inauguration last year, the banners of the Municipality of Tirana, in a chauvinistic and ignorant manner, winking at easily-incited nationalistic feelings, promoted a Square surrounded by “greenery and [built on] natural rocks belonging to Albanian territories, including Kosovo and other places populated by Albanians”. But, for foreign spectators and consumers, in an 180-degree inversion[16] quoting Sala, this charged nationalistic streak is codified and interpreted[17] as a preference “both for logistic and symbolic reasons, which led to the reactivation of local stone quarries and turned the project also on this level into a relevator [sic] of the richness of the Albanian context and a stimulation of its production capacity”.

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Similarly, the case of the TID tower, 51N4E’s first project in Albania, follows the same reasoning and dispositif laws as Tirana’s monumental boulevard and, thus, exhibits the same phenomena confirming the inextricable ties with political power.

IMG_4191 1

Built on a public space, which quickly became private[18], the TID Tower (2004-2016) building complex was a part of Tirana’s center master plan designed by Architecture-Studio, a company which the Municipality of Tirana, then headed by Edi Rama, declared a winner in 2003 (unfinished)[19]. As Peter Swinnen immediately understood, the masterplan’s authors “as they are from Paris, they made a very Haussmannian kind of reading of the city”[20]. In short, a visual repetition takes place encompassing two rows with each one including five 85-meter tall towers at a scale which overwhelms the boulevard’s main square which, in turn, assumes a pronounced verticality. After fulfilling the first two dispositif laws of the boulevard –alignment and verticality – the TID Tower satisfies the third one, that of exclusivity, by assuming the shape of a half-closed monolith.

architecture studio _ tirana

The TID Tower occupied the space of a former public park, criminally left in a state of degradation by Tirana’s municipality, headed by Edi Rama. In the late 90’s Kapllan Pasha’s tumb and the park territory, confiscated in 1967 as all clerical proprieties of Peoples’s Socialist Republic of Albania, was re-transferred to the Albanian Muslim Community. Regarding this propriety see Artan Lame’s article (link).

However, Peter Swinnen, the voice of 51N4E in this particular case, informs us with the usual dose of ignorance and disregard, that the tower was built in an “undefined site, but where actually is [sic] one thing on the site, which is the monument, the tomb, of Sulejman Pasha, the guy who started the city of Tirana”[21]. Unsurprisingly, despite its brevity, this statement contains a factual error, as the monument is of Kapllan Pasha[22], not Sulejman Pasha. In addition, neither Kapllan nor Sulejman “started the city of Tirana”. The error of the authors, however, can be forgiven because the official page of the Municipality of Tirana, beginning with Edi Rama’s reign there, that contains the following, incorrect information: “Tirana began to assume its shape in 1614 under Sulejman Pasha who built a mosque, a bakery and a hammam. These three buildings signaled the beginnings of this city”. Visible ruins of a medieval tower at a distance of 100 meters from the TID Tower as well as villas belonging to the Late Roman period, located within the city’s Inner Perimeter, have been entirely overlooked as evidence to the contrary.

After clearly displaying the useful capability of so finely attuning to the wishes of the regime in power, 51N4E was commissioned by Prime Minister Edi Rama to design his own personal villa in Surrel, near Tirana. During the same year, the architectural firm began its plans for the design of a new art center, opened in 2015 by Prime Minister Rama, in the first floor of the building housing the Prime Minister’s Office. The center lacks any legal framework. Aside from the inspirational aspect of its title, Center for Openness and Dialogue, the acronym COD cannot help but bring to mind the control and filtering of art and artists though political power. In 2014, 51N4E, alongside IABR, became co-administrator of Atelier Albania, a program dealing with the conceptualization and management of competitions, open calls, and evaluation of projects pertaining to every urban planning event in Albania. The program which was established by the Prime Minister, i.e. lacking any competition or open calls, is supported by the Albanian government. Less than a year later “[t] he Flemish government has voted to dismiss official architect Peter Swinnen with immediate effect. […T]he audit made serious allegations against Swinnen. One of them is thought to be conflict of interest in commissioning a study into whether the working practices of the official architect’s office could be applied in Albania. Swinnen’s own practice, 51N4E, has strong ties to the Albanian government”[23].

 

[1] See the lecture of 51N4E co-founder Peter Swinnen on February 6th 2006, In Comes the Space Producer (The architect dissected and declared dead), on YouTube Channel of Architectural Association School of Architecture min.: 48.50. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddyhS-giX1M Link accessed on 27/07/2018.

[2]Link accessed on 30/07/2018. http://www.artnet.com/galleries/galerie-rudiger-schottle/anri-sala-edi-rama-creating-space/

[3]“In fact, three points need to be distinguished: the trace, the erasure of the trace and the marking of the erasure. It is at this level that the signifier arises and the subject emerges.” PETTIGREW, David and François RAFFOUL. 1996. Disseminating Lacan. Albany, NY.: State University of New York Press, p.39.

[4]As its etymology suggests, the boulevard (Dutch: bulwark, bastion), in addition to being an element of urban planning is also a repository of control pertaining to the political regime in power. Historically, it has undergone several phases of aesthetic development and political antagonism both of which, expressed in the specific form of the boulevard, indicate the particular governmental model giving rise to them. If Vienna’s Ringstrasse is the product of the inclusion of the bourgeoisie by Emperor Franz Jospeh’s Enlightened Absolutism (see Renate Wagner-Rieger’s Die Wiener Ringstraße – Bildeiner Epoche. Die Erweiterung der Inneren Stadt Wien unter Kaiser Franz Joseph), or the Parisian boulevards the product of the new imperialist-bourgeois rationalism (see David Harvey’s Paris, Capital of Modernity), the boulevard of Tirana, a result of the imperialistic or colonial wishes of the Mussolinian masses is an implanted repository which carries within it neither an artistic nor a political history of development but merely the representation of its monumental and spectacular theatricality (see Architectural monumentalism in transitional Albania in Studia ethnologica Croatica vol.29, No. 1, 2017). By being implemented and touted as an achievement of modernity and by serving as a lever in the manipulation of the inferiority sense of the “indigenous” population, this spectacular representation concealed the interests of the Italian fascism which, in 1939, succeeded in invading Albania.

[5] See min. 10.15 in video presentation Edi Rama at Creative Time in Stockholm. Link accessed on 30/07/2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sbs0pf0OXs

[6]See the video presentation of Freek Persyn, co-founder of 51N4E, at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, min. 20.50, link accessed on 29/07/2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YYZ5sQTCIA&t=1288s

[7]DELEUZE, Gilles and Félix GUATTARI. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, p. 156.

[8] Link accessed on 29/07/2018, https://www.51n4e.com/project/skanderbeg-square-0#

[9]KODRA, Romeo. 2017. Architectural monumentalism in transitional Albania in Studia ethnologica Croatica vol.29, No. 1, 2017.

[10]AGAMBEN, Giorgio. 2017. Creazione e anarchia. L’opera nell’età della religione capitalistica, Neri Pozza, p.132.

[11] Link accessed on 29/07/2018, https://www.51n4e.com/project/skanderbeg-square-0#

[12] KLOSI, Ardian and Edi RAMA, Refleksione, Corfu (Greece): Botimet Albania, p. 189.

[13]See the link of El Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, where Skanderbeg Square was awarded winning the European Prize for Urban Public Space 2018; accessed on 30/07/2018. https://vimeo.com/277443424

[14]Link accessed on 30/07/2018. http://www.panorama.com.al/salianji-nxjerr-te-dhenat-pronari-i-fusha-shpk-kusheri-i-trafikantit-te-droges-lidhjet-me-ish-kryeprokurorin-e-tiranes/

[15]Link accessed on 30/07/2018. https://exit.al/en/2018/05/21/investigation-into-ardit-gjoklajs-death-not-sufficient/

[16]Inversionis the introductory text prepared by Anri Sala for Creating Space Where There Appears To Be None. Here, the artist Sala offers the correct intepretation regarding the artist Rama.The text was available at http://www.edirama.al/files/books/Creating_Space_Where_There_Appears_To_Be_None.pdf, but since November 2016 it is no longer accessible. Since then the visitors are beingredirected to Edi Rama’s Official Facebook page.

[17]Link accessed on 30/07/2018. https://www.51n4e.com/project/skanderbeg-square-0#

[18] During the late Nineties the park and the territory around Kapllan Pasha’s Tyrbe returned to the Albanian Muslim Community (AMC), after being confiscated in 1967, as all private proprieties in People’s Socialist Republic of Albania where State Socialism was in force. According to Artan Lame (Deputy Mayor of Tirana 2000-2002 and Minister of Territory and Tourism 2002-2005) it is incredible how the ACM approved the privatization knowing that would be built “this club and toilettes over the tomb”. Link accessed on 30/07/2018 https://www.syri.net/2016/04/18/artan-lame-i-del-kunder-edi-rames-ca-mesime-fetarishte-shikoni-kullen-qe-u-ndertua-mbi-tyrben-e-kapllan-pashes/

[19] Link accessed on 30/07/2018. http://www.architecture-studio.fr/en/projects/tir2/urban_design_of_tirana_city_centre.html

[20] See the lecture of Peter Swinnen, In Comes the Space Producer (The architect dissected and declared dead), on YouTube Channel of Architectural Association School of Architecture min.: 52.30. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddyhS-giX1M Link accessed on 27/07/2018.

[21] Idem. min.: 55.00.

[22] See the link of Institute of Monument of Culture website, accessed on 30/07/2018 http://www.imk.gov.al/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/TYRBJA-E-KAPLLAN-PASHES.pdf

[23]Link accessed on 30/07/2018. http://www.flanderstoday.eu/current-affairs/official-architect-peter-swinnen-dismissed-immediate-effect

2 mendime mbi “Skanderbeg Square and TID Tower by 51N4E. (Romeo Kodra)

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