There are two main ways that people usually treat the crumbling monuments of eastern European communism: Either they destroy them or they preserved them intact, adding context to turn them into reminders of the terrors they brought upon hundreds of millions of humans, similar to the preservation of concentration camps in Germany and Poland.
But the Dutch architectural firm MVRDV is proposing a third approach to this ongoing process of reckoning with the remnants of Soviet regimes–in this case, for the Pyramid of Tirana in Albania’s capital city.
The 127,000-square-foot pyramid–pictured above in its current vandalized state–opened its doors on October 14, 1988. It was built in honor of Albanian dictator Enver Halil Hoxha, who commissioned the museum’s design to his daughter Panvera Hoxha and her husband Klement Kolaneci, working with architects Pirro Vaso and Vladimir Bregu. The finished pyramid looked a bit like a Soviet reimagination of an Aztec pyramid–an all-too-appropriate visual reference, given the tens of thousands of people who were sacrificed for “crimes” against Hoxha’s dictatorship that made the country the poorest state in Europe. Hoxha died in 1985 without seeing the completion of his megalomaniac monument, which Albanians jokingly renamed the “Enver Hoxha Mausoleum“–showing that humor is one way to combat tyranny (well, humor and tanks).
When communism collapsed in 1991, the monument was converted into a conference center and christened with a new name: the Pyramid of Tirana. When the Kosovo war broke out in 1999, NATO and some humanitarian organizations turned it into a base of operations. According to Archinect, the pyramid was even turned into a nightclub for a time. Finally, it became a broadcasting center for an Albanian TV channel in 2001.
Over the years, many have proposed razing the crumbling building and turning it into the site of the new Albanian parliament or converting the building for a new use. Others have called for an opera house on the site, and work actually began on it, but the project was ultimately canceled. Historians and architects have debated what to do with the building for years–and in the end, it was preserved against demolition.
This week, MVRDV presented its design for a complete overhaul of the structure, converting it into a tech education center that the firm says will be complete in June 2019. “It is a symbol for many Albanians,” MVRDV co-founder Winy Maas says in a statement. “For the older generation, it is a memory to the cultural events during communist times, for the recent generation it became the place to celebrate the new era.”
The Dutch firm plans to open the structure on all its sides, making it lighter and filling its gigantic atrium with trees and spaces for co-working. The architects will also turn the structural beams that make up the pyramid’s shape into safe staircases so people can walk all the way to the top to see the city landscape. “We create an inhabited monument,” Maas continues–a memorial to those who suffered but also a functional space for a new generation.
“The concrete beams will be used for sightseeing, temporary events and will also be populated with pop-up structures of sorts, such as pavilions, platforms, and settlements,” the firm describes on its website. “The aim here is to give the building back to the city and its inhabitants by transforming the current façade, giving roof access, and presenting a new perspective to the city from above.”
Turing the building into a place of renaissance while allowing citizens to stomp on the symbol of past oppression seems like an apt adaptive reuse project to me.