Buildings like theatres are not built with an expiration date. They are supposed to stand the test of time, educate, entertain different generations, and become part of its people’s culture and legacy. The National Theatre was part of the historic facade of a “new” city like Tirana.
The above-mentioned points make the theatre a cultural object. The well-thought-out architecture in its details, functionality and integration with the capital’s centre, prove that this building went far beyond serving as a “dopolavoro” of the Italians. The National Theatre accompanied our grandparents during the occupation periods, served as a centre for cultural and sport activities, as a movie theatre and even as a place where trials for the political opponents of the regime took place.
The second building was used as a meeting place for the elite Writers Club. The numerous functions it served through the years reflect the flexibility of the floor plans and the endless options that could have followed. These arguments are important, and they cannot be eradicated so easily without making any effort. History and heritage should have weighted more heavily on the shoulders of our leaders, that should be looking further than us, “the common people”.
We didn’t take care of our theatre, we let it degrade for more than twenty years. Consequently, we gave others enough arguments to seal it as a building that must be demolished. This is where the mistakes lie. We shouldn’t have discussed whether the walls are strong enough. Maybe it would have been better to discuss if it was too small and whether it could be expanded.
The National Theatre had been neglected for far too long that it required at least a thorough restoration. Broken windows that allow the unforgiving and harsh nature inside, unventilated rooms, poor maintenance, complete abandonment, all affect the condition of the building. Every material, without exception, is affected by usage and the years that go by, but they can be maintained, repaired, adapted.
With the growing population of Tirana, it might be true that the building became too small. But these are not reason enough to demolish a theatre. You forgot to discuss its historical values, its functionality and how it has stood the test of time. Ah, I wish we were so motivated and creative that we could have united wise, knowledgeable, and experienced professionals from various disciplines and professions to find a rational solution for the future of the National Theatre building.
It could have been restored, it could have been expanded, it could have changed function. It would not have been the first building for which such as decision has been made in Tirana. The Ministry of Interior, the National Bank and most recently the Dajti Hotel, are all buildings that are not in their original condition, but the concept and architectural solutions have been preserved.
Lastly, I would like to briefly address the projects that have been implemented so far or are planned to replace the theatre and other buildings in Tirana. Ask the city locals and those who have lived in the capital for many, many decades, how many buildings from our parents’ generation, our grandparents’ generation, our great-grandparents’ generation have been destroyed and have disappeared. How many are left? Tirana is not an old city, but most of the buildings are already younger than my generation.
The identity, the character of the city, the facade of Tirana is not coop-Himmelb(l)au, nor Bjarke Ingels of BIG, nor MVRDV. It is the duty of those foreign architectural studios invited to work here to adapt to our tradition, our culture, our area. Not the other way around. You cannot build in a fragile country like Albania monster-like buildings without identity that can be built anywhere, even on an empty field.
Choosing an architect may seem like an easy thing to do, but few of them reflect on their work and the impact they leave behind. Remember that architecture affects the way you live; where you eat, where you sleep, where you work, where you rest, how you travel etc. Design and construction require a great sense of responsibility, vision, and integrity.