26 Feb

Going Green: The MET Tirana

The need for green spaces in urban environments is becoming ever more apparent in modern day architecture. In the heart of Tirana, Albania’s capital city, a proposed 12-storey residential and mixed-use building designed by Mario Cucinella Architects is set to liven things up a bit!

As the Mediterranean sunsets over the mountains surrounding the city of Tirana, the hustle of people going about their business does not stop. Despite the beautiful landscape, this is a busy urban environment and there are plenty of high-rise flats and exclusive apartments taking centre stage in the Tirana skyline. Considered the centre of political, economic and cultural life in Albania, Tirana is known as the ‘City of Kiosks’ after its many mini-shops and small cafes, which are usually full with people gathering to socialise or browse the wares. 

A stark reminder of a troubled history

Tirana is undoubtedly an exciting place to explore if you are interested in architecture. Due to its complex political history, you are likely to come across architectural styles from a range of influential cultures, from Russian communist to Italian fascist buildings. There are ornate mosques, beautiful churches, ottoman castle walls, art installations, tree-lined boulevards, contemporary theatres and modern museums to explore. 

Since they regained their freedom in 1992, the Albanians have enjoyed a free reign over what they construct and where, with no regulations or planning implications. Understandably, the Albanians prioritised housing and business construction over green or public spaces. While this burst of progress was undoubtedly overdue, the boom resulted in a somewhat bare city with a jumbled layout. It also became crowded, with a population rising from 200,000 in 1992 to 800,000, with an average age of 27. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and as things stood, Tirana was in need of a re-invention. 

An ‘Orbital Forest’ and a ‘kaleidoscope metropolis’

Recognising the need to bring sense to the landscape, the new Mayor, Erion Veliaj, decided that it was time for the city to change. Working with Italian architect Stefano Boeri, Veliaj has proposed ambitious plans to re-design the city layout and bring order to the way developers build new structures. The intention is to transform Tirana into a ‘kaleidoscope metropolis’ with an ‘Orbital Forest’ of 2 million trees encircling the city. Instead of sprawling across the land to cater for the growing population, the plan is to build upwards, within the confines of the Orbital Forest, which acts as a green belt. There is also a new tree-planting initiative, where people can plant trees to celebrate special occasions. Many national celebrities and high-profile visitors to the city have taken part and planted trees, making it a popular scheme.  

As part of the plan, new construction and design projects like the Tirana Forever Green, The Eyes of Tirana, The Iconic Tower and Down Town Albania have shown that premium, architectural masterpieces are dominating the scheme. One proposed building in particular is attracting considerable attention in the architecture world. Collaborating with local architect Arben Shtylla, Mario Cucinella Architects have recently completed plans for a magnificent architectural concept with green terraces reaching up to the sky. 

The MET Tirana

It is as if the Italian-based architects responsible for designing the MET Tirana have almost sensed a need for an organic building in the city. Locals can also use the 12-storey block of luxury apartments as a reference point within the city’s broader redevelopment plans, between the former Dajti hotel and the Catholic cathedral. Creating a dramatic impression, the building will extend to 48.7m in height, distributed over an area of 1,800m².

The design responds cleverly to the local landscape, climate and culture, complementing the surrounding areas of central Tirana and neighbouring prestigious buildings. The architects have paid particular attention to the outside space, too, with plenty of street furniture to create places where people can gather. Hopefully, this layout will lead to more bike and foot traffic and reduce the need for cars. The building offers maximum permeability to pedestrian flows on the ground floor, allowing for a considerable share of land area with the remaining space used as commercial, public, and sports facilities. 

The building has the perfect ratio of masonry to greenery. Around the building, a spectacular series of varying green terraces and diaphragms elegantly spiral their way to the top. This approach means that each dwelling in the building has access to an outdoor, tree-lined space – essentially creating an urban oasis high above the ground. This unique aspect is making architect enthusiasts, residents and potential buyers alike take notice. The building is an excellent example of how urban development can still incorporate elements from the natural environment, creating an outstanding balance between city and Mother Nature. It cleverly blends plants, large spaces and innovative design to result in a healthy, nurturing living environment that feels free from the busy city below. 

Inspired by the ‘white town with 1,000 windows’

Inspiration for the MET Tirana came from the iconic buildings in Berat, which is a three-hour drive from the capital, and known as ‘the white town with 1,000 windows.’ Berat has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2008 and locals consider it a hidden gem because, despite its beauty, it welcomes hardly any foreign tourists. Standing in the Old Town with its tiny cobbled streets and typical European restaurants, you can look up to see rows of tightly stacked, white Ottoman houses climbing up the side of a large hill. The houses are built into the stone facade, and their painted white walls contrast with the reddish-brown roof tiles and wooden windows. Where the hill is so steep, and the houses built so closely together, it looks like there are more windows than there are in reality, giving the town its name.    

Taking influence from Beret, one section of the MET Tirana features alternating glazed and opaque components, which ‘gives the building extreme lightness and elegance’ and lets plenty of natural light into the building. Although the ground level is entirely glazed, the design creates a pattern on the building’s façade, which acts as a visual feature for those living in the opposing apartments to enjoy from their own windows. It also helps to reduce the amount of solar radiation. It just goes to show, windows do not only benefit those living inside the block of apartments. They can also make a big difference for those who have to look at the building, especially when it comes to the architectural impact of larger structures. 

Good architecture requires an understanding of the design innovation, passion and endurance needed to transform a vision into an extraordinary building. It can be exciting to see a project develop from the very beginning, and we will be interested to see how the MET Tirana affects the local population as it develops. You can track its progress by following the Mario Cucinella Architects Instagram account. 

All images used in this article are credited to Mario Cucinella Architects.