Tirana Freescape: Reconstructing Socialist Space

by William Baumgardner (MLA '18)

Tirana, Albania is a city where voices are silenced and identity remains opaque. Through a tumultuous and dark history, the political landscape inherent to public trust has been fractured. How then can the public realm be reconceived to better express the voices of the individual and the collective? This thesis explores how cultural forms of identity, memory, and voice, as found in Albanian textiles can be interpreted at the urban scale. The recently completed master plan the city is implementing does little to recognize public space and the landscape of the capital city while allocating new “poly center” developments. Grounding the thesis in one of these “poly centers,” a derelict textile factory built at the inception of the Communist regime, cultural memory is interpreted, extracted, and manifested in a multi-faceted urban development which aims to operate as a business incubator, housing and public space, community agriculture, and transit-oriented development. By excavating history through the processes of soil remediation, new forms of labor, and community development, the project aspires to reposition the city’s history. Like the textiles that have prevailed in the country for centuries, each thread, each pattern, serves a purpose and frames a larger whole. Unlocking this memory and restructuring its texture will inform the shape of a liberated public realm, one that is vocal and free.