Inclusive cultural centre in Albania to act as a beacon for religious tolerance
An international competition for a cultural complex in Albania has been won by a team consisting of Bjarke Ingels Group, Martha Schwartz Landscape, Buro Happold, Speirs & Major, Lutzenberger & Lutzenberger, and Global Cultural Asset Management. The brief contained multiple challenges for the designers, with the proposed site located on two intersecting axes – the city grid of Tirana, calling for the proper framing of the square and a coherent urban identity, and the orientation of the Mosque’s main wall towards Mecca.
Comprised of a Mosque, an Islamic Centre, and a Museum of Religious Harmony interspersed with a number of public courtyards and social spaces, the intention is for the complex to act as a ‘beacon for religious tolerance’ for the city and beyond. As a key constituent in the ongoing urban transformation project in Albania’s capital, the cultural centre – on the crossroads of three major religious: Orthodox Christianity, Catholicism, and Islam – looks to bring individuals from different backgrounds, cultures and religions together to educate the community about Islamic values.
Commenting on the selection of the successful design, the Mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama explained: “The winning proposal was chosen for its ability to create an inviting public space flexible enough to accommodate daily users and large religious events, while harmonically connecting with the Scanderbeg square, the city of Tirana and its citizens across different religions. Additionally the project shines through its beautiful garden surrounding the new Mosque and Centre of Islamic Culture which symbolically features the rich vegetation described in Islamic literature. Finally the team’s awareness of the economic aspects of this important development will contribute to a successful realisation of this project.”
Addressing the predetermined needs of the building, the chosen proposal maintains the street wall and eaves line, yet rotates the ground floor of the complex to ensure that the Mosque and plaza face towards Mecca. Tucked between the main volumes of the building are three plazas, one on either side of the Mosque, and a third large plaza with a minaret in front. These additional communal spaces dramatically increase the 27,000 sq m facility’s capacity, meaning that its daily capacity of 1,000 worshipers can be increased to 5,000 on Fridays and 10,000 on special holy days.
Care has been taken to affiliate the new cultural centre with the Holy Scripture and traditional Islamic designs, with an area of landscaped grounds showcasing all of the plants mentioned within the Quran and inspiration for the rectangular windows taken from Islamic mashrabiva screens. For Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner of BIG, this cultural centre is more than just an empty shell. He concludes: “Religious tolerance is one of our greatest challenges today– politically, culturally and even urbanistically. With the construction of the New Mosque of Tirana, The Islamic Center and The Museum of Religious Harmony – Tirana will reestablish the equilibrium by adding a mosque to the newly completed Orthodox and Catholic Cathedrals – making Tirana an example for the rest of the world as a global capital of religious harmony.”