In Albania, building as bust

The Kanderbeg Building, in Tirana, Albania, designed as a bust of an Albanian patriot. (MVDRV)

Here’s a new idea: the building as bust. I know where you think I am heading, but no, I’m not talking about the inevitable failure of modern architecture, I’m talking about a building designed to represent the head of a specific human being. In Tirana, the capital city of the former East bloc nation of Albania, a building is under construction that will honor the Albanian patriot Gjergj Kastrioti, who revolted against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th Century.

The Dutch firm MVRDV designed the Skanderbeg Building – officially known as Tirana’s Rock – based on a statue of Kastrioti in next-door Skanderbeg Plaza, which takes its name from Kastrioti’s local nickname. The Rock moniker must come from the nation’s Balkan history. The Balkans are a notoriously hard neck of the European subcontinent. (Albania is negotiating to join the E.U.)

Dezeen’s article on the building Quotes MVRDV partner Winy Maas:

“These days, cities around the world increasingly look like each other – I always encourage them to resist this, to find their individual character and emphasise it”, says MVRDV founding partner Winy Maas. “To me, the Skanderbeg Building is an opportunity to do just that. It brings new meaning to existing elements of Albanian architecture.”

Harvard Lampoon Building (1909).

Technically, the building’s design may indeed resist the increasingly monotonous appearance of cities globally, in that most modernist buildings resemble nothing, let alone no one, in particular. But unless one is clued into the joke, the Skanderbeg Building does little to resist the trend. The famous Harvard Lampoon Building (1909) by Edmund March Wheelwright, the only other building that genuinely appears to resemble a human head (generic, in this case), does a much better job of resisting that trend, even if it was built long before the City Ugly movement got under way.

Both buildings are to be distinguished from the often quite distinct, if normally quite accidental, facial appearance of traditionally designed buildings, as pointed out by architect and theorist Ann Sussman.

The Skanderbeg Building looks as if it could have been designed by Frank Gehry (when on his meds) or Jeanne Gang. It is described by MVRDV as a “figurative” (as opposed to an abstract) sculpture, though the firm’s spokesman seemed to be trying as hard as he could to have it both ways:

The subtle head-like appearance of the building is largely achieved with curved balconies on every level. Each one has been sculpted by MVRDV with a unique form, creating protrusions that echo a nose, ears, and beard. The resulting effect is somewhat subtle; people may need to look twice to understand the building’s shape, depending on the angle from which they see it. This expressive approach fits seamlessly into a city that has developed a tradition of mixing art and architecture as part of its post-communist renaissance.”

Very interesting. Which world historical figure will be the next beneficiary of this new trend in architecture?

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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1 Response to In Albania, building as bust

  1. LazyReader says:

    slike a dildo with moss


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