Tirana’s Skanderbeg Square: Natural stone paving shows its colors when the fountains spew

51N4E: Skanderbeg Square, Tirana.

Belgian architects have designed a central square in Albania’s capital with many interpretations

When natural stone gets wet, it shows its true intense, and darker colors. This property is due to stone’s porosity and was seldom used as a marketing factor – perhaps only in the sale of raw blocks. But architects of the Belgian 51N4E have now harnessed this property for the design of the central square in Albania’s capital Tirana: water is gushed over the pavement from time to time and each time, the stone shows its true colors.

The stone used is exclusively local and to ensure that the water does not gather in puddles, the square is built on a slight slant. There is deeper meaning behind this, which we want to expound.

A total of 30 types of stone quarried in Albania were implemented. They were cut to 45 x 45 cm tiles, 9 cm thick. The surface was left raw cut to avoid slippery surfaces even when wet.

Piecing together the types was a puzzle in itself: depending on availability of the stone types an ingenious plan was set up to ensure that the colors all had their place.

51N4E: Skanderbeg Square, Tirana.

The effect was surprising: people meander across the entire square in search of a stone from their hometown.

51N4E: Skanderbeg Square, Tirana.

There is a complex system of pipes and drains beneath the square supplying more than 100 fountains with water. The pumps can be turned on in groups and spew water or merely release a trickle to wet the square. Trickles, rivulets, little creeks or stream and wet surfaces ensue. These reflect the sun during the day and the street lighting at night.

To allow the water to drain effectively, the entire square is built at a slight slant of 3%. One hardly notices and the slant is so slight that the overall appearance is not compromised.

But there is also a symbolic effect: The highest point is but 2.3 m higher than its surroundings and exactly as high as the plinth of the bordering Opera House, the National Museum and the National Bank.

The ensuing impression is one of equality with the most important buildings – a planned and desired effect.

51N4E: Skanderbeg Square, Tirana.

Not the stone types in the paving alone speak for Albania’s unity. The green belt around the place also symbolizes unity. Not grass but local vegetation is planted here providing a sequence of small woods and providing a pleasant climate together with the flowing water in the square.

51N4E: Skanderbeg Square, Tirana.

Play areas, benches, etc. invite visitors to linger.

The green belt is segmented showing that the area is not cordoned off but rather the space where everything comes together in a city constantly in motion.

The architects found it important that the space be open to all Albanians. A book on the planning and design (Freek Persyn, Charlotte Lao Schmidt: 51N4E, Skanderbeg Square, Tirana, English, 96 Seiten, ISBN: 978-3-944074-21-4) explains how after years of communism, Albania is now experiencing unbridled capitalism where everybody wants to use the natural resources at will. The paving and green belt, it is hoped, will help raise consciousness.

51N4E: Skanderbeg Square, Tirana.

Refurbishment of the place was nominated for the European Union 2019 architectural prize, Mies Award. The square is named after the National War Hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg (1405-1468), who also fought for the Republic of Venice and the Kingdom of Naples after a career in the Osmanian armed forces until he changed sides and won the important battles. The Pope bestowed him with the title „Defender of Western Civilization“ and „Warrior for Christianity“.

51N4E architects

51N4E: Skanderbeg Square, Tirana.

(11.10.2019, USA: 10.11.2019)