Steven Holl Architects and Agnieszka Kurant release design for expo center in Tirana, Albania

Albania Mania

Steven Holl Architects and Agnieszka Kurant release design for expo center in Tirana, Albania

The forthcoming venue will contain hotel rooms, a wine museum, and an exposition center surrounding a reflecting pool. (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

In Tirana, Albania Prime Minister Edi Rama recently named Steven Holl Architects (SHA) as designer for a new a hotel, convention center, and wine museum which tells Albania’s 3,000-year history of wine cultivation. SHA entered a competition to design the complex together with Polish artist Agnieszka Kurant.

SHA and Kurant beat out over 60 applicants in the Expo Albania International Competition, including the shortlisted firms Studio Gang, Office KGDV, Stefano Boeri, and the German studio Kuehn Malvezzi.

The president of the jury was Italian architect Benedetta Tagliabue. The choice to appoint SHA as the project architect was unanimous, according to a press release. “The art becomes architecture,” the jury said. “We’re certain that Albanians will grow fond of this building quite quickly, because the jury unanimously decided that the winner is the team of Steven Holl Architects.”

vineyard and reflecting pool
An expansive vineyard ties into the wine museum and the country’s winemaking history. (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

In recent years, Tirana has become a hotbed for international architects. Six years ago, in 2018, 514NE, together with Albanian artist Anri Sala, completed the redesign of Skanderbeg Square. Then in 2020, BIG was tapped to replace a historic building, the Albanian National Theater (1939) with a new cultural complex. That project was met with stiff local opposition.

In 2021, MVRDV announced its plans to convert a 20th-century monument into a reinvigorated cultural hub. The Pyramid of Tirana is just one of several ongoing projects by MVRDV in Albania’s capital, however. CHYBIK+KRISTOF recently won a competition to design a new luxury residential tower in Tirana. And earlier this year, OODA announced a new high-rise tower for Tirana, Hora Vertikale.

Now, Expo Albania represents the latest highly sought after commission in the former socialist country with 2.7 million people off the Adriatic Sea.

inside of expo hall with truss ceiling
The interior spaces will be capped by CLT trusses. (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

At Expo Albania, Agnieszka Kurant will continue her series The End of Signature. It collects signatures from local communities and stamps them onto buildings using neon lighting. The building designed by SHA is informed by the signatorial form that Kurant arrived at for this particular job in Tirana.

In 2015, Kurant first deployed The End of Signature on the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s facade. A similar intervention is now permanent fixture in Kendall Square at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Together with SHA, Kurant will continue this project in Tirana. Moving forward, Kurant will collect signatures from local Tirana communities and fuse them into a single wandering line that gets planted onto the future building’s facade. The sculpture by Kurant will traverse the expo center’s rectangular volumes, and the line will shape the CLT roof trusses in a dancing rhythm, the architects said.

interior of expo wall with architecture by Steven Holl Architects and artwork by Agnieszka Kurant
In addition to a hotel the complex calls for the construction of an expo center. (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

For the competition, SHA submitted several sketches to reflect Steven Holl’s thinking and process. The drawings show large reflecting pool with recycled rainwater and graywater centers the space.

The reflecting pool is flanked by the hotel on one end, and the expo center on the other capped by public roof gardens. The nearby wine museum, SHA continued, will feature demonstration vineyards and host events like wine trade festivals.

sketch for expo center
Concept sketch (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)
sketch for expo center
Vineyard sketch (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

The building facade by SHA is marked by its irregular shape that undulates in elevation, much like the nearby mountains. Atop the building will be state of the art white solar shingles to harness all electricity energy. Skylights will flood the interior space which can be blackened for events when needed. The park area reuses excavated earth to create mounds that act as acoustic buffers.

view of hotel and expo center in Tirana by Steven Holl Architects and Agnieszka Kurant
The building designed by SHA is informed by the form Kurant conceived for the job. (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

Atelier 4, Atelier Markgraph, Stoss, and Arup are also on the project team.

A project schedule and completion date hasn’t yet been announced.