Erected in the city centre in 1987, two years after the dictator Enver Hoxha's death, Tirana's landmark building is a concrete and glass pyramid clad with slabs of Carrara marble. It was designed to celebrate the despot and become a museum containing the artifacts, icons and symbols of his regime.
The dictator Hoxha ruled over Albania, one of the poorest countries in Europe, from November 1944, when the Labor Party of Albania rose to power under his leadership, until the autocrat's death in 1985. Hoxha was a self-proclaimed orthodox Marxist-Stalinist and his radical stances dragged Albania into profound isolation from the rest of Communist Eastern Europe, also damaging relations with the USSR and the People's Republic of China. Supposed territorial defense became crucially important and, between 1972 and 1983, a paranoid feeling of constant threat found solace in the construction of 750,000 bunkers, still present all over Albania – a paradigmatic example of the way in which political strategies seek immediate visibility in physical space, aware of the hidden superiority of material symbolism over idealism.
After the fall of the Communist regime and in a frivolous but pragmatic example of Albanian iconoclasm, the memorial was turned into a cultural centre, an incubator and promoter of events, that also housed a nightclub and the studios of a well-known local television station. That is not all: youngsters discovered they could climb up the building's sloping walls and slide down to the ground; and young people and students who would only have heard and read about Hoxha turned the pyramid into a meeting place and rendezvous. Having updated its functions and significance once more, contemporary Albanian society was showing that it had metabolised its history, fully aware of the overwhelming complexity of this process but even more aware that it is impossible to build the future without a past.
Social meeting places and architecture – with their own history and determined by their functions – trace the contours that convey the structure of a society; their spaces are often metaphors of a country's social and cultural life. Knocking down the pyramid may constitute an unconscious act of revenge, anachronistic and contradictory, involving a symbol of a past political condition that has, in the meantime, acquired a new value and is a symbol of the nation's tortuous process of redemption and coming to maturity. It is triggering an idealistic-functional conflict with an adversary who is long gone. As Rem Koolhaas said of Italy: "...the visual competence and sheer beauty of the "wrong" side in the late 1930s is a daily reminder of architecture's ambiguous moralities."
In this sense, the pyramid becomes an innocent victim (the target) of a political decision, which somehow failed to see the mass of concrete and glass as the physical image of a constantly changing people. It is as if the narcissist power that generated it to exalt the figure of a man and celebrate his memory were raising its head again, decades later, in an attempt to bulldoze what has today become a receptacle of shared values, a place that belongs to the Albanian people without them being the owners. Taking repossession of the pyramid expresses the faith that architecture can reflect on the symbolism of the construction, on the identity and actual nature of the place, and see the object as a record, a chronicle of personal stories and collective history as well as a witness of physical and social change. A space acquires a collective meaning when individuals perceive a value in it. If this value is destroyed or deteriorates, the space goes back to its anonymous and inert origin. What would be lost in this case is the intention behind the concept of the Tirana pyramid, which is turned from a Pharaonic tomb to a precious living ruin which, as such, bears witness to the stratified sentiments and meanings but which, if replaced, would obliterate the past: "What strikes me about ruins – even when erudition wants them to tell their story or when sound and light are used to transform them into spectacle – is their ability to provide a sense of time without condensing history and without closing it in an illusion of knowledge or beauty; it is their ability to take on the form of an art work, a memory with no past. Future history will produce no more ruins. It will not have the time."
Recent events showing Tirana as the scene of clashes between socialist opposition demonstrators and the police simply confirm suspicions of a huge gap between the government's actions and the ignored expectations of the Albanian people. In this sense, a debate on a piece of architecture could become a clear indication of a crisis in act. Giacomo Cantoni, Elian Stefa