Skanderbeg Square by 51N4E and Anri Sala wins European Prize for Urban Public Space

Skanderbeg Square in Tirana, Albania, has won the European Prize for Urban Public Space, a biennial competition honoring projects that create, recover, and improve plazas and squares in European cities. The project was selected from among 279 candidates in 32 countries.

The square, created in 1939 during the Italian occupation of Albania, was until recently dominated by cars. In 2008 then-mayor and current prime minister Edi Rama commissioned a redesign to make Skanderberg accessible only to pedestrians and public transport, but his successor overruled that decision and even opened to traffic the tiny green area around a statue at the square’s center. In 2016, new mayor Erion Veliaj resurrected Edi Rama’s proposal with three main objectives: First, to create a pedestrian zone and hide vehicles in an underground car park. Second, to bring all listed buildings around the square into the limelight. And, third, to add more greenery. The transformation of the square is a result of collaboration between Brussels-based architecture firm 51N4E, Albanian artist Anri Sala, Belgian environmental designers Plant en Houtgoed, and Albanien project management company iRI.

Today cars are barred from Skanderbeg, and the square is covered with cobblestones in different tones from across Albania. A system of fountains emphasizes the various colors of the stones, and the center of the square forms a flat pyramid. At its peak, pedestrians are at eye level with the plinths of half a dozen monuments surrounding the square, giving them a sense of spatial equality. Juxtaposed against that central pyramid are various gardens that form a greenbelt around the square.

Learn more about the project and flip through our publication 51N4E, Skanderbeg Square, Tirana edited by Freek Persyn and Charlotte Lao Schmidt, Ruby Press, Berlin 2017.

And get more about the European Prize for Urban Public Space here.

Photos by Filip Dujardin