Read, Write, Run, Roam

Crazy, colorful Tirana


Tirana is the bustling capital of Albania’s mediterranean madness. Palm trees poke out of cracked sidewalks. Cafes, battery vendors and motorcycles fight for sidewalk space. Mini dustbowls arise from ubiquitous construction work. Looming above it all are buildings in every color combination imaginable.

Communist governments aren’t known for designing attractive apartment buildings, and Tirana was no exception. After the fall of Communism, development (but not design) skyrocketed. The result is a mishmash scheme of awkward roads and dilapidated concrete monstrosities. A warning to urban planners: visiting Tirana will make your head explode. However, before that happens, you’ll be cheered by striped buildings.

The colorful buildings are the work of former Tirana Mayor Edi Rama. Rama, a trained artist, was elected mayor in 2000 when he was only 36 years old. He started repairing the city’s broken infrastructure, but it was (and still is) a daunting challenge. When he realized he didn’t have the money to repair/reconstruct the worn down buildings, he decided to paint them every color imaginable.

The decision was controversial. Residents didn’t get to choose which color they wanted, and I imagine more than a few babas don’t like living in a green building covered with arrows. Others might think that the program is merely lipstick on a pig. I strongly disagree. (Though I wouldn’t mind seeing a building covered in lipsticked pigs. Just an idea, Albanians…)

The painted buildings are a perfect compliment to the wacky city. Sure, the power may go out three times in one afternoon, but maybe that’s expected when you’re surrounded by polka dot buildings. Oh, there’s a donkey and a horse grazing in the heart of the city? Well, at least they’ve picked a pretty spot to hang out in.

Besides, the buildings are merely a backdrop to more jaw-dropping sights, like the pyramid commemorating Enver Hoxha.

The Rama buildings, as I’ll call them, give Tirana an exterior as colorful as its existence. Many capital cities are unworthy of tourists’ time. They’re merely places to sleep while you’re waiting for a train, or where you’re forced to go for business conferences. Tirana’s buildings made me want to walk around the city, look around/up corners and ask myself, “what else is lurking around here?”

Best of all, the colorful city may inspire creative new architecture, like this building.

If art can’t change the world, at least it can help change the face of Tirana.

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