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A Cultural and Mixed-Use development proposal for a design competition in Tirana, Albania

The Balcony is envisioned as a cultural landmark at the heart of Tirana to create an important milestone in the development of its urban landscape. Functionality and spatial quality are matched, as a monumental megastructure is proposed to unify the different programs planned for the area. The masterplan of the building complex seeks to cultivate openness, flexibility, public interaction, innovation and natural landscapes as key design concepts. 

The proposal brings together complementary natures: urban and landscape, ground and sky, knowledge and innovation, to build state of the art cultural platform for living, working and sharing ideas. A primary three-dimensional framework supports and serves the different programs and has the capacity to be actively developed, upgraded or completed over time. The Convention areas and the Commercial establishments create public nodes that serve the city and can potentially become a hub for national or international events.

The project offers various degrees of privacy. The ground floor creates a connection between the central boulevard and the natural park, allowing access to the public. Commercial establishments form an ephemeral boundary that open up spaces for artists and companies to bring their own innovations to life through pavilions. The central volumes become private residential units with an “air lobby” at the centre of the building. The upper levels in the southern part of the building are reserved for hotel suites that provide stunning views of the city and the mountains around it. 

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The building is partially defined by a superstructure grid spread across 120m x 60m, that allows for flexible use of space while also providing a certain rhythm for activities to flourish. The residential, commercial and hospitality programs occur at different nodes within this grid, while the convention areas retain a certain independence from it.

The Crater would be the grand pavilion that hosts programmes and events as part of the convention areas. The Crater sits within the grid of the superstructure while offering flexibility of activities to occur. Special attention is paid to circulations and views designing high quality spaces for the activity where environmental and construction performance are carefully studied and customized to balance quality and cost in both short and long terms.

The Scheme

The programs of the building are classified in the following zones - 

The Convention Zone - The convention areas comprise of the Crater, about 45m in diameter, that springs from the ground as a grand pavilion, a subterranean Arena and other large and smaller halls in the basement levels. 

The Commercial Zone - The spaces for commercial establishments are sprinkled along the edge of the building creating an ephemeral boundary that is 10-15m wide, between the boulevard, park and the building. The gardens and public areas provide space for pavilions and mezzanines for companies and artists to set up their own retail spaces. 

The Residential Zone - The residences are prefabricated units of different configurations that are distributed in porous volumes across the building. The spaces in between these volumes accentuate the superstructure and allow for smaller plazas to occur.

The Hospitality Zone - The hotel suites are distributed in some of the upper levels of the building creating views of the city and the mountains. Complimented by public amenities and programs, the suites would also be made of prefabricated building elements.

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The Convention Areas

The Convention Zone of the building is distributed along the ground level and the initial basement levels. A combination of public and semi-private areas, the iconic symbol of the convention area is “The Crater” - a grand pavilion that can host live events and concert programs along with other expo related programs. A subterranean arena is located below the Crater and is also a ground for other events. The basement levels host large and small halls for meeting and exhibitions. Allowing for an open grid, stalls of various scales can be set up to generate interesting activities and social connections. 

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The Green Agora

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 The Commercial Gardens

The ground level of the building creates a porous access from the garden and the boulevard. The commercial zones are spread around the periphery of the building creating a transitory boundary condition. Nestled within gardens are spaces for pavilions to be set up by artists and brands, becoming nodes for innovation and ideas to thrive. A series of mezzanines create smaller plaza spaces at different intervals that overlook the gardens and commercial spaces below.

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The Residences

The Residential units will be a series of prefabricated elements arranged to create different configurations of spaces. Divided into components of the “wall”, the “chassis” for services, the “facade” and the “slab”, they come together to create a canvas for individual appropriation and unique expressions of the families and people residing there. The layouts consist of studio, one bedroom and two bedroom type apartments arranged within the grid of the superstructure. The residential lobby will be lifted from the ground, creating an “air lobby” as a common area that frames the structure and porous volumes of the building. 

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The Hospitality zone

Similar to the residential units, the hotel suites will be made of prefabricated systems that allow for customization. Situated in the upper levels of the building complex, the suites frame views of the park, the boulevard and the southern horizon of the city of Tirana. The hotel lobby level also host amenities like a swimming pool and an outdoor restaurant for the guests, overlooking the vast mountains in the eastern horizon. 

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The Solar Orchard

The roof of the project, titled the Solar Orchard,  will be a semi-public garden space reserved for the residents and guests of the building. A combination of natural landscape elements and bold structural members frame panoramic views of the city and create spaces for social interaction. The roof also hosts a series of Solar panels to utilize renewable energy and create a sustainable future for the project.

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Building Componentization

The project will be conceptually split into the following components for easy, repetitive production and low-cost manufacturing. These components will then allow for quick on-site assembly and also use moulds that can be recycled. The combination of On-site and Off-Site work is at the heart of Ensamble’s design principles and unique statement. 

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Carefully understanding the environmental qualities of Tirana and its future development, designing a sustainable construction process that both enhances and protects the urban fabric of the city is of critical importance in this project. 

The proposal embodies environmental values from numerous points of view:

Conceptually: the project becomes an extension of the natural and urban landscape, integrating with the garden elements and contributing to its artistic and architectural character.

Physically: the proposed building elements would all be prefabricated elements constructed off-site and then later assembled on-site in stages. This will reduce the overall impact of construction waste and excavation and also help with ease of building. 

Materially: the Superstructure and the Crater would be made of reinforced concrete and incorporate the earth from around the site. The residential and hospitality units would be made of Cross-laminated Timber (CLT) that allow for recycling and have a lower ecological footprint. The materials will be chosen and procured from around the site to reduce environmental impact. 

Constructively: access to the site and materials are analyzed and a construction strategy that balances offsite with onsite works is proposed as a reasonable and viable solution that minimizes impact.

Economically: the optimization of the structural system, the selection of materials and the construction sequence are oriented to minimize construction time, resources and waste, using ingenious technologies and methodologies that while innovative, have been previously tested. Prefabricated technologies reduce the costing by setting up reusable moulds and resources. 

Historically: the proposal reads and interprets the context and its evolution over time, and proposes a new stage in its history that respectfully connects and differentiates important milestones.

Project Drawings

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