Winners announced in Albania's new cultural centre and mosque

By Richard High10 May 2011

BIG, Martha Schwartz Landscape, Buro Happold , Speirs & Major, Lutzenberger & Lutzenberger,

BIG, Martha Schwartz Landscape, Buro Happold , Speirs & Major, Lutzenberger & Lutzenberger,

BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), Martha Schwartz Landscape, Buro Happold , Speirs & Major, Lutzenberger & Lutzenberger, and Global Cultural Asset Management have won the competition to design a new 27000 m2 cultural complex in Tirana, Albania.

The 27000 m2 centre, which will include a Mosque, Islamic Centre, and a Museum of Religious Harmony, is part of the on-going transformation of the Albanian capital that includes the restoration and refurbishment of existing buildings, the construction of a series of new public and private buildings, and the complete re-conceptualization of Scanderbeg Square. This important square is the site of the new cultural complex.

Albania is the crossroads of three major religions: Orthodox Christianity; Catholicism; and Islam. With the recent completion of two new churches, all three religions will now have new places of worship in the heart of Tirana. The complex will not only serve the Muslim community of the city and surrounding areas, but will educate the public about Islamic values and serve as a beacon for religious tolerance.

BIG's winning entry was selected out of five finalists, including Spanish Architect Andreas Perea Ortega, Architecture Studio from France, Dutch SeARCH and London-based Zaha Hadid.

The buildings' forms emerge from two intersecting axes and formal requirements: the city grid of Tirana, which calls for the proper framing of the square and a coherent urban identity, and orientation of the Mosque's main wall towards Mecca.

BIG's proposal incorporates Tirana's grid by maintaining the street wall and eaves line, yet rotates the ground floor so both the Mosque and the plaza face the holy city of Islam. This transformation also opens up a series of plazas - two minor ones on the sides of the Mosque and a major plaza with a minaret in front - which are semi-covered and serve as an urban extension of the place of worship.

By turning the mosque inside out and bringing the program and qualities of the Mosque to a public arena, the religion becomes inclusive and inviting, and the cool shaded urban space can be shared by all.

The mosque can accommodate up to 1000 people performing their daily prayers. Through the layout of courtyards and public space, the mosque can also expand to accommodate larger groups of 5000 on Fridays and up to 10000 on special holy days.

The facade takes its inspiration from Islamic mashrabiya screens, which provide shading and privacy while still allowing views out. The light qualities of the mosque will change dramatically throughout the day as the light washes across the curved facades.

The design also includes The Quran Gardens containing all of the plants mentioned in the Quran in the same amount as the number of times they appear in the holy scripture.

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