Covered Embers - The rebirth of Gjirokastra from its ashes ELEONORA BACCEGA
Author: Eleonora Baccega
Affiliation: POLIS University
One depopulated city with three separated identities: this is what Gjirokastra looks like today. On the slopes of the mountain, the historical city center consists of small buildings, many of which are left abandoned, disposed on the ground, following a natural, almost biomimetic, sprawl. On the lower part, there is the industrial area, an axial development alongside the national road, which is full of unfinished and abandoned buildings. The most recent urban sprawl is characterized by a dense urban fabric made of big structures, a pattern renamed as solid proximity.
The depopulation of the city seems to be unrestrainable and its death unavoidable: this fate was considered as the inception of the project proposal, which aimed at exploiting the abandoned and unused buildings and making them the impulse for a new vitality of the city, by taking advantage of the neglected private buildings and by returning them to the community as places for socialization and gathering.
The attempt to stop the depopulation of the city should start from the unification of the three different parts of Gjirokastra into a single project by establishing a connecting loop. This is not enough, however, to keep people in the city and keep the city alive, so the adopted approach considered a more forward-looking intervention by attracting and involving people in the city. This was considered possible by using of Art as a catalyst that brings the inhabitants and visitors together, as well as a resource for the administrators. The resulting “Art Loop” project will be distributed throughout the territory, and it will consist of abandoned and ruined buildings which are given new life through aesthetically beautiful, socially useful, and economically advantageous functions, as well as through new cultural places for the community recovered from carelessness and the unceasing passage of time that leaves them empty.
This project is made of knots or focus points, which stand for relevant abandoned buildings, and will assume new essential functions for the new life of the city. The stadium, an empty school, a typical house, and a modern reinforced concrete villa will be transformed and assigned new functions. A net of different types of ruined buildings will put these knots together: broken, ruined and unfinished structures will be converted into public spaces for citizens, ideal stages for occasional performances and temporary pavilions for a Biennale in Gjirokastra.
After an initial period during which the only expectation is the continuous depopulation of the city, stabilization of the situation with a greater attachment of the inhabitants and a stronger attraction of tourists interested in the artistic performances throughout the city is expected to gain ground. In a longer period, there will be a trend reversal and Gjirokastra will become a landmark for the Balkan region.
While controversial, this self-sustaining project exploits the weaknesses and exacerbates the actual conditions to find a lasting solution to the unstoppable depopulation and the total abandonment of the city.
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