Despite the fact that the National Theatre in Tirana has entered the 7 Most Endangered 2020 list, regardless of the fact that a large group of citizens, artists and intellectuals are petitioning for the building to be saved, it was demolished at the dawn on Sunday 17 May.
The building itself was designed by Italian architect Giulio Bertè in 1939. It was situated at the very core of Tirana’s center and it was a part of the Historic Center, and therefore, the area as an ensemble had some (at least written) level of protection. Nevertheless, the Institute for the Monuments Protection and Ministry of Culture have not had any public reaction regarding the Theater. This does not come as a surprise since laws and terminology regarding protected areas are changing on a regular basis.
The idea to tear down the theatre appeared in 2002 from the governmental top. Back then the artist community was much stronger and united, there were many public debates concerning the fate of the building. The building somehow managed to survive then. Later on, the government changed the plan and starting promising that theatre is going to be restored. Then, sometime in 2018 a render appears in the media: a project apparently designed by one architectural company for the National Theater. No competition was announced, no information, just the 3D of the new design was published.
In order to promote legitimacy of the decision to demolish the building of the National Theatre, the building was stated to be "unsafe" sometime in 2018, and was closed by the government. Once it was said that it has constructive problems (even though it survived strong earthquakes in 2019 without any damage), then it was proclaimed to lack facilities such as toilets and showers etc.
But when the image of the new project appeared, and a large part of the artist community started protesting for two years in a row, the building was put in use again. The last plays were played in summer/autumn 2019, on a voluntary basis by the network of artists who have been protesting.
Unfortunately, the public protests did not manage to keep the original building of the National Theater. It has been destroyed, with a promise that a new building designed in contemporary style will have the same purpose and function – the National Theatre. However, the destruction of the old building went so fast, that it was forgotten to remove all the archives and costumes first. The story of the building went down with it.
The executive order was given by the Council of the Municipality of Tirana. In the last few days prior to demolition, the building ownership passed from the government (Ministry of Culture) to the Municipality of Tirana, in a series of acrobatic legal actions. In an online meeting the municipal council apparently voted to tear down the building and the next dawn, police and all the armed forces of this country intervened to take out of the building the dozen artists that have been spending the nights there for months, arrest them and then proceed with demolition. It has been said that demolition started when people were still inside – police and protesters.
A new Theater supposedly is to be equipped with a set of commercial towers. The proposed design looks more like a mall than theatre. It was often commented by experienced architects and intellectuals that a shape like that would not be possible to host a theater, as it does not stand on the ground; it stands on two bearing side walls and the ground floor is empty.
Now, there are many debates about what had happened and what should be done. The general public and the network of artists are very much shocked that in the end government decided to destroy the previous building, to change the appearance of urbanistic city core, to erase memories, to destroy artifacts in the theatre with the building too. People feel, more than before, that this act was brutal and without any reasonable basis.