Description, Design, Process
The Student City is a complex built over more than 50 years, including almost 30 major buildings, with a surface of around 250,000 sqm. Transforming the Student City does not just imply the development of a design, but requires the definition of a method to look at this ensemble (an attitude towards description) and a strategy to organize the ensuing process. This means that the crucial operation is to observe: to constantly check the balance in between the Student City and the city around it, to recognize their mutual adjustments, to detect changes in the urban processes as soon as they appear.
For this reason, more than a simple design, we propose a commitment to observation, a style of description and a strategy of action. We believe it is crucial to recognize all available assets, to define all possible protagonists of the transformation, to activate all energies and to imagine a possible discourse that could bring all these different subjects together. The urban challenge is also a geographical, economical and rhetorical one.
Universities in Tirana
The Student City needs to be considered in relation to the overall educational offer of Tirana.
Si nce the 90s, a number of private universities started to be active in the city, entirely changing the dynamics of the higher education in Albania. The Student City is no more the only place where university students live; the public university is no more the only place where students can receive higher education. This means that the Student City must relate to a plurality of universities and to a plurality of privately owned residential clusters scattered through the city. While it is difficult to imagine that the Student City could host students enrolled in private universities, it is important to adapt the new configuration of the complex to a plurality of possible users (students, Erasmus students, fellows, visiting professors, lecturers from other universities) and to a multitude of paces in the use of the different facilities. Also he Student City should become more attractive and more open to populations different from university students. In order to do this, the Student City should diversify its program, become more complex and host a larger range of possible activities.
The problem of the Student City cannot be understood just thinking of the Student City, but needs to be developed thinking of what the Student City can do for the entire City of Tirana. In fact, with a potential population of around 10,000 students, the Student City will have a mass of students roughly similar to the entire student population of Yale (or half of the student population of Cambridge or Oxford). This impressive concentration of innovative energy located right next to the centre of the city needs to become an explicit engine of the urban life of Tirana.
The Student City lies on the mild hills forming the background of the Tirana metropolitan region. By observing the Student City from a geographical point of view it is possible to rediscover the forgotten assets and to activate the hidden potentials of the context. In fact, the Student City is part of the larger system of hills, rivers, small valleys and lakes that characterizes the entire Durana metropolitan region. This mild landscape dotted with parks and lakes has a recursive organization, with minor elements repeating the configuration of larger figures. The Student City sits just next to the Parku i Madh and to the Tirana artificial lake. The Student City includes a large sloping ground, open towards the Parku i Madh. This part of the complex is its main resource. The potential openness of this sloping ground oriented towards the south needs to be protected and turned into the centre of the new Student City. This ample field in fact provides the Student City with the much-needed openness, it offers to the entire complex the crucial scale to appear as an explicitly public space and to establish an evident relation to the Parku i Madh and, through that, with the entire geography of the region. The Student City finds its position inside Tirana by clarifying its position in its geography: by choosing to become a green satellite of the Parku i Madh and so exposing a possible green constellation of open spaces immediately south of the rigid monumental system developing around the boulevard Dëshmorët e Kombit.
The large, empty, sloping ground opens towards the south and establishes a direct visual connection to the Parku i Madh. The openness of this area means that a larger panorama appears in the middle of the city. The pressure of the city is suspended for a while and the geography of the region becomes once again evident. This asset related to the scale of this urban void needs to be protected: new buildings should not compromise this quality of the area. The central part of the Student City should stay a void – a green core open towards the south in order to establish a relation with the park and with the hills behind it.
The Student City is a very recognizable fragment inside Tirana.
Inside the city few elements can be compared to the Student City: only the boulevard Dëshmorët e Kombit and the monuments disposed along it, the university hospital and the military academy, the embassies, the large urban voids of the former military airport and of the train station, the custom and the former Kombinati textile industry play a role somehow similar to that of the Student City. And while the majority of these parts are scattered through the city without generating clear figures and with limited potential to establish relations with other urban figures, the Student City can be grouped with the Parku i Madh, with the Place of Brigades and the Cemetery of the Martyrs and with the Tirana and Farka lake to produce a clear figure, with a shared relation to nature and a distinctive urban tone. This ensemble emerges as a possible complementary urban constellation, capable to balance the monumental system aggregated along the boulevard Dëshmorët e Kombit. While the clarity of the urban sequence along the axes designed by Brasini was never lost through all the transformations of the city, the (lighter and more fragile) constellation including the park and the Student City needs to be redefined and re-established. This operation is not only fundamental for the design of the Student City, but for the equilibrium of the Parku i Madh and of the entire city. The development of the southern green core as an urban figure alternative and complimentary to the Brasini axes is one of the greatest urban challenges of Tirana in the next years. The transformation of the Student City is a crucial episode in the production of this new urban figure. The internal organization of the Student City needs to contribute to the emergence of this figure.
Figure (lack of)
The accumulation of dormitories that produced the Student City did not generate an urban figure, something that could be associated to the life of its own inhabitants and become an element in the construction of the collective memory of the entire city. As of today, the Student City lacks a centre, lacks urbanity, lacks a relation to the city around it. The goal of our proposal is to turn this accumulation of buildings into an urban figure – to turn the Student City into a campus – by defining its centre, by imagining its urban life, and by clarifying its relation to the outside. This means recognizing a latent figure, more than imposing a new one: discover an empty field and turn it into the core, into the lawn of the campus.
A major asset of the Student City is space. The area to the south is in fact largely empty. This abundance of space is incredibly precious in the contemporary city and should not be underevaluated and wasted. Void is especially precious in a city as dense as Tirana, where all available voids have been frantically colonized in the 90s, leaving the city without major parks (with the exception of the Parku i Madh) and without anything but a very fragmented type of public space (with the exception of the spaces along the boulevard Dëshmorët e Kombit). In the current Student City it is possible to discover a possibility of space (a possibility of a plurality of scales, and so a possibility of landscape). This possibility, this implicit generosity of space, suggests the possibility of a plural program and a multitude of users.
The current program of the Student City is extremely simple: housing for students and a few uninspiring facilities (canteens, laundries) immediately associated to the basic needs of students. In order to transform the Student City it is crucial to introduce a new program into it. Only with the insertion of a new program (of different type and size) it will be possible to turn the Student City into a real urban field.
We propose to introduce three types of program:
- learning and researching centres associated to University life such as faculties, libraries, media centres: these facilities will operate during the day, assuring the liveliness of the area during working hours and will help turning the Student City into a campus;
- public facilities such as canteens, cinemas and private business such as hotels: beyond contributing to the economical feasibility of the operation, these facilities will operate day and night and will bring visitors from the rest of the city to the Student City;
- small scale private business, such as shops, gyms, cafes, restaurant: these facilities will complement the previous ones, providing the necessary small scale counterpart to the main attractors. These facilities will also contribute to the liveliness of the area and guarantee the safety of the environment. Beyond this “everyday” injection of new program a new “exceptional” program will take place in the lawn (profiting from its exceptional size inside the city): special events (concerts, shows, parties) will take place in the lawn.
We propose to understand the Student City as a campus.
By campus, we mean a classic model of aggregation of university facilities with different pavilions grouped around a central lawn. The campus implies both a precise identity for the buildings included into it and a balanced relation with the city surrounding it. The campus becomes a precisely identified element of Tirana’s urban landscape: it precisely corresponds to an image known to all inhabitants of the city. The campus becomes a place in the mental map of every Tirana citizen. It becomes a place where to go in occasion of special events.
The campus is subdivided in three different levels: the core, or the lawn, the university dormitories and faculties and the connective tissue bordering the city. These three zones have different degrees of intensity and identity: the lawn collects all public life in the campus, the dormitories and faculties provide the critical mass the populates the lawn, the in-between zone mediates with the city and offer a place to a large array of minor activities that are necessary for the campus and the city to operate next to each other.
A classic lawn is that at the centre of Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia. What is particularly striking about this project, beyond the generosity of the open space, the capacity to define a common ground that could immediately visualize the possible life of a Republic of Farmers, is the simplicity and the pragmatism of the scheme. The low, wooden, white portico bordering the lawn on its two long sides is not particularly regular; the classic ornament is relatively clumsy and the porches of the different pavilions emerging in front of the lower porch are all different. The orders of the different pavilions do not match with one another and yet this imprecision is here entirely irrelevant. The clarity of the urban scheme here coincides with the complete tolerance for the different episodes inside of it. The perfect understanding of the geographical and urban condition makes architecture relatively irrelevant. The various parts can take whatever form they need – they can even be relatively ugly – and yet (or maybe exactly because of that) the lawn provides an extraordinary idea of freedom.
Because of this tolerant clarity, University of Virginia also emerges inside of Charlottesville as a precisely defined part, and yet not as an isolated part. It is an element in the plural construction of the city: offered to the citizens and combined to the other urban fragments with incredible humbleness and generosity.
In order to define the campus, we propose to operate by means of a single element, that will define the lawn and provide an immediate, tangible body to the transformation process that will progressively invest all the existing dormitories.
The Student City certainly needs infrastructural improvements on many levels. Just to mention the main needs: water, electricity and energy supply should be improved in the next years. And yet, while recognizing the fundamental relevance of this infrastructure, we believe that the first interventions – the ones that could trigger the entire transformation process by showing a tangible example of transformation – should also be visible: they should take the form of architecture. For this reason the necessary infrastructure is contained into the porch, that operates as a duct conveying all necessary services to the different dormitories.
The simplicity and the evidence of the porch will immediately expose the transformation of the Student City into a campus. In this respect, the Student City will learn from Tirana, from the positive relation that was established in the early 2000s among artistic interventions, urban transformations and overall infrastructural upgrade.
Grey + Green
The new series of public spaces of the campus needs to find a precise collocation inside of the articulated collection of urban assets of Tirana. The public spaces we propose have different roles (urban, commercial, busy, quiet) and different tones (formal, informal, relaxed) corresponding to the different needs of a contemporary city. These features are summarized into the lawn, where different natures will coexist, manifesting in different moments of the day or in different seasons of the year. The lawn is multiple but not hyper-specified; it maintains a certain generous indeterminacy that allows for multiple (also unexpected) appropriation. In the lawn it is possible to relax and to study, to create small groups and to be alone and study under a tree. In the lawn it is possible play informally and to organize big concerts. The immediately recognizable figure of the lawn puts, and from the beginning, the campus inside the collection of public spaces of the city. Somehow the figure has always been there.
We suggest to build a very simple white concrete porch, with a span of 6 m and a height of 3,5 m. the porch encircles the lawn and carries inside of its roof all infrastructure (electricity, heating, internet) necessary to the dormitories and to the new facilities. The porch defines the space of the lawn and at the same time, like a Roman aqueduct, brings infrastructure to all buildings. The porch provides a visible border to the main public space and defines the frame for all following transformations of the campus. The porch is the first element of the transformation of the Student City into a campus.
The attention to the present condition of the Student City, the commitment to keep as much as possible of the existing buildings implies an attention to the different episodes of micro-urbanity that we can detect through the Student City. Parallel to the large gesture opening up the lawn, a series of careful modifications take care of the smaller open spaces.
The terrain among the existing dormitories moves gently, producing a nuanced topography that can be used as the starting point for a multitude of urban conditions. Indeed the repetitive organization of the dormitories has to deal with the articulation of the original geography, so producing a variety of different conditions that generate various small-scale public spaces. These spaces – now mainly forgotten – can be re-activated and contribute to the production of a multi-layered landscape, including different places and open to multiple uses. Each little public space is re-activated. All dormitories next to the porch are connected to it by a new loggia directly linked to the restored ground floor. Each dormitory is announced onto the lawn by a pediment directly connected to the porch. Trees and benches and distributed in the open space to produce small, intimate clusters that complement the scale of the lawn.
Physical and immaterial, graphic design and digital technologies are combined to provide a global experience of the campus. Here the perception involves urban and local scales. At urban level the definition of a consistent setting allows the recognition of a uniform episode, at local level signage and colours helps the orientation within the complex.
The dormitories have a latent value: they are simple volumes that can be easily be re-signified by painting them in new colours. Once eliminated the uneven decorations, the dormitories can be transformed into a colourful composition of abstract shapes. The colour code will follow an extremely simple fashion: all public, ground level parts will be white, all upper levels will be in bright colours. Whiteness will uniform all public elements, colours will uniformly cover all upper levels. The local orientation system will clarify the second perception level: all the buildings concentrated around the porch will be decorated with the campus distinctive colour (purple), while the other buildings will produce coloured clusters along their respective internal distribution axes. So Rruga A. Broci’s yellow houses and Rruga P. Budi’s red and blue houses will be easily identified. The dormitories will also be identified by the large painted word shtëpi (home).
The re-painting of the buildings will be inexpensive and easy to implement. Moreover, the re-painting will relate back to a tradition of re-painting rooted in Tirana’s recent history. Our proposal actively learns from Tirana.
The signage system helps orientation: at the urban scale a large billboard over of the main entrance announces the campus to the visitors coming from Rruga e Elbasanit; at local scale a signage system marks the student zone and allows orientation with the support of digital technologies (the Tirana-campus-app).
We propose the reorganization of the forces already at play in the Student City in order to generate the campus. The campus will become a space of intense, spontaneous and planned cultural activities, stimulating the connection with the city and the dialogue with the educational system. The students will play the principal role as the initiators of a cultural process that in the future will involve all the city and then, crossing the boundaries of Tirana, will be a call for international artistic and cultural institutions. Events will play a crucial role to bring into the campus a type of users who normally would not enter in contact with this part of the city. As such the program of events is also instrumental to attract new possible users (and clients) for the campus.
The new urban organization re-thinks the hierarchy between the city and the campus introducing the presence of new actors. The campus will end up with an incredibly varied population: resident students, students living in the city and studying in the campus, Erasmus students, professors, visiting professors, researchers, lecturers, artists in residence, citizens coming for the everyday events, citizens coming for the particular events hold in the lawn(concert, festivals…), campus workers, athletes and more.
Curating the lawn
There are several reasons for building an artistic program as an integral part of the urban strategy: it builds on the Albanian tradition of considering the spaces of art and the spaces of everyday life as one; it is a low-cost strategy that does not require any major infrastructural work, relying instead on a new attitude towards the existent fabric; it can be deployed quickly and incrementally. For these reasons we propose to consider the lawn – the large empty field bordered by the porch – as a metropolitan platform to be activated all around the year. A curatorial project for the lawn, guided by the students and coordinated by an external senior curator, will define the program of events to be hosted each year in the lawn. Similarly to the overall urban strategy, the program evolves in time reacting to possible changes of events but maintaining a global consistency. The program will include both large collective events at the scale of the entire city (concerts, parties, political rallies) as well as minor initiatives associated with the everyday student life.
Media and interaction design strategies for the Tirana campus will be coordinated with physical transformation in order to produce an intense, multi-dimensional experience. These strategies will open up a new space for collective life, allowing new types of sharing, meeting, organising, and linking up whit the campus and with the city around it.
The campus, with its potential capacity of 10.000 students, is an extraordinary reservoir of knowledge, creativity and expertise. It is crucial to connect these energies to the international scientific community in the most efficient and reliable manner. We propose that the campus has free broadband connections providing free Wi-Fi to all students. The infrastructure necessary to realize this condition is relatively limited (interiors and exteriors Wi-Fi antennas, “iBeacon” environmental detectors).
The new infrastructure will provide following services:
- environmental and comfort surveys essential for the correct management of energy resources;
- real-time surveys on availability of services (number of places available in libraries, canteens, parking lots) A new campus website will contribute to the life of the campus by providing:
- campus institutional communication
- information and about services available for students and teachers
- campus calendar
- promotion and coordination activities and sociability among students
- promotion of spontaneous solidarity activities (money management, communal shopping)
- promotion of micro economical activities through citizen services (babysitting, elderly support, reps, shopping service, dog sitting, car sharing) through which students can contribute to campus life and generate small profits.
The series of transformations and the introduction of new program will turn the current Student City into a recognizable urban episode with a precise figure. Our proposal to turn the Student City into a campus also involves a specific strategy for a new visual identity. The new visual identity will indeed contribute to a clear definition of the figure of the campus in the collective mental map.
The visual strategy is not just an aesthetic or stylistic exercise, rather it is the construction of a pragmatic and coordinated system of actions operating both inside and outside the campus. Inside the campus, the visual strategy leads to a unified image and to an enhanced experience. Outside the campus, the visual strategy aims at disseminating the image of the campus in Tirana everyday life by means of a variety of simple tools such as gifts, gadgets, pins, and bags that can spread in a subliminal and viral way.
The campus will appear as an original and recognizable system of visual experiences, a knot of multiple metropolitan signs. The campus is a combination of many different elements of different scale and the communication will operate by means of a combination of physical and immaterial elements: architecture, graphic design and technologies. The communication strategy involves several levels of perception, each one addressed through different supports operating at different scales: international, urban, and local.
At a global scale, the first element of the communication strategy of the new Tirana campus is its own name. “Tirana campus” indeed immediately identifies a centre of learning with an international vocation. This clear, iconic individuation of the campus helps also locating it – as an urban fragment – inside the city. At the local scale, the communication strategy proceeds by clearly naming each element of the campus, improving accessibility and functionality. Inside each building a coordinated system of signs helps orientation, showing the vertical connections, from the ground level until the single room.
TRANSFORMATION OF EXISTING BUILDINGS
We propose to demolish only an extremely limited amount of existing buildings: only the power plant, a canteen, the Building 15 and the Building 19. Also we believe it is not necessary to demolish the illegal buildings which do not interfere with the life of the campus.
We believe it is possible to restore all remaining dormitories and obtain various combinations of rooms for two or three students all with toilets inside the room. Kitchens will be either included into rooms or organized as collective spaces depending on the configuration of the different buildings. New collective facilities (such as laundries, TV rooms) will be introduced in all dormitories. We propose to add elevators (inside the buildings) and stairs (new structures, attached to the buildings) in order to fulfil the requirements of safety legislation. Insulation will be realized by wrapping the exterior of the buildings with industrial insulating panels finished with plaster. All new parts added to the existing buildings are placed in order to limit as much as possible the production of new façade surface, so that the envelope of the building remains limited in relation to its volume, keeping insulation costs as low as possible.
Transformations of the partitions among the rooms will be kept as limited as possible, simply coupling some units, or changing the distribution of the buildings. At the ground floor new public and commercial activities will be located. The half of the ground floor towards the porch of all dormitories directly connected to it will be opened by cutting large windows assuring visual continuity with the loggias connecting the building with the porch. Collective spaces in the upper levels (now showers or kitchens) will be turned into a more complex range of facilities (kitchens, TV rooms, party rooms, recreational rooms). Private sphere and public sphere will consequently be better defined, allowing both more privacy and more collective life.
Structural Design Methodology
The structural design will follow guidelines inspired by innovative solutions, enhancing space availability, environmental sustainability and safety. Concerning the existing buildings, the proposed interventions include:
· adding new volumes
· inserting new stairs
· inserting new lift cores
Every new volume will be realized as an independent one, with seismic joints that will grant free movements between the old and the new structure, whilst assuring the architectural continuity. All existing structures will be analysed regarding the structural aspect and in case of necessity it will be developed a renovation plan that could encompass:
· use of reinforced concrete
· use of steel
· use of armed masonries
The existing structures will be supplied with concrete cores as elevator and stair shafts, thus to increase the required lateral stability and efficiently transfer the lateral load to the foundations.
The typical renovation will develop as follows:
Phase 1: Structural survey and assessment/resolution of eventual structural issues
Phase 2: New columns and new slabs construction along with seismic/expansion joints
Phase 3: Architectural set-up in order to restore the continuity.
After a careful survey, the static condition of the existing buildings will be assessed. The structural system proposed, in order to solve eventual structural issues is a three-dimensional mesh of inox-steel. This mesh consists of bars, slotted plates, ribbons, eventually integrated with an extruded high-strength mesh. In case of RC application, “L” elements are used at the corners of the structural members, connected by steel strips and enticed with a special mortar.
In severe environmental conditions, the choice of cement has an influence on the durability of concrete, mortar and grouts, e.g. frost resistance, chemical resistance and protection of reinforcement. It is necessary that the choice of cement, especially the type and/or strength class in relation to the requirements for durability depending on exposure class in which it is incorporated, follows the appropriate standards and/or regulations for concrete or mortar valid in the place of use and anyway not less than the Eurocodes requirements.
The new buildings are all extremely efficient and inspired by very simple, functional considerations. In fact, given that the complexity and the richness of the urban experience is provided by the public space and by the landscape, buildings can be relatively simple and inexpensive.
The canteen is a large, flat triangular building open onto the lawn, allowing to eat in contact with the landscape. The hotels are simple squared five floors towers with different typologies of rooms. The faculty A is a 3 levels courtyard building. The faculty B is low building with a central corridor and classrooms of different size distribute on its two sides. The multi-functional building is a simple three floors box where two functions are coupled each floor.
Structural Design Methodology
The new structures will be realized in reinforced concrete. Reinforced concrete indeed is well-know and easily available technology in the Albanian context.
The intended structures will consist of two to five floors above ground. Therefore, the proposed structures will be realized with reinforced concrete which grants higher performances in terms of durability and cost saving. Regarding the superstructure envelope, it will be made of reinforced concrete too, in order to better fit the architectural aesthetic requirements.
The framing system of the new buildings will be represented by columns and flat slabs, whilst concrete cores will be strategically located. The above mentioned solution will provide wide spans in order to grant efficiently wide residential space along with a high design flexibility.
The project addresses a relatively long time-span and faces relatively uncertain conditions for its development. For this reason, we understand our phasing scheme more as a logical than as a chronological sequence (more as a list of what to do before and what to do after, than as a precise program with deadlines to match at all costs).
The simplicity of the proposed scheme allows to adapt to possible changes. The project defines a robust logic in which different actions follow one another without asking the city to commit now to a rigid multi-years plan. Also the mathematics of the project are adaptable. Indeed the campus can work (both from an economical, a social and an urban point of view) either with 4,000 or 8,000, or 10,000 students living there. Our scheme is adaptable to this variety of possible scenarios. Also, our proposal precisely identifies a series of simple, evident and relatively inexpensive interventions that could immediately be red by the population of both the Student City and Tirana and so operate as an activator for the entire transformation process. We indeed propose a series of interventions that will turn the Student City into a completely new environment in two years, although the schedule for the restoration of dormitories will probably develop in a longer time-frame.
We propose to subdivide the Student City in two main zones: the eastern and the western one. The eastern zone consists of the lawn, the new main canteen, the two new hotels and the old and new dormitories and the eastern new faculty (subzones: A, B, C, D, E, F, G). The western zone consists of the western new faculty, of the media centre, of the sport facilities and the relatively older dormitories (subzones: H, I, L, M, N). This pragmatic subdivision in zones will allow conducting operations on an optimal scale, without compromising the functioning of the remaining parts of the Student City.
Construction in both eastern and western zones will start with the realization of the relative portion of the porch and will proceed independently from the other region. The operation will start from the eastern zone: the eastern porch, the new power plant, the new canteen and the lawn being the first things to be realized.