The National Theatre of Albania is a 9,300 m2 contemporary venue designed to host local and touring theatre companies in the nation’s capital. Located in the cultural and administrative heart of downtown Tirana, adjacent to the iconic Skanderbeg square, the National Opera and the National Art Gallery, the cultural space will replace the existing theatre and add three new indoor performance spaces, a rooftop amphitheater as well as a covered public space underneath the building.
Located prominently on the cultural axis and in a mostly pedestrian zone, BIG’s design for the National Theatre of Albania seeks to reclaim and reinforce the city’s goal for more urban gathering places in Tirana. The prism shaped volume is compressed and lifted in the center, creating connections and public plazas on both sides of the theatre at street level. Visitors and theatre enthusiasts can enter the building from either side or simply stay under the arch of the building and enjoy impromptu performances or other cultural events.
“Our design for the new National Theatre of Albania will continue the city’s efforts for making Tirana’s public spaces more inviting and its public institutions more transparent. The theater is conceived as two buildings connected by the main auditorium: one for the audience and one for the performers. Underneath, the theatre arches up from the ground creating an entrance canopy for the audience as well as for the performers, while opening a gateway to the new urban arcade beyond. Above, the roof mirrors the archway, forming an open-air amphitheater with a backdrop to the city’s skyline.” Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner, BIG.
Once inside the building, visitors will have access to immediate ticketing which is flanked by two grand stairs that lead up to the theatre foyer. From there, guests may continue up to the main auditorium or into the smaller ‘black box’ performance venues.
The program organization of the venues informs the bowtie shaped volume on the outside: the main auditorium is located in the middle, sandwiched by the front of house activities facing south and all of the back of house activities and services to the north. The facades on each side of the building reveal the interior program to passersby outside, creating a storybook for the public and allowing the theatre operation to act as a stage in its own right.
“The two main facades of the National Theatre of Albania are opened up to expose the spaces inside the building out to the public. One side reveals the foyer, lounge, bar and restaurant as well as the two experimental stages to the passers-by, like rooms in a doll house. The other side reveals the entire section of the backstage, side stages, under stage and fly tower, exposing the entire theater machine to the curious observers. Where a theater typically wouldn’t be open to the public until the early evening, the new Albanian National Stage will become a spectacle of production as well as performance throughout the day,” Bjarke Ingels.
The rooftop venue and cafe of the theatre is accessible via the main stair as well. The sloping of the roof creates an amphitheater-like space and is given a dramatic backdrop by the city itself. With open venues, one sheltered and one with a rooftop view – and traditionally hidden theatre spaces being exposed out towards the city, the New National Theatre of Albania will be both stage and actor in the city of Tirana.