MVRDV’s Skanderbeg Building is 85-meter-tall mixed-use project, sculpted into the shape of a bust of Albania’s national hero


Tirana, Albania

“These days, cities around the world increasingly look like each other – I always encourage them to resist this, to find their individual character and emphasize it,” says MVRDV founder Winy Maas. 

Skanderbeg Building by MVRDV

“To me, the Skanderbeg Building is an opportunity to do just that. It brings new meaning to existing elements of Albanian architecture.” 

“As Albania begins its negotiations to join the EU, projects such as this one are part of the European Project – it stresses Albania’s history, character, and presence in a unified Europe of many states,” Maas adds.

Winy Maas and Stefan de Koning of MVRDV erect a sculptural building, in the shape of a bust of Albania’s national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti, in Tirana and is listed among the world’s largest buildings that double as a figurative sculpture.

Skanderbeg Building by MVRDV

Gjergj Kastrioti, more commonly known by the name Skanderbeg, is a prominent and central figure in the history of Albania, playing a crucial role in its conception as a nation-state. 

The tower is wrapped in curving balconies that form the shape of the head of Skanderbeg.

The building is aimed to be an iconic landmark at Skanderbeg Square, the very center of Albania’s capital, celebrating and assimilating into the country’s cultural history while giving Tirana a unique identity, unlike any other capital city. 

Skanderbeg Building by MVRDV

At the same time, behind its dramatic visage, the building provides well-designed, functional homes in one of the most desirable locations in all of Tirana. 

At street level, the building fills the awkwardly shaped site to its very edges, and Skanderbeg’s head is “carved” from this maximum allowable volume like a marble bust. 

His shoulders align with the widest part of the site, while his head is turned to the right, facing the square that carries his name.

The studio states that the design achieves its unusual appearance by making use of balconies that wrap around the entire building on every level, with curved protrusions forming the facial details such as the nose, ears, and beard. 

The balconies allow the building’s interior spaces to adopt a more rational floorplan while providing a significant amount of valuable, shaded outdoor space for occupants. 

Skanderbeg Building by MVRDV

The resulting effect is somewhat subtle as people may need to look twice to understand the building’s shape, depending on the angle from which they see it.

This expressive approach fits seamlessly into a city that has developed a tradition of mixing art and architecture as part of its post-communist renaissance.

Inside, the building contains one level of commercial space and four levels of offices, that can accommodate the deep floorplans at the bottom of the “bust.”

On the upper level, there are 20 floors of residential apartments filling the “head,” with special care paid to each individual floor plan to ensure that these homes are functional despite the irregular shape of the building.

The balconies for each home are separated by built-in planters, which allow the greenery in the surrounding area to extend up the building, with native plants used throughout. 

Skanderbeg Building by MVRDV

The design incorporates a number of features that make it sustainable in Tirana’s warm climate. Thanks to the broad overhanging balconies, the building is protected from excessive sunlight, and the floor layouts enable natural cross-ventilation. 

Rainwater capture and heat recovery systems minimize the building’s water and energy requirements.

The balconies’ glass balustrades feature a gradient finish, fading from a milk-white to a clear finish and lending the building an ethereal, marble-like appearance.

During the nighttime, lighting strips built into the underside of the balconies highlight the form of Skanderbeg’s head, making the building a beacon and landmark in the city.

Project: Skanderbeg Building
Architects: MVRDV and Atelier Armand Vokshi 
Lead Architects: Winy Maas and Stefan de Koning
Design Team: Ronald Hoogeveen, Stavros Gargaretas, Angel Sanchez Navarro, Katarzyna Nowak, Karin Houwen, José Manuel Garcia Garcia, and Renata Tavares
Project Coordinator: Carla Sitarenios
Client: ANA sh. p.k. and VI&VI sh. p.k
Visualisations: Antonio Luca Coco, Angelo La Delfa
Photographers: MVRDV

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