I have been doing a tremendous amount of scanning lately, for a number of different research projects. As always in my research on socialist-era Albanian culture, I’m on the lookout for material that will be helpful to my architecture comrades, since the literature on that topic tends to be so minimal. Today, I was looking over Drita (the weekly publication of the Union of Writers and Artists in socialist Albania) from 1976, and that year there was an extended series of discussions on the national character of architecture. Click the image below to read more.
These discussions from Drita are interesting for several reasons, but one main reason is that they represent the continued repercussions of the infamous Fourth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Albanian Party of Labor, which took place in 1973. At this meeting, Albania’s communist dictator Enver Hoxha delivered a famous speech attaching “foreign manifestations” or “foreign influences” in arts and culture, and called for an aggressive end to liberal attitudes towards these foreign elements. The Fourth Plenum set the stage for a new era in Albanian socialist culture, one that closed off many of the forms of cultural experimentation and exchange that had been developing until the early 1970s. Instead, the subsequent decade would see an increasing turn towards national identity (although of course this had already been developing in the 1960s, in the arts and culture).
The rhetoric of national identity, however, can be clearly seen in the discussions about architecture that are included on the pages of Drita in 1976. The first essay in the series is by Kujtim Buza, then the secretary of the Union of Writers and Artists. Subsequent contributors to the series include painters, architects, sculptors, workers, heritage experts, and an economist, among others. They analyze themes as diverse as the relationship between architecture and decoration, the use of stone as a building material, the development of greenery in the city, the relationship between architecture and monumental sculpture, and the development of national styles in furniture and interior design. There are some interesting case studies discussed from Gjirokastra, Kukës, and Mat, and there’s also an article (not technically part of the series, but of interest) on new developments in Tirana.
It’s interesting to compare the ideas expressed in 1976 to those that appeared on the pages of Nëndori (also published by the Union of Writers and Artists) in June of 1971. In 1971, significant emphasis was placed on new directions and methods in architecture, and thus (implicitly) many of the discussants call for a modernist architecture. In 1976, the emphasis is on discovering ways to integrate novelty into a nationalist discourse that focuses on folk methods, motifs, materials, and types of forms.