Albania’s Minister of Culture and Chair of the Butrint Management Foundation (BMF), Elva Margariti, today [26 April 2023] announced that the team led by Kengo Kuma & Associates (Japan) has won the international competition to design a new visitor center for Butrint National Park, an exceptional UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) on Albania’s Ionian coastline.
Ms Margariti announced the decision of the competition’s international jury at a press conference in the capital, Tirana. The team led by Philippe PROST / AAPP (France) was named as runner-up by the jury.
As the submissions were anonymous, the name of the winning team was not revealed to the jury until the decision had been taken.
Butrint, which is close to the modern city of Saranda and overlooks the Straits of Corfu, is the most significant archaeological site in Albania. Recognized for millennia as an inspirational place, Butrint has exceptional cultural resonance, and visual appeal, which comes from its rare combination of monuments within an unspoilt and spectacular natural setting.
The competition, organized by London-based Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC), crystallized the brief for a carbon-neutral visitor center with charismatic yet practical architecture that related to the inspirational cultural and natural setting while respecting the WHS.
The winner’s full team included an Albanian partner, CHwB Albania, as well as Ervin Paci, SOLARON Albania, iMEPS Engineering & Consulting, YOKE, Esmeralda Agolli and GE-D Engineering.
The other two finalist teams were led by Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects (Finland) and William Matthews Associates (UK). A digital gallery of the winner and the other finalists’ competition designs is now available to view on the competition organizer’s website at competitions.malcolmreading.com/butrint/gallery.
The anonymous finalist submissions were judged by a jury of local and international experts, including representatives from the BMF.
The jury’s mission was to select a winner who could create an architectural exemplar, a unique design statement for Butrint and Albania. Additionally, the competition brief specified a design that promotes community participation and environmentally sensitive tourism, and also respects the Outstanding Universal Values of this World Heritage Site.
In our unanimous opinion the concept presented by the Kengo Kuma-led team achieves this through an astonishing duality: the visitor center is conceived as an upper mountain gate with panoramic views over the estuary and lake, and a lower archaeological site gate. This is an intervention that is both infrastructure and welcoming shelter; and offers a new public space, a plaza where the local community and visitors can meet. The team’s guiding idea is to establish new connections between local communities and the archaeological site visitors.
Essentially, the design for the visitor center consists of a series of limestone roofs emerging from the ground, inspired both by Albania’s beautiful stone monuments, gates and bridges, and by the surrounding natural rock formations. Albanian vernacular architecture is also apparent in its hybrid structure between mass timber and steel, which reinterprets the traditional cross wood structure used to support the roof stone canopies in the south of the country.
The roofs frame the most significant views to the estuary and the mountains, seamlessly connecting the new building with the natural setting.
Using locally sourced material and a natural ventilation system and rainwater capture, the Center’s carbon footprint is expected to be minimal.
In a site that can reach temperatures upwards of 40°C in high summer, the visitor is sheltered underneath roof eaves that are supported by a timber structure and rammed earth walls.
The jury was impressed by the team’s evident passion and thoughtfulness, and their connection with Albanian culture and memory. We believe that Kengo Kuma’s design is global in projecting a universal timeless serenity but with naturalness that is utterly site specific. It has the potential to become an icon, and we congratulate the team on their vision. It is one we share, and we look forward to realising it with them.
Based in Tokyo and Paris, Kengo Kuma & Associates (KKAA) has consistently earned international praise, renowned for its role in designing high-profile projects such as the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics, and the V&A Dundee museum in Scotland. The practice’s other recent successes include the Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center, in Tokyo, Japan; and the Hans Christian Andersen’s Museum in Denmark, set to be a cultural center in the author’s city of birth.
Regarding the runner-up, Philippe PROST / AAPP (France), the jury highlighted the sensitivity and elegance of the design, notably the finesse of its integration into the existing landscape.
The new center will welcome visitors and serve as an educational forum and community-gathering place. It is also intended to be a gateway to the wider National Park and will help the BMF better manage rising visitor numbers for the WHS.
Butrint’s highlights include an ancient Epirot Theater, Roman Forum and an early Byzantine Baptistery with a well-preserved mosaic pavement, along with other monuments dating from the Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, Angevin, Venetian and Ottoman periods.
The wider National Park is endowed with hills, lakes, wetlands, salt marshes, plains, reed beds and coastal islands. An Integrated Management Plan to safeguard the site and promote sustainable community-based and environmentally sensitive tourism was approved by the Government of Albania in July 2020.
The new visitor center is due to open in September 2025.
Full details of the competition, including the jury, are available on the dedicated competition website at competitions.malcolmreading.com/butrint.