concrete mushrooms albaniaâ€™s 750000 inherited bunkers A reseach project by Elian stefa & gyler mydyti
int ro, The dictator Enver Hoxha leading Albania, one of the poorest countries in Europe, from 1945 (after WW-II), until his death in 1985, invested on building hundreds of thousands of so called concrete mushrooms, dotting the landscape, as if they are sprouting from hills, fields, beaches and roadsides of Albania and at the same time dotting the brain of people with question marks, fear and paranoia. Whatever the investment of Comrade Hoxha was, right or wrong, he achieved to drive the xenophobia into the brains of Albanians and keep them busy for 40 years. That was a great success of him by realizing his task. Defending his nation against imperialists, fascists and counter revolutionaries was a great success of his. Imaginary enemies who
surrounded Albania and were ready to attack. Consequently, making Albania one of the most isolated countries in the world and keeping people distracted from their lack of rights and very poor quality of life. He convinced Albanians that his actions were for the sake of Albanians by continuously repeating his famous saying:
for every four Albanians, each designed to protect artillery, or hold a defending soldier and his rifle. Today, bunkers in Albania are a legacy of the paranoid past, permanent reminders of where this country comes from and the challenges that lie ahead. And, most of them remain still waiting, somehow or at some point to be used.
â€œThe Albanian people and their Party of Labour will even live on grass if need be, but they will never sell themselves for 30 pieces of silver and they would rather die honorably on their feet than live in shame on their knees.â€?
The most important question for the fortune of the concrete mushrooms is: will these cone-shaped gray bunkers, looming across the landscape like giant tortoises, ever be used?
For the visitors of Albania, 750,000 bunkers is a shocking number, but for Comrade Hoxha it was logical to build one bunker
albania (41' 20' 0' N, 19' 48' 0' E) 2
Area: 28,748 KM Population: 3,600,523 Density: 134/KM 2
Albania is a small country in the western Balkans, bordered by Greece, FYROM, Kosovo, Montenegro, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Albania is currently a parliamentary democracy and a transition economy. The Albanian capital, Tirana, is home to approximately 895,000 of the country's 3.5 million people, and it is also the financial capital of the country. Lagging behind its Balkan neighbors, Albania is making the difficult transition to a more modern open-market economy - this is partially due to the mass exhaustion of the albanian economy during the communist regime.
years Under a xenophobic dictatorship:
bunker varieties Various typologies and sizes
The small bunkers are the ones that are originally designed to host one soldier with his rifle. They can be found throughout the territory, especially along the coasts of the Adriatic and Ionic seas and along land borders. In the coastal areas most of them are found in groups of three.
The medium sized bunkers are originally designed to host small artillery or a group of people. Some of them can be bigger in size, which are designed to host heavy artilleries or armaments, or to host more than 10 people. They can be found throughout the whole territory of Albania.
The special structures are the regular and anti atomic tunnels which are designed and built for various military purposes such as: different military bases for the submarines, aircrafts, very heavy artilleries, homes for the country leaders and their families, et cetera.
3.000.000 inhabitants 750.000 bunkers
The bunker builders managed to create a bunker for every four albanians. “Could have, would have, should have”, are not the purpose of this project. We usually aim for pragmaticism, keeping in mind that the world is the way it is; nonetheless in order to properly convey the massive effect that these bunkers have had on the life of albanians, and that they are not be viewed as just something which should be forgotten, we decided to include this short excercise. We wanted to reach a tangible translation of how much these bunkers have cost, Even by removing all the man-years of manual labor, we managed to get only one real estimate to their cost:
“[The bunkers] cost more than twice as much as France’s infamous pre-WWII Maginot Line1, and consumed more than three times as much concrete.”
- Daniel Howden (BBC News)
1. The Maginot Line, the massive series of fortifications built by France between 1930-1940 to defend its borders with Germany and Italy, is perhaps the most maligned collection of fortifica tions ever built. Despite being a technological marvel, and the most sophisticated complex set of fortifications built up to that time, it failed to save France from crushing defeat in 1940.
The cost of the bunkers compar ed to the cost of the Maginot Lin e
The main bit of information which can be gathered from that quote is the fact that the bunkers cost more than twice what the Maginot Line of France cost.
= 3 billion
franc franc euros (1939) (2006) (1939) The cost of the Maginot Line happened to be 3 billion 1939 Francs. In order to get a comprehensible amount, the information of what a 1939 Franc is equivalent to in today’s money.
€ 1.11 billion
Therefore the cost of the Maginot Line in 2006 Euros is 1.11 billion.
> € 2.22 billion
That places the cost of the bunkers at over 2.22 billion Euros. Quite the amount.
The bunkers were placed throughout the whole landscape of Albania, and many of them which were located on the beaches were eventually dragged in the sea as the sand underneath them was moved by the waves, or even covered by the high tides as the shoreline moved and the beaches eroded. The bunkers located on the lowlands and the highlands were eventually covered by movements of the land, and expanding vegetation.
esting web harv pages we have included some of
In the following the comments and responses we have recieved on internet discussion boards during a public preview of the project in October 2009. We feel that these first-hand accounts are a great way to peek inside the minds of the people that have to currently co-exist with the bunkers.
comment box #19
The bunkers were placed throughout the whole landscape of Albania, and many of them which were located on the beaches were eventually dragged in water the sea as the sand underneath them was transported by the waves, or even covered by the high tides as the shoreline moved and the beaches eroded. The bunkers located on the lowlands and the highlands were eventually covered by movements of the land, and expanding vegetation. http://www.themightyorgan.com/travel_albania.html
Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with an economy which is improving considerably at a very fast pace, but nonetheless the living conditions still remain difficult for many. Therefore as it has been seen in many other countries with similar conditions, there is one quality which prevails: resourcefulness. The individuals who have had access to these bunkers and little else have managed to exchange the function of these structures from that of protection to ones which are more in sync with their own personal needs. The bunkers have been resurrected and given a purpose. Some of the bunkers have now become kiosks, food stands, stables, doghouses, silos, vases of enormous proportions, and even residences. The fact remains that this phenomenon is less present than the other kinds of treatments that these bunkers have undergone, simply because most Albanians see them more as pest to be forgotten than anything else.
comment box #38
“I was in Albania in ‘99 and those bunkers are everywhere like concrete mushrooms. Little one person ones were the most common, but I saw quite a few of the big ones like the pictures. Most of the big ones I saw were being used as barns by then. It was surreal, all the bunkers openings face Tirana so invaders can’t use them. The insanity of xenophobia writ large.” http://io9.com/tag/concretemushrooms/
comment box #14
“I remember when we used to play in the bunkers that we had in the neighorhood. They were proper shelters, connected to each other by tunnels. I remember when we played a prank on a friend of ours and we locked him in the bunker. The door was heavy concrete and wouldn’t budge. He was yellow from fear when he came out, and he has never gone near another bunker since.” http://www.peshkupauje.com/2009/10/kerpudhat-e-betonit
and the more relaxed security at the borders sparked a movement of massive emigration. The Albanian exodus has been the largest emigration movement in Europe since the population movements after World War II. Between 1989 and 2001, roughly more than 1,000,000 albanians have migrated out of Albania, about 500,000 of them settling in Greece, where Albanians make up 70% of immigrants. Albania was effectively being abandoned by 30% of the population, with more than half of the professors, researchers and scholars leading the way. What were once homes started looking like abandoned bunkers, meanwhile the real bunkers started to sink into the ground as relics of a distant past tend to do. Generaly speaking, Albaniaâ€™s transition to a democratic society has been a bumpy ride. The inherited problems from the communist era combined with conteporary poverty, corruption, and lawlessness has led to slow growth and little foreign investment. Despite the lack of regulation, the economy grew rapidly in the early years of the transition. At the end of 1992, unemployment was at 26%, but by 1996 it had supposedly halved to 12%; but the lack of regulation had other profound effect on the economy, the
rudimentary financial system gave birth and became dominated by Ponzi schemes posing as Investment Funds. The unrefutable interest rates lured more than two thirds of Albanians to invest, and when the system collapsed in January 1997, the population revolted against a government which not only failed to protect them, but was suspected to have benefitted from the affair.
“By March 1997, the protests had turned violent in the south, especially around the port city of Vlora, where numerous residents armed themselves with weapons looted from army tunnels and barracks. On March 2nd, the President Sali Berisha declared a state of emergency, but rioting and destruction spread throughout the country, gripping the capital, Tirana, for two weeks.” - Christopher Jarvis The 6,500 weapons stolen from tunnels and barracks led to the death of more than 2000 people. The eyesores also known as bunkers regained some lost respect (or fear) from the people of Albania, and the demilitarization of the country commenced.
THE BUNKER, A TOKEN OF INFORMALITY The general anarchy that was present in Albania improved during the years that followed the uprising, but construction, the
largest Albanian contributor to the GDP, continued to function under loose regulation. The root of the problem lied in the poor political action when it concerned the redistribution of the land and the privatization of State Owned Enterprises; a problem which still stains on the credibility of the Albanian Government. Corruption, conflicts of interests and a desire to resolve this huge issue led to much of land being distributed to persons other than the legal owner, or to more than one claims. The problem was so rampant that new residential buildings displayed large banners claiming “We sell apartments with official property registration”.
This phenomenon was present also in the bunkers. The ties with the past were becoming weaker and there have already been some attempts to transform the larger bunkers. They get reused as (not so) temporary homes, bars, or farm silos by those who saw an opportunity and said “why not?”. The government did not intervene, and the number of these appropiations is still high. Regardless of a few interesting cases of bunker reutilization in the recent years, more than 99% of the 750,000 still remain abandoned, waiting for an opportunity to prove themselves useful.
Doing things illegally now and asking for forgiveness later spawned a culture of rapid transformation and appropriation. Copyright and formal rules went out the window and base neccessities and personal desires (survival or profit) were followed blindly. Red and yellow restaurants called McDonald’s served the traditional albanian pastry “byrek”, and young albanians sat at “Yahoo! Bar” in the middle of Tirana’s fashionable Bllok area which offered espresso but no internet; that can be found 20 meters down the road.
THE BUNKER, TRANSFORMED
Turbo-Architecture became the philosophy of most of the actors in the construction circles, but also of the common population who were constructing their own houses.
Has the time come for albanians to see also the bunkers in a new light?
Since ‘97 Albania has seen significant improvements. The true progress of Albania commenced with the birth of tourism, and with private businesses competing and offering better services and products. The government is held more accountable by the people each passing day, and the old communist buildings have been painted in bright colours in a quirky attempt to break the ties with the past.
can these relics of
a paranoid past finally be put to use? YES, why not? But, HOW?
The bunkers fill the landscape and can be found in abundance in all kinds of different environments, which makes them the perfect structures (location wise) to host tourists and backpackers.
the PRESERVATION AND IMPROVEMENT
of the 750,000 bunkers into
structures able TO SERVE travellers AND local POPULATION
THROUGH MANAGEMENT 105
the armillaria unaitshels ter for 3 to 6 people
Transformation of triple units into
The Armillaria unit is the transformation of a triple bunker unit into a shelter for groups or families. The unit can host between three to six people and features a large common area of 18 m2. The bunkers themselves become private quarters and the existing vault tunnel remains as the connection
between them; but there is the addition of a door on either side and the cutting of a small section of the tunnel in the middle to create an access to the new addition.
The new addition is a simple wood post and beam structure which is generated by the geometry of the bunker group. Fifteen common pallets such as the ones from warehouses are nailed on this structure to act as a brise-soleil and a custom shaped tent is hung on the inside for protection against the elements or when the users desire more privacy. This area is a place where the users can gather but it can also host comfortably three sleeping bags. 127
material abacus ) wood pole (200 x 10cm ) cm wood post (10 x 15 cm) wood slab (80 x 95 x 5 m) 5c x wood slab (80 x 50 hammock rope carabiners tarp / net webbing
5.5 m rope
1 pcs. 5.4 m 1 pcs. 1 pcs. 1 pcs. 5.5 m 4 pcs. 6.5 m2 13.4 m
(10 cm x 15cm)
1 (80cm x 95 cm x 5cm) 1 (80cm x 50 cm x 5cm)
(200cm x 10cm)
13.4 m WEBBING
tarp / net
The chosen location for the first Concrete Mushrooms Colony is the beach of the Qeparo village, in the county of Vlora. The location was chosen for its exceptionally beautiful nature, its direct access to a national highway, and the presence of a very high concentration of bunkers. The beach belongs to the Albanian blue coast riviera. It is neighboured by the Ali Pashe Tepelena Castle and the Porto Palermo submarine tunnels at 3km to the northwest; the beach is also neighboured by the Borsh beach to the southeast. The Borsh beach is considerably larger and it contains a very high density of bunkers as well, which makes it the perfect candidate for a possible expansion of the Qeparo Colony. The lot is a 450m long slice of the beach, wide 80m from the water line. There are 5 triple bunkers and 3 single bunkers present, all in excelent condition. The project transforms the five triple bunkers into “Armirallia” units and the three single bunkers into two “Amanita -1-” and one “Amanita -2-”.
application of the concept Case study in Qeparo - Vlorë, Albania The Colony Headquarters are also established alongside the bunkers; all the necessary services such as showers, food, and internet are provided there. Furthermore, the headquarters have the double role as a library where the hosted travellers can learn about the bunkers and Albania’s communist past.
1. County of Vlora
3. Qeparo Beach small
Qeparo triple triple
4. Beach Close-up Highway
transform bunker into
4. public wc
Add window and a lock for the door
Install (portable) electrical and water installations
Add necessary equipment for the kitchen of the bar
Add tables and chairs
TRANSFORM A bunker into
a bed & breakfast
4. public wc
Add window and a lock for the door
Install (portable) electrical installations
Add bed, lantern and closet