DESIGN IS POLITICS IS DESIGN (1) ALBANIA: EDI RAMA (2000-2011)

ONE POLITICIAN CAN STILL MAKE THE DIFFERENCE. TAKE EDI RAMA. AS A FORMER PAINTER, HE WILL CERTAINLY BE BEST REMEMBERED FOR THE WAY HE TURNED THE WHOLE CITY INTO HIS CANVAS UPON TAKING OFFICE AS MAYOR OF THE CAPITAL OF ALBANIA, COVERING THE TOTALITARIAN GREY OF YORE WITH COLORFUL PATTERNING: “BEING THE MAYOR OF TIRANA IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF CONCEPTUAL ART.”

IN OUR SERIES: DESIGN IS POLITICS IS DESIGN (1)

ALBANIA: EDI RAMA (2000-2011).

When in 2000, in the wake of the democratic movement that brought about the collapsing of the communist state, the then minister of Cultural Affairs Edi Kristaq Rama (°1964) was elected Mayor of Tirana, he inherited a city which nearly fifty years of isolationism had left horribly dilapidated, smothered in depressing hues of non-color. Although countless other problems plagued post-communist Tirana – some far more serious than architectural aesthetics- Rama, formerly a former player of the national basketball team, and a trained artist, who had lived in Paris, after having been a professor at the Academy of Arts of Albania where he had graduated, made fixing this eyesore a top priority.

One of the first things he did upon taking office was forming an army of painters that were ordered to clad city buildings in what has come to be known as the Edi Rama color palette, bright and somehow bizarre in its combination of red and blue, yellow and green, lilac and taupe, and not to forget: violet. Not every building received a treatment, and while many of the designs were meant to be very geometric in nature, not every painter seemed to possess the ability to paint a straight line. Equally questionable was the overall quality of the paint, making it often look as if it might come off in the next rain. But the action undeniably imparted a funky sense of levity and playfulness to an otherwise morose town.

Edi Rama remained Mayor for three terms, and only lost elections in 2011 after a debatable court ruling. Known for his extravagance in a variety of ways, his vision was not that of a typical city planner, and departed wildly from the typical whitewashing most politicians haphazardly apply to their respective cities. But then – Tirana is not the average city either. Rama’s most noted impact on the city of Tirana has been the many kiosk demolitions. His Return to Identity project rid the city of many illegally constructed buildings while he authorized the bulldozing of private properties in an effort to widen up roads. He compiled a Tirana City Master Plan, whereas his Clean and Green project, also launched in 2000, resulted in the production of 96,700sqm of green and parks. Although the opposition accused Rama, currently the leader of the Socialist Party, of corruption, and critics claimed that he focused too much on cosmetic changes without fixing any of the major problems such as shortages of drinking water and electricity (As of the end of his term, running water in Tirana continued to be available for only 6 hours a day), he was chosen by Time magazine to be one of the 2005 European Heroes.

Currently a member of the Regional Advisory Board of the United Nations Development Program, Rama is also a former Board Member of the Open Society Foundation Albania, a non-profit foundation that promotes democracy and open market reforms established and financed by financer and philanthropist George Soros. In November 2011, he published a book on his years as Mayor of Tirana entitled Kurban. The same year he took part in the Albanian opposition demonstrations, in which 4 people were killed and 150 injured. In 2009, he also published a collection of personal notes and paintings in a book entitled Edi Rama. He is no longer active as an artist though: “I am convinced that big changes can only come from tackling the details that touch upon the daily life of people: where they live, or the school they send their kids to, and its colors”. (mb)

EDI RAMA’S WORK AS A MAYOR OF TIRANA HAS BEEN SELECTED FOR THE MAPPING THE DESIGN WORLD EXHIBITION AT RECIPROCITY, THE DESIGN BIENNIAL FOR SOCIAL INNOVATION IN LIEGE, BELGIUM, FROM OCTOBER 5 TILL OCTOBER 28 2012, AND WILL ALSO FEATURE IN THE ACCOMPANYING MAPPING THE DESIGN WORLD MAGAZINE – FOCUSING ON MORE THAN 100 EXAMPLES OF (DO) GOOD DESIGN PRACTICE FROM AN EQUAL NUMBER OF COUNTRIES.

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