Albania should be considered a potentially rich country in terms of human capital and natural resources. How can these be activated to sustainably boost locally added value for what Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama has termed Next Generation Albania?
In response to Rama’s call to designers worldwide to contribute to Next Generation Albania, George Brugmans (IABR), Freek Persyn and Johan Anrys (51N4E, Brussels) proposed Atelier Albania.
The Atelier was established in February 2014 and integrated into the Albanian Ministry of Urban Development’s National Planning Office (AKPT), directly advising the Albanian government. AKPT’s director, Adelina Greca, is the Atelier’s director; Brugmans and Persyn were engaged as special advisors.

Introduction Atelier Albania by George Brugmans and Freek Persyn, Tirana 2014

The challenges in Albania are immense when looked at from the perspective of having to catch up with the rest of Europe. On the other hand, all nations now face the challenge of how to successfully make the transition to the next economy, to a green economy in a resilient post-fossil future. Could Albania not skip the catching-up phase, and focus instead on how to leapfrog into the twenty-first century? To be able to do so, Albania must develop its own vision and strategy on the basis of the unique characteristics, cultural values, and scenic qualities of the country itself, and frame them in a global context.
Atelier Albania’s main ambition is therefore to design a sustainable economic development model for Next Generation Albania. Its first priority is to activate the potential of Albania’s territory by re-imagining it in terms of its natural ecology: a coherent ecosystem with a metabolism made up of material flows, such as water, food, and energy, the country’s main natural resources.
The main goal of the Atelier is to foster a culture of learning by doing, of national planning as a continuous work in progress, where planning becomes a strategic feedback loop that produces applicable plans and projects that in turn inform the process of planning, and so forth.

Three tracks
Now, almost two years after its inception, Atelier Albania has developed three main parallel tracks.
First, a series of international competitions has delivered pilot projects the most promising of which are now being nurtured towards implementation. These competitions scout the territory, find out the lay of the land and collect intelligence.
Secondly, a structural dialogue between different stakeholders and international experts has been stimulated that has led to the decision to reformat the National Planning Agency and to redefine its brief, which in fact should lead to Atelier Albania taking over most roles of the National Planning Agency.
Thirdly, the need for a coherent development frame, based on the ‘metabolism approach’ developed by IABR, has been advanced in order to give direction and focus to the immense challenge of spatial and urban development policies in Albania. This frame is needed to uncover, in an organic way, the leapfrog potential that the country has.

The Metabolism of Albania
The indispensable underpinning for such a coherent development frame was the research by design project The Metabolism of Albania, produced by iabr/UP (IABR’s division for project and knowledge development through research by design) in close collaboration with the urban design office 51N4E (Brussels).

picture: .FABRIC

The project was put into operation by a coalition of Albanian, Dutch and Belgian partners: Atelier Albania, the Albanian Ministry of Urban Development and other ministries, the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, the TU Delft Chair of Landscape Architecture, .FABRIC, 51N4E and IABR.
Atelier masters were Brugmans and Persyn. The project managers were Marieke Francke (iabr/UP), Sotiria Kornaropoulu (51N4E) and Joni Baboçi (AKPT).
The Dutch Embassy in Tirana and RVO NL/Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands generously supported the project.

The results of the project are published as The Metabolism of Albania: Activating the Potential of the Albanian Territory (iabr/UP, 2016). A selection of the results is the basis for the presentation of Atelier Albania in IABR–2016–THE NEXT ECONOMY. More information here.