The Metabolism of Albania

picture: .FABRIC

Atelier Albania’s main ambition is to design a coherent sustainable economic development model for Next Generation Albania. Its first priority therefore 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.

This need for a coherent development model became clear in a very early phase, when Atelier Albania was asked to advance guidelines for the development of the coast, primarily as a tourist destination, obviously a national top priority. We argued that, given the opportunity to leapfrog, such an effort would not just have to focus on the coast in terms of economic development but also on its footprint. We therefore postulated a sustainable development model. In order to be able to actually produce such a model, we needed to look not only at the coast itself but also at the hinterland, at Albania’s complete territory. The coast is not an isolated part of the territory; it is part and parcel of what we call ‘the metabolism of Albania.’ In other words, we suggested a holistic approach and maintained that before Atelier Albania could begin to suggest overall plans and grand projects, a thorough research of the metabolism of the country had to be done, as this would provide the frame necessary for Albania’s sustainable development.
The Metabolism of Albania
Understanding the metabolism of the complete territory of Albania is also meaningful in connection to the metabolism of the wider region, southeast Europe, and of the world at large. It allows for the timely recognition of leapfrog opportunities. Positioning Albania within regional and global situations and trends while looking through the frame that the metabolism approach provides, allows for a new approach to identifying comparative advantages in a global context.
Obviously, the metabolism approach has many implications for the way we plan, design and govern our future living environment. But in the case of Albania it soon became clear that it also provides us with a way to productively connect to the country’s past. In socialist times, large parts of the territory where managed as integral landscape systems. The metabolism approach not only gives us tools with which to utilize Albania’s natural resources and human capital, it also allows us to understand decaying territorial infrastructures in terms of their potential. It provides us with a coherent frame for the different potentialities and promises that the territory, once activated, offers.
To sum up, Atelier Albania has embraced the notion that if we consider the Albanian territory as a natural ecology, a coherent ecosystem, and analyze its structure and performance to understand and be able to use the process of its material flows, we can make the territory more resilient and thus act to contribute to a more sustainably productive Next Generation Albania.

Durrës, Albania

picture: George Brugmans

iabr/UP and 51N4E, together with the IABR and its research partners of Atelier Rotterdam, the Chair of Landscape Architecture of Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, and the design office .Fabric, have brought their knowledge and experience to the Albanian territory.
Collaborating closely with the Albanian partners in a series of five intensive workshops fed by data research and analysis, field trips, mapping, presentations and lectures, and research by design in Albania and in the Netherlands, we focused mainly on the material flows of food, water, and energy. The flows have been the raw material for a debate that, though it touched upon a much wider range of subjects, time and again restarted the discussion of the way the different dimensions of our everyday surroundings mutually influence and potentially strengthen rather than weaken each other.

The research by design was set up concurrently with the data research. Albania was compared with other countries and regional conditions to map challenges, opportunities, and strategies that way and in a wider context as well. On a much smaller scale, on the other hand, possible testing locations were explored by means of concrete interventions.
In the last two workshops the results of data analysis, info graphics, and mapping were linked to the proposals that ensued from the research by design. This allowed us to identify the areas where multiple interests meet: by sharing considerations, bottlenecks, and potentials, a first step was made in reframing the problems to identify the critical projects that can strategically kick-start overlapping development opportunities.

Workshop in Tirana, Albania

picture: George Brugmans

We subsequently presented the synthesis of all output to the Prime Minister and members of the cabinet during the final workshop in Albania, with the main aim to once more coordinate the recommendations and project proposals resulting from the research with the strategic priorities of the Albanian government.

Next steps
The results of The Metabolism of Albania are now to be applied to the Albanian territory. They should be further developed as regional development projects that will produce applicable results and trigger concrete investments on site. These projects will be effective both on the local and on the regional scale, and thus deliver important input for the ongoing and permanent evolution of the national plan. Of course, they can only be effective when an intensive process of capacity building on all administrative levels is part and parcel of the project itself. Work on the regional scale and the making of the National Plan by the Ministry of Urban Development will have to be coordinated in such a way that they have meaningful impact on each other. This is a reciprocal process; both are a work in progress. The projects on the regional level will connect the local to the national, and hence will drive an incremental learning by doing process that sees national planning as cumulative and necessarily adaptive.