Open call to design a new visitor center for Albania’s chief cultural attraction elicits strong international response
The Butrint Management Foundation (BMF) today [13 December 2022] revealed the four teams who will compete to design a new visitor center for Butrint National Park, an exceptional UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) on Albania’s Ionian coastline.
The four finalist teams are (in alphabetical order by team lead):
- Kengo Kuma & Associates (Japan) with CHwB Albania, YOKE, Esmeralda Agolli, Ervin Paci, SOLARON Albania, iMEPS Engineering & Consulting, and R‑Team Engineering
- Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects (Finland) with Geometria Architecture, doxiadis+, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Giorgos Papazafiriou, and Sitowise
- Philippe PROST / AAPP (France) with Michel Desvigne Paysagiste, William Van Andringa, Terrell Group, ECO + CONSTRUIRE, and CL Design
- William Matthews Associates (UK) with Barker Langham, Harris Bugg Studio, Structure Workshop, and Atelier Ten
The finalists were the unanimous choice of a Shortlisting Panel, which included the Ministry of Culture, AADF, BMF, jury members, and competition organizers Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC).
These architect-led teams (see biographies below) will now create concept designs. The brief is for a carbon-neutral visitor center that perfectly relates to the inspirational cultural and natural setting, and that has charismatic yet practical architecture.
The new center is intended to be a gateway to the wider National Park as well as help the BMF better manage rising visitor numbers for the WHS focused on the ancient city of Butrint, which is recognized as Albania’s chief cultural attraction.
Elva Margariti, Minister of Culture and Chair of the Butrint Management Foundation, said:
‘We were delighted with the international response to our competition, teams entered from 17 countries and viewers from more than a hundred visited the website.
‘Butrint attracted an extremely strong field of designers. We would like to thank all the competitors for their interest in the project.
‘After so much planning, it is exciting to now move to the competition’s next stage. We are focused on selecting a winner who will create an architectural exemplar, a unique statement for the site, and Albania.’
Malcolm Reading, Competition Director, said:
‘This is a fascinating shortlist, a unique mix of renowned architects.
‘These practices have achieved national landmarks and won significant awards. The connecting thread is their sensitivity… both in responding to a setting and producing resonant design.’
The new center will welcome and orient visitors and serve as an educational forum and community-gathering place, as well as a regional hub for other nearby natural and cultural visitor attractions.
Proposed designs must respect the WHS and Outstanding Universal Values as well as the wider National Park, being sympathetic to the landscape and built cultural heritage.
Located in the south of the country, approximately 20 kilometers from the modern city of Sarandë and overlooking the Straits of Corfu, Butrint 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 site’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 finalists will visit the site in early 2023. The winning team will be required to include an architect licensed in Albania as part of the design team for the project. This firm’s license must cover design works related to archaeological sites. Each finalist team will receive an honorarium of USD $10,000 for their concept design.
The anonymous competition submissions will be judged by a jury of local and international experts, including representatives from the Butrint Management Foundation.
Full details of the competition, including the jury, are available on the dedicated competition website at competitions.malcolmreading.com/butrint.
The new visitor center is due to open in September 2025.
Notes to Editors
Kengo Kuma & Associates (Japan)
Kengo Kuma & Associates (KKAA) is an award winning, Tokyo and Paris-based partnership led by Kengo Kuma since its establishment in 1990.
The team’s expertise encompasses architecture, interior, and landscape design. Renowned for cultural and civic projects, KKAA has also designed and completed installations, experimental pavilions, renovations, and major urban developments. The practice uses architecture to strengthen the connection between human experience and the project surroundings, both natural and urban. Recent projects include the H. C. Andersen’s House of Fairy Tales in Osense, Denmark; and the Asukasa Culture Tourist Information Center, in Tokyo, Japan.
KKAA’s emphasis on rediscovering local materials and updating them to be used in contemporary construction has been recognized by sustainability awards both in Japan and in Europe, while KKAA’s quality of design has been recognized by a multitude of design excellence awards and competition wins in Europe, Asia.
Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects (Finland)
Lahdelma & Mahlamäki architects (LMA) is an architecture office based in Helsinki, Finland. Best known for its museums and public buildings, the office specialises in demanding design tasks in sensitive environments.
The founders, Professor Ilmari Lahdelma and Professor Rainer Mahlamäki, have been working together since the 1980s. They have won more than 100 prizes in architecture competitions including the 2014 Finlandia Prize for Architecture and the 2016 European Museum Forum’s Museum of the Year. Their work is a continuum of Finnish design, with a focus on sustainability, high-quality materials and attention to detail.
LMA’s key projects include the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Poland (2013) and the Urban Environment House in Finland (2020), along with ongoing designs such as the Zurawie Mixed-Use Block in Poland and the Lost Shtetl Jewish Museum in Lithuania.
Philippe PROST / AAPP (France)
Atelier d’architecture Philippe Prost (AAPP) is a Paris-based practice founded in 1993 by the renowned architect, masterplanner, and academic Philippe Prost. His work is characterized by respect for the site, its history, its geography, by paying particular attention to what is already there and by in-depth analysis of the program question. In all the projects carried out at different scales, both urban planning and architecture, memory and context underpin creation.
Key projects by AAPP include the Ring of Remembrance in Ablain-Saint-Nazaire; the Paris Mint; and the rehabilitation of La Cité des Electriciens in Bruay-la-Buissière. AAPP have won numerous awards for their work, including the French National Grand Prize of Architecture in 2022 and a RIBA International Award for Excellence (2016). Philippe Prost sits on the French National Commission for Heritage and Architecture, as well as the Board of Directors of the Fondation Le Corbusier.
William Matthews Associates (UK)
William Matthews Associates (WMA) is an architecture practice based in central London. Since 2013 the studio has worked in the UK and internationally on a range of cultural, commercial and infrastructure commissions, completing critically acclaimed projects such as the Tintagel Castle Footbridge which won the inaugural British Building Beauty Award and was shortlisted for the RIBA 2021 Stirling Prize.
The practice has earned international recognition, winning multiple architectural competitions and awards. Their work has been widely published in the UK and internationally.
Current projects include a major regeneration scheme for Borovets, Bulgaria’s largest ski resort, a new bridge in east London and a prominent building for HS2 at Euston Station, London. Most recently, WMA won an international design competition for the Czech National Railway Administration Headquarters in Prague.
Ministry of Culture
Albania’s Ministry of Culture is responsible for the implementation of government art, culture and cultural heritage policies. A network of 28 national and regional institutions under the Ministry implements and supports projects, programs and activities related to preservation, restoration, management, valorisation and promotion of culture and cultural heritage in Albania.
Butrint Management Foundation
The Butrint Management Foundation (BMF) was established by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Albania and the Albanian American Development Foundation, for the purpose of administration, preservation, and protection of the Butrint cultural heritage areas. Its mission is to ensure public access and services and to promote study and research activities.
This mission will be accomplished by managing and developing the Cultural Property in the best possible way, ensuring the necessary financial means and specialized staff for its preservation and development for the entire duration of the indirect administration of BMF.
The Foundation’s Board is composed of five members and is chaired by the Minister of Culture.
Butrint National Park Integrated Management Plan (2020-2030)
On July 22, 2020, the Albanian Government approved the Butrint National Park Integrated Management Plan (2020-2030). The Plan was drafted in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Tourism and Environment (as co-proposers) and other line Ministries, alongside partner institutions such as the National Agency of Protected Areas (NAPA, or AdZM), National Institute of Cultural Heritage, Institute of Archaeology, University of Tirana, AdZM Vlorë, Sarandë Port, tourist agencies and guides, local self-government institutions and representatives of the local community.
Through the Integrated Management Plan, Butrint National Park will be recognized as a global leader in the sustainable management of mixed cultural and natural sites, becoming the hub of a regional tourism offering, providing a unique visitor experience, and involving local communities and national institutions to serve as a model for other national parks and cultural heritage sites in Albania.
The first of its kind, the Plan supports the cultural heritage and conservation development strategies of the Albanian Government. The plan is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 and the recommendations of the World Heritage Committee Decisions and the advisory bodies of the World Heritage Center/UNESCO.
In the long term, this document aims to define a new approach to heritage sites in the country, addressing issues related to decision making between local and national government bodies, sustainable development, cultural tourism growth, management capacity building and a local community focused approach.
Malcolm Reading Consultants
Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC) is a strategic consultancy that helps clients to imagine and define contemporary environments, both built and natural. MRC is the leading specialist in devising and managing design competitions internationally. MRC believes in the power of design to create new perceptions and act as an inspiration.
MRC has run over 150 design competitions in settings including Antarctica and Australia; London and Washington, D.C.; Oxford and Cambridge, and Houston and Riyadh, for extraordinary and emblematic projects representing over $12 billion of construction value. Uniquely, our team provides a total service encompassing the project vision; search; organization; administration; and assessment.
Recent work includes competitive selection for the National Gallery (London); Illuminated River Foundation (London), Science Island (Lithuania), Houston Endowment (USA), New College (Oxford), St Catharine’s College (Cambridge) and the Royal College of Art (London).
Albanian-American Development Foundation
The competition is financed by the Albanian-American Development Foundation (AADF). AADF was created in 2009 by the Albanian-American Enterprise Fund with the support and encouragement of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States Government. AADF is a not-for-profit corporation governed by a Board of Trustees.
The Foundation’s mission is to facilitate the development of a sustainable private sector economy and a democratic society in Albania, and to contribute to stability in south-eastern Europe. To further its mission, AADF develops programs in the sectors of education and leadership, entrepreneurship, cultural tourism and eco-tourism in Albania.