Albania’s Minister of Culture and Chair of the Butrint Management Foundation (BMF), Elva Margariti, today [26 April 2023] announced that the team led by Kengo Kuma & Associates (Japan) has won the international competition to design a new visitor center for Butrint National Park, an exceptional UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) on Albania’s Ionian coastline.
Ms Margariti announced the decision of the competition’s international jury at a press conference in the capital, Tirana. The team led by Philippe PROST / AAPP (France) was named as runner-up by the jury.
As the submissions were anonymous, the name of the winning team was not revealed to the jury until the decision had been taken.
Butrint, which is close to the modern city of Saranda and overlooks the Straits of Corfu, 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 competition, organized by London-based Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC), crystallized the brief for a carbon-neutral visitor center with charismatic yet practical architecture that related to the inspirational cultural and natural setting while respecting the WHS.
The winner’s full team included an Albanian partner, CHwB Albania, as well as Ervin Paci, SOLARON Albania, iMEPS Engineering & Consulting, YOKE, Esmeralda Agolli and GE‑D Engineering.
The other two finalist teams were led by Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects (Finland) and William Matthews Associates (UK). A digital gallery of the winner and the other finalists’ competition designs is now available to view on the competition organizer’s website at competitions.malcolmreading.com/butrint/gallery.
The anonymous finalist submissions were judged by a jury of local and international experts, including representatives from the BMF (please see Notes to Editors for full details).
The jury’s mission was to select a winner who could create an architectural exemplar, a unique design statement for Butrint and Albania. Additionally, the competition brief specified a design that promotes community participation and environmentally sensitive tourism, and also respects the Outstanding Universal Values of this World Heritage Site.
In our unanimous opinion the concept presented by the Kengo Kuma-led team achieves this through an astonishing duality: the visitor center is conceived as an upper mountain gate with panoramic views over the estuary and lake, and a lower archaeological site gate. This is an intervention that is both infrastructure and welcoming shelter; and offers a new public space, a plaza where the local community and visitors can meet. The team’s guiding idea is to establish new connections between local communities and the archaeological site visitors.
Essentially, the design for the visitor center consists of a series of limestone roofs emerging from the ground, inspired both by Albania’s beautiful stone monuments, gates and bridges, and by the surrounding natural rock formations. Albanian vernacular architecture is also apparent in its hybrid structure between mass timber and steel, which reinterprets the traditional cross wood structure used to support the roof stone canopies in the south of the country.
The roofs frame the most significant views to the estuary and the mountains, seamlessly connecting the new building with the natural setting.
Using locally sourced material and a natural ventilation system and rainwater capture, the Center’s carbon footprint is expected to be minimal.
In a site that can reach temperatures upwards of 40°C in high summer, the visitor is sheltered underneath roof eaves that are supported by a timber structure and rammed earth walls.
The jury was impressed by the team’s evident passion and thoughtfulness, and their connection with Albanian culture and memory. We believe that Kengo Kuma’s design is global in projecting a universal timeless serenity but with naturalness that is utterly site specific. It has the potential to become an icon, and we congratulate the team on their vision. It is one we share, and we look forward to realising it with them.
Based in Tokyo and Paris, Kengo Kuma & Associates (KKAA) has consistently earned international praise, renowned for its role in designing high-profile projects such as the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics, and the V&A Dundee museum in Scotland. The practice’s other recent successes include the Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center, in Tokyo, Japan; and the Hans Christian Andersen’s Museum in Denmark, set to be a cultural center in the author’s city of birth.
Regarding the runner-up, Philippe PROST / AAPP (France), the jury highlighted the sensitivity and elegance of the design, notably the finesse of its integration into the existing landscape.
The new center will welcome visitors and serve as an educational forum and community-gathering place. It is also intended to be a gateway to the wider National Park and will help the BMF better manage rising visitor numbers for the WHS.
Butrint’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 new visitor center is due to open in September 2025.
Full details of the competition, including the jury, are available on the dedicated competition website at competitions.malcolmreading.com/butrint.
Competitions Media Enquiries
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Notes to Editors
- Jury Chair: Roísín Heneghan, Co-Founder and Director, Heneghan Peng Architects
- Elva Margariti, Minister of Culture
- Martin Mata, Co-CEO, Albanian American Development Foundation (AADF)
- Aleksandër Sarapuli, Co-CEO, AADF
- Mónica Luengo, Founder, ATP Architecture, Territory and Landscape
- Suzanne Ogge, Director of Heritage and International Projects, studioMilou
- Matilda Pando, President, Association of Architects of Albania; Founder and Director, Matt Architect & Associates
- Thomas Vonier FAIA RIBA CPP, Senior Partner, Chesapeake Strategies Ltd, Paris + Washington DC
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 Asakusa 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 and 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 specializes 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, Saranda 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. The Park will provide a unique visitor experience and involve local communities and national institutions, serving 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 200 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 $20 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 Dallas Museum of Art (USA), the National Gallery (London); the Illuminated River Foundation (London); Science Island (Lithuania); Houston Endowment (USA); New College (Oxford); 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.