The bizarre painted buildings of Tirana, Albania

When Edi Rama was elected Mayor of Tirana, Albania, he inherited a capital which nearly fifty years of isolationism had left horribly dilapidated.

Like so many other cities behind the Iron Curtain, the capital of Albania emerged from the oppressive regime bathed in depressing hues of soul-shattering grey. Although countless other problems plagued post-communist Tirana at the time–most all of which were far more serious than architectural aesthetics–the city’s energetic mayor made fixing the Tirana eyesore a top priority.

Beautifying Tirana was particularly relevant to Mr. Rama because he is a trained artist. He graduated from the Albanian Academy of Arts in 1986, moved to Paris in 1995 to practice his trade, and then returned home to Albania where he was eventually elected mayor in 2000 at the age of 36. Three years later, the people of Tirana reelected him for a second term.

%Gallery-8911%Mr. Rama’s vision was not that of a typical city planner–but then again, few cities on this planet are ruled by a Parisian trained artist who is also 6′ 6″ and used to play on the national basketball team (and yes, he can dunk). Indeed, Mr. Rama’s eccentric vision departs wildly from the typical whitewashing most politicians haphazardly apply to their respective cities.

Upon taking office, Mr. Rama ordered a kaleidoscope of wild colors and dispatched an army of painters to canvass city buildings with bizarre geometric patterns. Not every building received such treatment, but enough of them are now scattered throughout Tirana to impart a sense of levity and playfulness to what once was a morose town smothered in dehumanizing shades of totalitarian gray.

Last summer I had the opportunity to wander through this rather bizarre town and absorb the mayor’s city-wide art project (click here to read about it). Sometimes I’d walk for blocks without seeing the funky buildings and other times they seemed to be everywhere. I suppose what surprised me the most was the rather shoddy workmanship involved. Many of the designs are very geometric in nature but it seems as though few painters in Tirana actually possess the ability to paint a straight line. And to make matters worse, most of the paint is of very poor quality; it bleeds through in many places and looks like it might come off in the next rain.

And yet, the spirit endures. I never had the opportunity to visit Tirana in its most impoverished state, but if it was anything like some of the more horrific dumps I’ve seen in the former Soviet Union, Mr. Rama and his artistic vision is a godsend indeed.

I shot the following gallery in order to photographically archive some of the more visually entertaining examples I came across during my visit. You will probably scratch your head and wonder why such craziness has consumed the Albanian capital. I don’t blame you. But to truly understand why this has all taken place, be sure to check out the very last photo in the series; this is what all of Tirana looked like before Rama took over.