Kengo Kuma's National Park Visitor Center in Albania

Astonishing Duality

Ulf Meyer
27. April 2023
Visualization © Kengo Kuma and Associates

Philippe PROST / AAPP of France was named runnerup by the jury, chaired by Roísín Heneghan of Heneghan Peng Architects. Butrint Park, which overlooks the Strait of Corfu, is the most significant archaeological site in Albania. It combines monuments with an unspoiled and spectacular natural setting.

The competition, carried out by Malcolm Reading Consultants and financed by the Albanian-American Development Foundation, asked for a visitor center with “charismatic yet practical architecture” that related to its natural setting. The jury looked for architecture that “promotes community and environmentally sensitive tourism while respecting the World Heritage Site.”

Visualization © Kengo Kuma and Associates

The team led by Kuma achieved “an astonishing duality” in its design, according to the jury. The building is conceived as an upper mountain gate with panoramic views over the estuary and lake, and a lower archaeological site gate. It is “both infrastructure and welcoming shelter [that] offers a public plaza where community and visitors meet." Kuma’s design consists of a series of limestone roofs, inspired by Albania’s stone monuments, gates and bridges, and rock formations. Albanian vernacular architecture is reflected in the hybrid structure (mass timber and steel) that reinterprets the cross wood structures used to support stone roofs and canopies.

Visualization © Kengo Kuma and Associates

The roofs frame views to the estuary and the mountains. Using local materials, natural ventilation, and capturing rainwater, the Center’s carbon footprint should be minimal. In a site that can reach temperatures upwards of 40°C, visitors are sheltered beneath eaves supported by a timber structure and rammed earth walls. Kuma’s design is “global in projecting a timeless serenity but with naturalness that is site-specific,” per the jury citation. “It has the potential to become an icon.”


Model © Kengo Kuma and Associates

Butrint Park’s highlights include monuments from Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman periods, including a Roman Forum and Byzantine Baptistery with mosaic pavements. The National Park feature hills, lakes, wetlands, salt marshes, plains, reed beds and coastal islands. The visitor center is due to open in September 2025.

Other articles in this category