The Power of Good Design

Street in Tirana. Photo credit via Ted

How the mayor of a decomposing and corrupt town in Albania used art and design to improve his community

I think that sometimes we overlook design and how it impacts our day to day life. We take for granted what is around us and often times do not question or challenge the status quo. Thankfully when Edi Rama, an artist, became Mayor of Tirana in Albania in 2000 he not only questioned the status quo he tore it down and painted what remained. Tirana, like many towns within the Baltic region, suffered from corruption, a decaying infrastructure and poverty. 

The first building to be painted. Photo Edi Rama via Ted

Rama states in an interview with Al Jazeera-
When I became mayor of Tirana it was like entering a Kafka book and becoming a person in danger of becoming totally metamorphosed by the very heavy power of the past and of the total lack of authority and hope in the city...I will never forget the first square metres of orange that appeared in the middle of the grey. People had never seen somebody taking care of a space that was not private...And we felt a change in the structure of discipline like police we started to see incredible safety stops taken off the heavy horrible grids that dominated the city and people started to re-create their facades started to think about design. 
Building in Tirana mimics the sky Photo credit via Ted

In his Ted talk he discusses how the city tore down over 450 buildings. Space was reclaimed and the city began to come alive. My favorite part of the talk though is when he discusses the government buildings. They were ruled by bureaucracy and bribery. Just getting rid of the corrupt officials was not enough because there was such a culture of bribes within the region that it would take changing the facade to change the culture. Create a space that is bright and open and invite the people in the community to invest in their community and it changes the space they live in and their level of pride in their community. 
"Tirana is beautiful" EDEM/USAID postcard that uses art from Albanian children

In Tirana the status quo has been upended in a riot of color. 

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Originally Published 4/9/13

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