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It is not easy to abandon the accustomed patterns of living and get used to change while at the threshold of a transition. Indeed, the inhabitants of the city of Pogradec should be familiar with the difficulty of this kind when their country Albania was subject to change from Soviet-based socialism to capitalism in the beginning of 90s. However, after visiting Pogradec two years ago with the METU graduate students of architecture, we happened to observe how the dwellers turned this political interruption into an advantage for altering their living standards. The development could be clearly understood through a closer look at the city’s architecture. However, this was not such cases like protrusion of polished architecture through economic progress. Rather, this was more like slight alterations to the urban fabric by using the existing configuration, or like celebrating diversity while appreciating uniformity.

The year of the visit to Pogradec, the implications of word ‘hybrid’ in the discipline of architecture was the topic in the advanced design studio in the METU Faculty of Architecture. Basically, ‘hybrid’ indicates "something heterogeneous in origin or composition", while ‘heterogeneous’ implies "consisting of dissimilar or diverse ingredients or constituents" [1] The students sought answers to such questions as: What kind of ‘heterogeneity’ should architecture bring forward in practice? Should it be heterogeneity of cultures, or heterogeneity of spaces etc.? Is there a ‘heterogeneity’ and ‘hybrid’ unique to the context of Pogradec? If design indicates bringing order to what is produced, how can we give place to ‘diversity’ within this ‘order’? How through architecture can we take the problems of a city in a social, economic and political transition period to an advantage for improving the citizens living conditions? Indeed, Pogradec gave lots of clues about the hybridization processes in architecture, which will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

Fig 1. The built additions to the apartment blocks, Pogradec, Albania.
Photograph by Kerem Yazgan

Fig 2. An "epiphyte" orchid having different support system and appearance than the host plant.Source: Longman Illustrated Science Dictionary, 1981, Longman York Press, p.234.

Fig 3. Every new addition is particular to the existing in Pogradec.
Photographs by Kerem Yazgan.

The first issue being observed in the city was the small built volumes randomly attached to the apartment blocks regardless of height and position. With a closer look it was understood that they were not as random as it was presumed; they were built in order to extend the size of the existing dwellings. (Fig. 1) A certain typology in the spatial configuration was not sought for this extension, neither a concern for appearance. It seemed that they were constructed out of a particular need. These built elements were somehow tied to the dwelling units. Every organization was unique to the apartment context.(Fig. 2) The built extensions were not like the parasites of a living entity, annoying or giving harm to the existing organization while using it. They were rather like "epiphytes", growing on the structure and using it just for a support without making any harm. [2] Small leaflets or flowers on the branches of trees are such examples of epiphytes.

(Fig. 3) Every new organization grows out of the host structure and borrows peculiarities from that. Built extensions can be from the vertical or the horizontal direction, depending on the existence of available space. They are small-scaled interruptions to the uniform urban fabric. Such developments on the city of Pogradec have close ties with the social atmosphere being subject to political transition lasting for nearly two decades. Every dweller is involved with self building practices as far as their economic condition allows for that. The citizens fill the legal gaps in the property rights with their own efforts. Indeed, such self-built activities are not peculiar to Albania; legal disorder or economic constraints are not unique to this country. However, the reason for why the dwellers took the ‘epiphyte model’ as an example of the self-built should be investigated through a brief outlook to the condition of the aforementioned Albanian property rights before and after transition take place. In fact, they were the key to discussing architectural hybridization.

Before the period of transition to the capitalist property rights, all land in Albania was subject to the socialist system based on the Soviet model. [3] According to that, every country land was the property of the state and cannot be possessed by an individual. The land and the building located on the land were considered as separate properties. Although the land is under the possession of the state, the building on the land can be owned by a citizen unless it is utilized for profit purposes. Therefore, the citizen can neither sell nor mortgage the building. Nor he/she can own the land on the building. Furthermore, the state enterprises were responsible for meeting the spatial requirements of the inhabitants for dwelling and working. They respond to such needs through the realization of grand architectural projects like big housings composed of the combination of similar typologies, which were developed without giving attention to the particular lifestyles. The similar uniform housing planning pattern can be found in other socialist cities of the time (Fig. 4-5-6) A family house had a scheme consisted of two rooms, a kitchen and a bath, which the size differs pertaining to the number of residents. The apartment blocks took shape through the union of this house type of certain numbers in a single volume. They had to have a maximum five storey-level and were devoid of a central heating system due to economic constraints. [4] Restrictions in the name of uniformity also suppressed people’s desire to improve their living environments according to their needs.

Fig 4. Regulatory Plan Pogradec - 1985
Photograph by Ervin Dojçe, 2002

Fig 5. Regulatory Plan formed by long and 24 floor heigh linear housing blocks. St. Petersburg - Russia.
Source: St. Petersburg City Map

Fig 6. Uniform housing in St. Petersburg

After the country was shifted to the capitalist system in the 90s, the state allowed for the land ownership for those which bought the building located on the land. The inhabitants began to buy and sell their lands and flats that were once upon a time under the possession of the state. However, it is not easy for every inhabitant of apartments to provide appropriate fund for the land ownership. Economic constraints rendered impossible for the residents to come together and initiate a construction process to restore or to renew the building according to their current living patterns. Buildings are covered by the ones who can afford economically. (Fig. 7)

Fig 7. The unfinished, partially covered Pogradec apartments. Like the state's political, economical and social transition period, apartments in Pogradec also are in transitory situation.
Photographs by Kerem Yazgan.

The rest of the building remains empty. The result is a city with a look that gives the impression of continuous and unfinished building activity. Indeed, our observations during our visit to Pogradec revealed that every dweller found appropriate ways to renew their own flats without the need to conform to the totality of residents. The solution was the aforementioned ‘epiphyte model’, in which every flat protruded to the outside of the building block with a new system of construction taking support form the existing one. (Fig. 8)

Fig 8. Extensions to the existing apartments.
Photographs by Kerem Yazgan.

This is the story of how a transition in the political context introduced a new architectural model bringing diversity to the uniformity in design. The socialist typology gained a new peculiarity in this respect. Moreover, the ‘epiphyte model’ is not only valid for residential requirements. It can also applicable to provide space for commercial purposes as well. One can extend the dwelling and re-configure it for living, working or both. (Fig. 9) The legal disorder results as not only the invasion of the nearest land for extension, but also the unification of diverse functions in a single volume. This is what we mentioned as the hybridization processes in architecture. Every new configuration takes the existing architectural design typology as a basis. The new arrangement adds peculiarity to the previous configuration without going into total reconstruction.

Fig 9. Photographys by Kerem Yazgan

Fig 10. The design of a mix used housing in the advanced design studio.

Project by Devrim Çimen


The hybridization of the typological uniformity in Albania provided new possibilities for architectural innovation, which some of them were investigated in the advanced design studio. The students sought for ways to turn their explorations on the post-socialist construction practices into a creative process. Some chose to find architectural explanations to the Pogradec ‘epiphyte model’ in the context of formation. Others preferred to select different urban spots to re-interpret the Pogradec situation. The students were involved to the hybridization processes in architecture through various approaches. Some students found new design prototypes to be applicable to diverse conditions, while others eschewed from any attempt that brought forward a new form of uniformity to their designs. While the former group was on the side of re-organizing the architectural disorder taking shape due to the spatial additions to the existing buildings, the latter one preferred to emphasize heterogeneity and to find architectural equivalents to this disorderly situation. Such example to the former was the design of circulation (new additions as lifts) and service elements (new additions as Wc’s, kitchens, depots, heating system, etc.) to enable to add the lacking functional spaces to the existing ones in order to improve the living conditions. The circulation shafts had a regular design pattern and provided identical solutions to different conditions occurring due to topography and dimensions of the site or due to legal constraints etc. An example to the latter situation was the design of a multi-functional building in an old industrial region of Pogradec. The design juxtaposed residential and working spaces on the same volume without interrupting the laws and regulations determined by the local government. (Fig. 10) It provided a design alternative to the one developed by the citizens of Pogradec by adding spaces conforming to the functional requirements coming out of current patterns of living. All the projects were to develop architectural proposals to a city which lives a total transition period in which architecture is a part.

Kerem Yazgan (Dr. Arch.) – Begüm Yazgan (M.Arch) *


[1] See the Merriam-Webster online dictionary at the following website:
[2] The definition of "epiphyte" by Artur Godman is as follows: "a plant growing on another plant and using it only for support".
See the Longman Illustrated Science Dictionary, 1981, Longman York Press, p. 234.
[3] For the details of Albanian property rights, see Ervin Dojçe, 2002, Property Relations and Urban Space in Albania Before, During and After socialism:
a Case Study on the city of Pogradec, A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate School of Natural And Applied Sciences of the Middle East Technical University.
[4] E. Dojçe, 2002, Property Relations and Urban Space in Albania Before, During and After socialism: a Case Study on the city of Pogradec,
A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate School of Natural And Applied Sciences of the Middle East Technical University, p. 44.

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