As part of our 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale coverage, we present the completed Kosovo Pavilion. Below, curator Eliza Hoxha describes the exhibition in her own words.
The ‘90s in Kosovo under the Milošević regime are known as times of repression, a time when ethnic Albanians were expelled from all state-run institutions and thereby removed from public life. Funded by the 3 percent income tax mainly from Albanian Diaspora, Albanians created a parallel system of education, culture and healthcare in their private houses, which citizens offered for free. These private houses provided space for public life for almost ten years in Pristina, the capital and other cities in Kosovo. In the ‘90s, life that the city center provided for everyone ended for Albanians, and all activity was dislocated to the periphery. The entire Albanian community shrank into private houses. The house became a school, a restaurant, a promotional activity space, an office, an art gallery, a hospital and a home at the same time.
This merger of private and public, closed and open, inside and outside, intimacy and transparency, not only affected the housing typology and urban fabric but also forced city life into the periphery, making the city space assume a duality; the usage of space had different meanings for Albanian and Serb community. Under repression, using private space as public made the house a metaphor for the city, which in turn became a net of heterotopic spaces, neither here nor there, existing parallelly with the institutions and public spaces as delineated by the Milošević regime. Every house provided a mirror image of the city. They could be seen as places where things found their ground and stability at a time of uncertainty, violence and instability in Kosovo. It was only when Albanians took to the streets to protest government injustice that the city square became a public space for them. Deprived of media outlets and information in Albanian language, Albanian families bought satellite dishes. One could pin down with precision the apartments that belonged to Albanians, and that was simply because of the satellite dishes, the white circle looking satellites would hang in their balconies. Very soon the urban landscape turned into a garden of white mushrooms. For Albanians, the city was everywhere where these satellite dishes hanged and private houses were open to the public, but not the city in itself. This collective experience could not remain outside of the Pavilion’s story. Therefore, the book became a storytelling platform for the community members who have experienced the ‘90s. To bring this story to the forefront in all its complexity and entirety, three generations have been invited to contribute in the making of this book. We invited the elders, middle-aged, who spent their youth in the ‘90s, and those who were children at the time and who have few or no recollections of the ‘90s, who remember by means of stories that have circulated in their families; their parents’ stories of expulsion from work, siblings’ experience of going to schools in private houses, and their own experience of not understanding what was going on at the time. These and other stories come together in this book. The book brings to the surface personal and collective experiences from multiple disciplinary angles. It is the first time we map out the parallel city of Pristina. The research and the process of mapping out the city was very important, because the way in which space was distributed in the parallel system was never documented. On the other hand, rapid transformations of the city of Pristina have obscured the map and these points of reference, therefore it was important to document it, not only for the new generation, but also to acknowledge citizen’s contribution at the time.
The Kosovo pavilion spatial concept
The pavilion is a house always in the making; unfinished because it acquires new public functions. The house is a compensation for the public space that is lacking. The house has twofold functions, while the interior has the appearance of the room and it is used as one, it is also a public institution.
The inside space is surrounded by mirrors to create an effect of extended space and openness as a metaphor of psychological freedom, but not the physical one as such, since the mirror is yet a physical barrier and juxtaposition, you’re there but you’re not there, you’re free inside but still occupied.
The ceiling is clouded by satellites, a metaphor of gloomy days where we found light, nourishing our souls with otherworldly information coming from these dishes. Our mind was free and our heads were satellites.
The carpet has been and still is one of the central element of the Kosovo Albanian dwelling, the living room is structured and organized around the carpet. The Pavilion interiorizes exteriority and to do this it is not a matter of chance that it uses the carpet. The carpet is placed in the Pavilion to bring home—like warmth, thereby representing the gathering space of our homes.
The house became the city and the city one big family.