International competition launched for new visitor centre for nation’s top cultural attraction

An international design competition has been launched to find architects for a new visitor centre at Albania’s leading cultural attraction – Butrint National Park, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Spectacularly located on the Ionian coastline, overlooking the Straits of Corfu, Butrint has an ancient Epirot theare, a Roman forum and an early Byzantine baptistry with a well-preserved mosaic pavement, as well as other monuments dating from the Hellenic, Angevin, Venetian and Ottoman periods.

Clients the Ministry of Culture of Albania, the Butrint Management Foundation, and the Albanian-American Development Foundation are seeking a “dedicated and gifted architectural team” to deliver a carbon-neutral visitor centre of up to 1,000sq m to interpret the site and serve as a gateway to the wider national park.

The site identified for the centre – anticipated to have annual footfall of 400,000 by 2030 – is around one mile from the entrance to the ancient city, and has views over the the Vivari Channel and the Mediterranean Sea.

The two-stage competition, which is being run by Malcolm Reading Consultants, initially seeks expressions of interest from architect-led multidisciplinary teams.

Butrint National Park_Butrint's early Byzantine Baptistery in the ancient city_©Albanian-American Development Foundation

Source: Albanian-American Development Foundation

Butrint’s early Byzantine baptistry

No designs are required at first, with candidates asked to submit details of team composition, experience, a pre-qualification questionnaire, and an outline of their approach.

As a minimum, teams must have an architect and lead designer, a landscape architect, a masterplanner, an exhibition and interpretation designer, an archaeologist, and engineering disciplines including sustainability, cost consultant and a wayfinding consultant.

Four finalist teams will be given a US$10,000 honorarium (£8,820 at today’s exchange rates) to work up concept designs for the visitor centre.

site map

Source: Malcolm Reading Consultants

Site map for the proposed visitor centre at Butrint National Park

The competition team said the project’s “initial funding” of US$2.45m (£2.16m) had been secured and a “fast-track” timetable sought the winning project to be complete and ready to open in September 2025. Competition documents said up to US$4m (£3.5m) could be available for the winning project.

Albanian culture minister Elva Margariti said the winning project would need to be an “architectural exemplar”, providing a “unique statement” for the site and the nation as a whole.

“From the finalists who reach the competition’s concept design stage we’ll be seeking charismatic yet practical architecture that perfectly relates to the extraordinary cultural and natural setting,” she said.

Butrint National Park_Ancient city of Butrint from the air_©Albanian American Development Foundation

Source: Albanian-American Development Foundation

The ancient city of Butrint from the air

Competition director Malcolm Reading said shortlisted design teams would need to balance their intervention with respect for the “jewel-like site”, recognising that their proposals would need to satisfy the international heritage community as well as competition judges.

“A proactive and forward-thinking approach to sustainability will also be needed, to tackle the many challenges of the climate emergency, with rising sea levels being a particular threat to Butrint’s low-lying peninsula,” he added.

Butrint National Park_Remains of the Great Basilica in Butrint's ancient city_©Albanian-American Development Foundation

Source: Albanian-American Development Foundation

Remains of the Great Basilica at Butrint

The competition jury includes Heneghan Peng Architects co-founder an director Róisín Heneghan; ATP Architecture, Territory and Landscape founder Mónica Luengo; Suzanne Ogge, heritgage director at studioMilou; and Emily Freeman-Attwood, chair of the Butrint Foundation.

The deadline for responses to the first stage of the competition is 14:00 GMT+1 on October 24. The second stage of the competition will commence later this year, with the winner expected to be announced in spring next year.

If the winning team is not licensed in Albania, it will be expected to partner with a local team to help deliver the project.