The theatre in Korca was initially a present from Moscow prior to Albanian Communism’s falling out with Post-Stalinist Russia. Its Soviet classicism was then stripped back to a sort of Balkan Art Deco. The large triangular Theatre Square, big enough for nationalistic parades, became a subject for re-formatting when in 2009 BOLLES+WILSON won the international planning competition for the historic centre of Korca. The main axis of the now almost fully implemented masterplan is the Bulevard Shën Gjergji (St George), the new hub of the city, a pedestrian promenade culminating in the Theater Square (now anchored by BOLLES+WILSON’s ‘2014 Red Bar in the Sky’ – a campanile that became a political scandal in Albania.
Prime Minister Edi Rama retorted in parliament to a critical opposition that it was ‘the first time that he had heard an aesthetic opinion from them’.) The next intervention was the theatre itself – quite literally given a new face (or lots of new faces). Seating capacity was increased by converting a two-tier auditorium to a large raked plane. The design method as with all BOLLES+WILSON Albanian projects involved Peter Wilson’s hand drawn concept interpreted by a local facilitating office (in this case DEA Studio).
A methodology that baits ‘lost in translation’ misinterpretations (as was the case here when the contractors were found scratching their heads at a book of ‘Albanian Bling Renderings’ but no details, a problem solved by Peter Wilson further sketching, this time 1:1 details direct on the wall). Comic and a Tragic masks belong to theatre iconography, here they are joined by 140 smaller masks – the audience, hand crafted in terra cotta by the local potter Vasillaq Kolevica.
The 80 cm high individualized masks each occupy a grid square of the Art Deco Facade. The black Tragic mask is convex, the white Comic mask is concave – the construction principles for these were again hand sketched. The Comic mask is on a side annex (that now houses an internal grand stair), a cube clad in black basalt. The perimeter of the mask is defined by a stainless steel profile inside of which the white plaster indentation is recessed. The ominous black silhouette of the Tragic mask is built up of polystyrene insulation blocks. Edge radii were sketched but ultimately a 1:1 demonstration with a bread knife was necessary to communicate the idea to he builders. The surface here is again plastered to resemble a giant Japanese ‘No’ mask.