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New Visitor Center Opens in Albania’s Vjosa Wild River National Park

by Ron Bernthal

May 13, 2024



After recently establishing a 50,000-acre national park that includes the wild Vjosa River, the Albanian government selected Copenhagen-based CEBRA architectural firm to design a multifunctional visitor center in Tepelenë, as well as information stations in the towns of Përmet and Vlorë. The newly established Vjosa Wild River National Park, with 250 miles of waterway, has become the first protected wild river in Europe. CEBRA’s three buildings were inspired by the combination of soil and water, with building materials simply consisting of just two parts: concrete slaps, which resemble tectonic plates that shape the river’s path, and natural rocks, which mimic the submerged stones that nature has broken down into pebbles and sand deposited along the banks of the Vjosa.



The national park project includes efforts to preserve and protect biodiversity and ecosystems, as the environment of the park contains about 10,000 animals, as well as many threatened animal and plant species. The national park was established with help from outdoor brand Patagonia and Institute for Nature Conservation in Albania.

Placed along the river, Tepelenë Visitor Center will include educational spaces, research facilities, exhibition spaces, a community center, shops, cafés, meeting rooms, offices, workspaces and accommodations for researchers. The center will also offer a botanical garden, an outdoor stage, a playground, a viewing platform, exhibition spaces, a picnic area and a promenade extension. Nature is the primary feature in the landscape design, and all walking paths, furnishings and equipment across the man-made sites will be as non-intrusive as possible. For example, a series of stones will create a path, a fallen tree will be the base of a playground, and simple rocks will be a seating area.



At the Përmet station, teams will use the existing historical City Stone (Guri i Qytetit), a tunnel and vacant chamber, and will soon provide a sensuous auditorium. The underground space will host art installations, concerts and film presentations that celebrate the vibrant history and nature of Përmet as part of the national park.

The Vlore Information Station is purposely situated away from the immediate vicinity of the Vjosa River. Located near Narta Lagoon, the station’s educational and exhibition facilities provide access to an intersection of diverse landscapes, each distinctly shaped by the river’s ecological impact. The architect-chosen location allows the information station to showcase the far-reaching effects of the Vjosa River on various ecosystems as a life-giving force that extends beyond its banks. As an example, the lagoon area is the habitat of flamingos and Dalmatian pelicans, visible from the station’s panoramic view over the flat lowlands of the delta.



Phase two of Albania’s Vjosa Wild River National Park project plans to protect more tributaries, expand into Greece to include the river’s headwaters and add more of the river basin. The completion date has not yet been announced.


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