Visitor centre in the Vjosa Wild River National Park by CEBRA

Vjosa Wild River National Park

CEBRA wins competition to design a visitor centre and information stations in Albania along Europe’s first protected wild river. The winning design facilitates wild nature preservation efforts and spaces dedicated to scientific research and exploration to encourage positive change in the way visitors interact with ecosystems. In the wake of the establishment of a nearly 13,000-hectare national park including the Lumi Vjosa, the Albanian government has selected CEBRA to design a multifunctional visitor centre in Tepelenë and information stations in Përmet and Vlorë.

The creation of Vjosa Wild River National Park, which the project takes part in, marks the protection of the 190 kilometres-long free-flowing river on Albanian territory. CEBRA’s three buildings mirror the stormy marriage between soil and water. Referencing the Vranisht dolmen, the key concept simply consists of just two parts: concrete slaps, which resemble tectonic plates that shape the river’s path, and natural rocks, mimicking the submerged stones broken down into pebbles and sand deposited along the riverbanks.

The buildings integrate seamlessly with the natural environment to a point where they almost disappear. They are subdued, have verdant roofs supporting vegetation, and reflect the colours of the surrounding landscape, making the buildings part of nature rather than objects placed within it. Extending the buildings’ longevity and utility, the load-bearing strength, low maintenance, thermal mass, and durability, of the concrete roofs, combined with their aesthetic versatility in texture, colour, and form, contribute to a site-specific ambience with the landscape.

At each site, the architecture merges with the park, providing a distinctive perspective on wild nature in the interior and the landscape design. In and across the buildings, the interior offers a variety of spatial experiences. From controlled, closed areas around the open common spaces and framed views of the river to high ceilings and cave-like spaces.

A place of nature interaction and learning
The project includes efforts to preserve and protect biodiversity and ecosystems as the river environment is the home of more than 10,000 animal species and several threatened animal and plant species. Relationally, the buildings and landscape include facilities, which strengthen initiatives to create and share knowledge about the protection of wild nature environments, attracting eco-tourism, locals, schools, and researchers.

The national park has been established with help from outdoor brand Patagonia, environmentalist organisation IUCN, international experts, and the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign. Both the Patagonia CEO, Ryan Gellert, and Associate Director of IUCN, James Hardcastle, were part of the jury appointing CEBRA the winner.

Nature and humans meet in Tepelenë
Placed along the river, the Tepelenë Visitor Centre offers a more immersive integration with nature. The interior includes educational spaces, research facilities, exhibition spaces, a community centre, shops, cafés, meeting rooms, offices, and workspaces as well as accommodation for researchers. The key functions are organised around the lobby, which works as the connecting centre. From here, you can access all parts of the centre as well as enjoy views towards the surroundings.

Outdoor areas allow the indoor functions to spill out into the surroundings, expanding the usable space of the centre, even on rainy days. The centre offers landscape spaces such as a botanical garden, an outdoor stage, a playground, a viewing platform, exhibition spaces, a picnic area, and a promenade extension. Extending the promenade, the ambition is to create a sensory boardwalk or path experience, so you can approach the centre on foot while immersing in the river environment.

Nature is the primary feature in the landscape design and all paths, furniture, and equipment across the sites should be as non-intrusive as possible. As such, in well-thought shapes, a series of stones makes a path, a fallen tree makes the base of a playground, and simple rocks make seating to support the narrative that nature and man are pieces of the same puzzle. The centre will be visible when arriving via the main roads or even the airport, and the larger site will allow for suitable distribution of arrival and parking, considering both functional needs and visual impact.

Përmet echoes the values of the Vjosa
Through educational and exhibition spaces, the Përmet Information Station invites visitors into a captivating world where Përmet’s social, political, historical, and geological significance to the Vjosa region and the stunning, raw landscapes converge.

Revitalising the existing historical City Stone (Guri i Qytetit), its tunnel and vacant chamber, which has no functional purpose today, will 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. Designed as a gateway to the city, the station with its central placement in Përmet has the potential to unlock a synergy with the town’s other urban and commercial functions, while still maintaining a close physical connection to the river.

Vlorë goes beyond the shore
The Vlore Information Station is strategically situated away from the immediate vicinity of the Vjosa River. Located near the Narta Lagoon, the station’s educational and exhibition facilities have 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 exceptional example, the Narta Lagoon area is the habitat of greater flamingos and Dalmatian pelicans, visible from the station’s panoramic view over the flat lowlands of the delta. Source by Cebra.

  • Location: Tepelenë, Përmet, and Vlorë, Albania
  • Architect: CEBRA
  • Landscape Architect: CEBRA
  • Local Architects: Uno Architects
  • Engineer: Arup
  • Exhibition specialists: Barker Langham
  • Client: National Agency of Protected Areas (NAPA)
  • Function: Multifunctional Visitor Centre and Information Stations
  • Size (Tepelenë Visitor Centre): 1,500 m2
  • Size (Përmet Information Station): 300 m2
  • Size (Vlorë Information Station): 300 m2
  • Year: 2023
  • Images: Courtesy of CEBRA