Lowline is one of the developed projects that came forth of a collaboration between the University of Leuven, the municipality of Tirana, architect studio 51N4E and Granstudio. The goal of the project was to study new mobility solutions for the Tirana-Durres area (Albania).

The interplay between Tirana and Durrës is to a large extent characterised by the prominent highway connecting both cities. This road has become a dense spine for large businesses and their typology of big boxes. The landscape shaped by this development is entirely focused on the principles of profitable economy and thereby neglects all social relations of the nearby dwellers. The small villages and townships that now happen to be at the backside of this linear infrastructure sometimes enjoy surprising qualities, but stay dominated by this infrastructure, and largely dependent on car-use. The goal of this project, covering approximately half of the highway's length, is to offer an alternative in terms of mobility and social spaces in the form of a valuable complementarity between highway and flanking villages.

For developing such a complementarity, an opportunity can be found in an old railway track that runs parallel with the highway and is temporarily out of use. Even with sufficient funds, the present track can by no means reach a high standard level: it is so strongly embedded in the urban tissue that an extended service will disrupt the urban life around it. What is needed is exactly the opposite: a device that connects along and across the urban rupture. A carrier that is low-profile, has both feet on the ground and tackles simple necessities.

Even in the actual condition in which there is no train anymore, the track itself is still heavily used. Children use it to walk to school, adults to walk to their work. Since it is one of the scarce places where king car has no access to, it is not only used in a functional way. Playing games on the tracks, climbing in the trees along, enjoying the sun on a nice evening or simply stroll along are common practices. These forms of movement and activity already generate small businesses along the line. Commerce like food stalls, bars or small shops can find themselves on the tracks but more likely in spaces where the line gains a bit of thickness: on crossings or open spaces along the tracks. These locations give a hint of the possibilities that can be further developed when transforming the track into a lowline.

While the highway focuses on the big scale with its fast movements and large numbers, the lowline provides a valuable softer alternative and ensures social coherence. It reaches out and connects the communities along the line, gives them an address - a distinct identity - and links their most important public features. The line itself is structured through new intermodal centres: places where activities are grouped together. These nodes are strategically located and at reasonable intervals.

If the lowline truly is the complement of the highway, it needs to be paired on the level of mobility too. The typical road users of the highway are lorries, buses, taxis and cars. But that does not mean that the lowline is only a place for pedestrians or cyclists. The project assumes a new type of vehicle that is complementary with the conventional highway users.

Project delivered in
June 2014