For 41 years Albania was a very poor and scary place. Under Enver Hoxha's paranoid dictatorship it was an isolated country in constant fear of attack. Between 1967 and 1986 he had 750,000 concrete bunkers built: that's one for every four Albanians. All in preparation for an enemy that never came.
Many of them still exist. To the younger generation of Albanians they are not a bitter legacy, instead "the bunkers are our cathedrals" and they are recycling them for use as an arts centre, tattoo parlour, nightclubs, storage facilities, hostel and restaurants.
A fascinating research project, The Concrete Mushrooms Project, and new book, Concrete Mushrooms. Reusing Albania's 750,000 Abandoned Bunkers, show what is happening.
The weight and rigidity of the buildings prevented them from being moved. Many became overgrown and part of the landscape. The transformation to alternate uses started slowly and independently; a shoemaker's shop, a chicken co-op, the need for tourism.
Two Albanian graduate students started the Concrete Mushrooms project to examine this change. It went on to become a formal effort to research and explain the growing importance of these buildings. That includes encouraging their reuse for practical purposes and as an impetus for much-needed tourism.
There are three kinds of bunkers: small, medium and large. They were prefab and could be assembled on the site. They are hollow, have an opening for shooting and an outer wall which is filled with earth. There is some steel in them worth about $150, so some have been blown up to get the metal.
The book is a how-to manual for transforming the bunkers.The book provides practical models, with details and prices on how to transform the bunkers. For example, the transformation of a triple bunker would cost about 150 euros.
It is conceptual as well: it "becomes as an invitation to expand the frontiers of freedom". It encourages Albanians to see the bunkers in a new way and as a step towards a better future.
"It suggests that man has the power, through the grotesque and the absurd drama of the past, to cultivate a sense of humour and ease a wounded memory."