It is probably fair to say that Pristina is not one of Europe’s most aesthetically pleasing capital cities. This is not, in fairness, the fault of the city or its people, but more of a legacy of the drastic and dangerous times it, and its inhabitants, have lived through over many years.
There is, however, one building that stands out. Whether it stands out in a good way is open to question and indeed, it appears that the National Library of Kosovo is either loved or loathed, at least in an architectural sense.
One thing that surprises many people is that the building is not particularly new. While it has the appearance of something space-age, it was actually started in the 1970s and completed in 1982. The architect was a Croatian, Andrija Mutnjaković, who envisaged a style combining Byzantine and Islamic elements. The result is an extraordinary structure that somehow, despite its futuristic look, manages to display these very styles.
It is the domes that stand out. In fact, they do a bit more than merely standing out. They shout at you from a great distance and make sure that you take notice of them. The overall appearance suggests that some giant has acquired a job lot of large footballs and crammed them into the roof of the building.
There is, however, a practical side to these domes. They help to provide natural lighting to the reading rooms and other work spaces of the library.
Even during the relatively short span of its existence, the library has been through turbulent times. During the many conflicts in the Balkans during the 1990s, the building was occupied by the Serbian army, serving as its headquarters in the region. Indeed, there is still one large and obvious piece of evidence of Serbian occupation in the large and rather unprepossessing form of the Orthodox Church that sits forlornly in the opposite corner of the park in which the library is situated.
Unsurprisingly, many items were destroyed during the conflict, but the library still contains around two million individual units, including valuable rare books and Albanian manuscripts. There are also maps, photographs and a great many other items of historical and cultural interest. The library is open to the public, though all viewing must be done within the library.
The National Library of Kosovo is one of those buildings that features regularly in lists of the world’s ugliest buildings. A personal view is that while it may not sit alongside some of the outstanding Neo-Classical and Baroque architecture that tends to be ranked among the best, the library is far from ugly. Yes, it is different, but it has a certain character and style that set it apart. Kosovo, through no fault of its own, had few buildings of great interest and we should celebrate, rather than denigrate, this particular edifice.