Spitzer architect Elisabetta Terragni wins European museum prize

A design project led by Elisabetta Terragni, associate professor in The City College of New York’s Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, is the winner of the 2020 Council of Europe Museum Prize. Her Studio Terragni Architetti’s work earned the coveted prize for the National Museum of Secret Surveillance “House of Leaves,” in Tirana, Albania.

The Culture Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has presented the Museum Prize annually since 1977. It goes to a museum judged to have:

•    Made a significant contribution to the understanding of European cultural heritage;

•    Promoted respect for human rights and democracy;

•    Bridged cultures, overcoming social and political borders; and

•    Broadened visitors’ knowledge and understanding of contemporary societal issues and explored ideas of democratic citizenship. 

Terragni, whose studio has offices in Como, Italy, and Brooklyn, worked on the restoration and installation at the “House of Leaves,” as Albania’s historical National Museum of Secret Surveillance is also known. She was also part of the curatorial team.

Opened in 2017, the museum is situated in the house that served as headquarters of Albania’s notorious Directorate of State Security during the communist era. It commemorates the psychological violence and total control of citizens during that dark period (1944-1991). Some 18,000 people were prosecuted and up to 5,000 executed.  

The particular feature of the small museum is that it has remained virtually intact with original equipment and recordings which are now stored in archives. It is known as the “House of Leaves” because of the clambering plant that covers its facade.

Recent winners of the Europe Museum Prize include:

•    The Museum of Communication in Bern, Switzerland (2019);

•    The War Childhood Museum in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (2018); and

•    The Caribbean Centre of Expressions and Memory of the Slave Trade and Slavery in Guadeloupe, France (2017).

The Prize comprises a bronze statuette by Joan Miró, which the winning museum keeps for a year, and a diploma. The award is decided on the basis of three proposals presented by a jury of the European Museum Forum, and forms part of the European Museum of the Year Awards.

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Jay Mwamba
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