Athens, supposingly, is one of the biggest metropolis in southern Europe. With almost 5 millions of inhabitants and over 30 municipalities the metropolitan zone of Attica (simply known to all of us as Athens) is and was always the beating heart of Greece. Athens is the place were all the good and bad always happends first. Natural concequence of its form,it is a mini-Greece (the entire population of Greece is c. 11 millions). Unfortunately was the one to suffer the most from the financial (and ethical) crisis Greece has been through the last 5 years. But to me it started all before.
How was it possible to speak of a metropolis or of a cultural and architectural basin when there were no highways,metro, modern airports, sports settlements, metropolitan parks, a zoo!!!!!! or even big new museums that would house the infinite history of this place? (let alone the ones existing, that some of us don’t know even where they are).
Let me tell you Athens before 1997 was a city taken from the 1950s with a good dose of 90s greed. But then the Olympic games happened to us and Athens needed its first big face lift. Santiago Calatrava has been called to resolve the architectural problem of the Olympic complex (not of my taste, but who am I to judge), a new airport was under construction (the most boring, prefabricated, fancy bus station you’ve ever seen), new, small but beautiful metro and the first beltway Athens ever had were tha main projects undergoing in those years). A costructive orgasm, in order to be able to present a true mega-city capable to house such an event. But still, all those projects should have been done years before. Weather Barcelona used the games to rebuild itself and to become an example for the world, Athens was just taking care of the big, yet basic, projects that have never been though (?!?) before.
The Olympic Stadium of Athens, Santiago Calatrava.
And then….? The crisis came (….and doesn’t wanna go). And Athens lost the opportunity to take what has been done and leverage them in order to become THE city and THE metropolis of Europe. I seriously have friends telling me that it’s an ugly city (well, i will never say that, but I get what they see).
But you know what they say, once you’ve hit rock bottom the only way is up. Things started to been happening the last couple of years. The city found its everyday rythm after the shock, the people realized that we can’t go backwords any more and, I guess the stars were aligned, and big investments started taking place.
In two years we have three major projects going on: The Rethink Athens, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, The Hellinikon Project.
The Rethink Athens:
“OKRA, in collaboration with Mixst urbanism and Wageningen University, was recently announced as the winning team of the prestigious competition ReThink Athens towards a new city centre. Changing the heart of Athens into a true contemporary metropolitan city centre requires transformation of the city triangle into a lively part of the city. The project aims to strongly contribute to the change of Athens and improve the environment of the city plus activating the area economically. The team is supported by the Greek Architects of Studio 75 and Werner Sobek Green Technologies. More images and architects’ description after the break.
Within the next months the OKRA team will further develop their ideas into an approved design for the central area in the city centre. During the execution phase it will be an International-Greek collaboration, where the Greek architects from Studio75 and Greek engineers will take part in progressing the winning competition entry to an approved plan that can be realized via European funding.
Newly gained space, as a result of the major step towards a walkable city by reducing car traffic in this area, can be transformed into a vibrant, green and accessible heart of the city. We will take contemporary ideas on climate control, reduction of vehicular movement and programming public realm one step beyond: into an integrated proposal, creating a resilient, accessible and vibrant city, not just limited by its project borders, but linking this area to its adjacent areas and being a catalyst for the whole city. Crucial part of the new transformation is that heat mitigation of public realm will be realized, which will be an issue in many European cities within the forthcoming years.
The project ‘One step beyond’ focuses on creating a resilient city, accessible city and vibrant city.
Resilient City – The city centre of Athens will be transformed into a green network, and Panepistimiou will be the central green spine, providing shade and shelter. The resilient strategy includes specific attitudes towards reducing the urban heat and improving thermal comfort). A greening strategy for Athens is combined with a water strategy, since a good condition of plantings is crucial to contribute to heat reduction. Capturing rainwater in underground basins, on top of roofs or elsewhere helps to keep the water in the area.
Accessible city – The green framework will be treated as a coherent network of public realm in all directions and linking the adjacent neighbourhoods, having its highlight on Panepistimiou. Restoration of the continuities of the crossing streets creates continuity in the walking experience. By making the new tramline clear and present and part of the grandeur of the space it contributes to the aimed cohesion. In fact, Panepistimiou provides Shared space 2.0, a new balance between slow traffic and motorized movement. The design has three characteristic places: Omonia Square and Dikaiosynis Square will become a green urban squares, with prominent lush water elements. In the middle of Panepistimou Street, a green ensemble ties the university together into an urban park.
Vibrant city -Panepistimiou will change from ‘street’ to ‘boulevard’, by adding inviting spaces to stay to the linear space. Occupying and transforming ground floors, we introduce the concept of the theatre of 1000 rooms towards vacant buildings, organizing cultural events and shift focal points who will create a new vibrant atmosphere. Small open-air podia for outdoor initiatives will be created in public realm. Programs are related to Greek philosophy, science, drama and art. An ‘encroachment zone’ will improve active frontages and create linkages between the built environment and public realm. Interactive decorative light in public realm will give the right atmosphere during evening hours.
The detailing of the project is very careful and will turn Panepistimiou and its environs to a signature space. And even more than that; it will be a welcoming space for all. Public space is about creating space for people. It is where those masses meet the ground and interact with each other that is the binding element to a city. So it will be important to implement green public spaces linked to the urban network of public realm, and to retain and improve this space, however large or small it is within the city, it is precious commodity.
By doing this we believe that the project tackles the anonymous space in the heart of Athens and demonstrates that urban vibrancy can be combined with creating a green and pedestrian friendly spine, contributing to quality of life and living in Athens.” (photos and text: the OKRA studio)
It will be completed in 2016.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, by Renzo Piano (in progress):
As one of Athens’ earliest seaports on Faliro Bay, Kallithea has always had a strong relationship with the water. At present, however, despite its proximity, there is no view of the sea from the site. To restore this, an artificial hill is being created at the south (seaward) end of the site. The sloping park will culminate in the cultural centre building, giving it spectacular views towards the sea.
Both opera and library are combined in one building, with a public space, known as the Agora, providing access and connections between the two main facilities. The opera wing will be composed of two auditoria, one (450 seats) dedicated to traditional operas and ballets, the other (1400 seats) for more experimental performances. The library is intended not only as a place for learning and preserving culture, but also as a public resource, a space where culture is truly accessible to share and enjoy.
The entirely glass-walled library reading room sits on top of the building just underneath the canopy roof. A square horizontal transparent box, it will enjoy 360-degree views of Athens and the sea.
The site’s visual and physical connection with water will continue in the park with a new canal that will run along a north–south, main pedestrian axis, the Esplanade. The canopy roof provides essential shade and will be topped with 10.000 sq m of photovoltaic cells, enough to generate 1.5 megawatt of power for the library and opera house. This field of cells should allow the building to be self-sufficient in energy terms during normal opening hours. Wherever possible, natural ventilation will be used.
The visual connection with the water will continue to the park, where it will focus on a channel to the side of the Esplanade, the main pedestrian axis of the site, in the north-south direction.
The SNFCC is under construction and will be completed in 2015.
Photos and text: RPBW and archdaily
The Hellinikon Project, Norman Foster and Partners (masterplan)
One of the largest aquariums in Europe, landmark towers, front lakes housing, ultramodern marina, internal traffic network, dining and culture spaces, cycle pists and one of the biggest parks in the world of total area of 2 million sqm.
That’s how has envisioned the extent of 6,200 acres of the former airport of Helliniko the well known architectural firm Foster + Partners, the award-winning architect and … Sir of architecture Norman Foster, who signed the masterplan for Lamda Development. The aim is, of course, the biggest intervention that has never materialized in Athens, that will give cosmopolitan character in the Greek capital and enhance the tourism product, attracting an additional 1 million of tourists. Central role, based also to the masterplan which has implemented by the internationally renowned architectural firm, will have the known Saarinen building, the main building that housed the former Athens airport, which was built in the late 50s and belongs to the last works of the Finnish Eero Saarinen, also a leading architect of the time.
So according to the masterplan of Foster + Partners, which, is already ready since last November there is a full upgrade of transport in the region, where will be build and extensive internal network. In addition, there will be use of the beach at 1km in length, which will be open to the public, while the marina of Agios Kosmas will be transformed into one of the most modern marinas. The residential development will be primarily low and surrounded by inland lakes and green spaces, and buildings that will be constructed will have special features to highlight contemporary architectural face of Athens, which is currently lacking from the Greek capital. From the central elements of the study, in order to attract visitors from home and abroad, is the aquarium, which will be the largest in Europe and the park, which will rank the top 3 of European parks aimed drastic reduction in the” evil” carbon footprint of the entire investment.
Photo credits and text: Foster and partners, newmoney.gr