hm…. I don’t know where to start from.
For every theme i research I know more or less what to say…. But when they have to do with my childhood? my every-day life in Greece? my memories with my parents?what then?! You see, I have lived this next building.
Maybe it was the first public office I have been brought by my grandmother when I came from the States. I think I can remember when I went with my mom to renew my passport when I was four or five years old. I remember this massive marble entrance, with these shalow and long steps that were arriving to this hudge portico that was covered by an enormous flat rooftop. I always loved that building, I mean seriously it was like an old kindergarden or a friend’s house to me. Even today, every time I pass by, I am staring at it. I can remember when it was open to the pedestrians, with its small hill showing, I can remember a more gray phase when it was all closed and protected (you see it was always a reference of the political life of Greece), I can remember the pre-Olympic games era when even this got renovated and finally I can remember the last phase with the new gardens and the new entrance from the side (that I seriously never liked very much).
What I didn’t know, and I must say that I’ve read it in my “History of Contemporary Architecture” textbook the other day, is that it was built by Walter Gropius! Yes, the legendary Walter Gropius…. YES, the father of Bauhaus! So let’s get the things from the begging…
The Embassy of the USA constitutes a point of reference in the urban fabric of Athens and a benchmark in its modern architectural history. It was designed with particular expressionist and symbolic demands by Walter Gropius and his US colleagues, during the time when the Bauhaus master builder had become distanced from the spirit of the radical Modern Movement. This was a typical instance of the neohistorical trend of the 1950s, in which the type of the peripteral temple of Greek antiquity was re-interpreted superficially by the code of the International Style.
The Embassy is a square peripteral (i.e. surrounded by a single range of columns) building three storeys high with an interior atrium open on the side of the garden. On the internal articulation of the offices, light movable partitions were used so that they could be adjusted to reflect changing needs. The structural elements are of reinforced concrete and the building’s exterior is faced with white Pentelic marble. The two upper floors are suspended from beams, each of which is supported by two columns placed externally around the building and internally on the sides of the atrium. Large cantilevers offer shade and the double ceiling includes a ventilation system. (Unfortunately pictures from the interiors are almost impossible to find…for obvious reasons…)
The most characteristic features of the façade are the slim, high marble-sheeted perimetric piers as well as the perimetric cantilever. On the ground floor, the glass panels are protected by a perforated blue ceramic curtain, while the faces of the upper floors are treated with large sheets of glass in an aluminium frame.
The low coefficient of lot coverage, unusual in Athenian conditions, made it possible to landscape the outdoor area in an interesting way. But subsequent interventions and fencing for security reasons eliminated the free and open spirit of the initial design.
Walter Gropius and Pericles Sakellarios (maybe) standing inside the embassy patio.
In November 2013 the Ann Beha Architects from Boston, MA was selected by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) for a major rehabilitation project of the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece.
I just want to wish that this amazing masterpiece of architecture will stand still on the hill of the Vasilisis Sofia’s Ave. next to another iconic example of mid century architecture, as it is the Opera House of Athens (Megaro Mousikis), and will teach the coming generations the left out lesson of the greek modern history.
Photos: the US Embassy, casabella, archdaily