Crushed Ground: The fragmented territory of austerity-stricken Athens

Essay published in MONU 19 (2013), pp.88-93.

Fig. 1. Burning Christmas Tree in Syntagma Square, December 8th, 2012. Photo by John Kolesidis (Source: www.boston.com).

Fig. 1. Burning Christmas Tree in Syntagma Square, December 8th, 2012. Photo by John Kolesidis (Source: www.boston.com).

On the 8th of December 2008, the Christmas tree at Syntagma square caught fire during a street protest. During the same evening, a new upscale shopping center was launched at the northern suburbs of the city. Visitors crowded the new mall while the central square at Syntagma was full of young people protesting for the murder of a 16-year-old schoolboy by a policeman. That was a critical moment in the recent history of Athens. The center of the city was transformed into a surreal dystopia once the outskirts established themselves as a shopper’s paradise.

These two events were interrelated and complementary. The dominance of consumerist ideology reached its climax during winter 2008 – 2009, just before the outburst of economic crisis. The significant protests of December 2008 marked the end of a short period of prosperity and optimism for the centre of Athens that started during the years of Olympic preparation. December 2008 was also the moment of awakening for the younger Greek generation, an outburst of anger against the ideals of the previous decade and the lack of prospects for their future.

Diffused Athens

The decentralization of Athens was a long-term political vision in response to the infrastructural problems of the city during post-war reconstruction. The concentration of public services in the center and the inadequacy of public transportation led to traffic congestion and created serious environmental concerns. The city has been constantly expanding since 19th century in response to the continuous growth of population. However, the diffusion of the city into the rural periphery reached its peak during the Olympic preparation. After the construction of major infrastructural works,  such as the Athens Metro, the new International Airport and the new ring road of the greater Metropolitan area, the decentralization of the city would be finally achieved.

Since the 1990’s, traditional economic activities have slowly abandoned the historic centre of Athens. The last manufacturing activities either closed or left the area. Most high profile private companies moved along the avenues leading to the suburbs. Some public services, such as the Ministry of Education, moved into former Olympic facilities. Moreover, the construction of the new ring road encouraged the establishment of large shopping centers at the periphery, apparently against downtown commercial activities.

Suburban housing has been very popular in Athens since the formation of the upscale residential areas in the 1960’s. The economic growth of the early 2000’s gave the opportunity to the native middle-class population to pursue new lifestyles away from the historic center. Suburban residents sought substitutes for public spaces to the malls and multiplex cinemas that were created along the new infrastructure networks. The new commercial and leisure areas in proximity to the suburban areas formed the ideal environment for the middle class, in accordance with the consumerist ideals and standards of the lending-based economy in the 2000’s.

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Fig. 2. New lifestyles in the suburbs. Photo by Nileta Kotsikou (imatiothiki.com).

Incomplete Urban Renewal

The diffusion of Athens into the periphery created a major gap in the traditional center. Decentralization created opportunities for the new city contenders, such as the immigrant population, the emerging creative class and the leisure industry.

During the greatest part of the 20th century, Athens was a city with homogenous population and very small religious minorities. The first groups of immigrants arrived in Greece from Eastern Europe after 1989. Their social integration was harmonious as long as the economy maintained positive growth rates and offered new jobs. During the late 1990’s, the first ethnic groups created their communities in the abandoned central districts forming new diverse neighborhoods.

They were soon followed by the leisure industry that has responded very quickly to any important change at the center of Athens. Graffiti artists and the gay community have been the best trackers of downtown areas with urban potential. Many districts, which were abandoned by manufacturing activities or services, were soon transformed into hip areas filled with nightclubs, cafes and tavernas. At the same time, the vibrancy of these multicultural areas with colorful markets and ethnic restaurants attracted the new creative class of the city, mostly young, well educated, people that have lived in western metropolises, who set up their workspaces, design studios and art galleries there. New loft like apartments were soon created in order to satisfy the demand for downtown living in the “Athenian SoHo”.

This is a well known gentrification process in the history of cities. However, in the case of Athens, it was never completed. Even in the days of artificial economic growth, the local economy was not strong enough to sustain the creation of new residential areas. Furthermore, the outburst of the debt crisis cancelled any plan of development in the centre of Athens.

During the period of the Olympic preparation, the state implemented the major project of the unification of the archaeological sites of Athens. Part of the broader plan was the regeneration of the central public spaces of the city after the construction of the new metro stations. The success of the pedestrian ring road around Acropolis was not repeated in the central areas of the city. Unfortunately after the first failed attempt, the state cut the funding of the broader regeneration project, and the urban renewal plan for the center of Athens remained incomplete.

Fig. 3. Graffiti at a former manufacturing area.

Fig. 3. Graffiti at a former manufacturing area.

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Print Your Utopia

Diploma Project in the Department of Architecture, University of Patras, October 2014

Katerina Christopoulou, Eugenia Makroglou, Architects

Supervisor: Panos Dragonas

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Athens 2036.
The center of Athens has been deserted.

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There’s a place in the depths of an arcade at the Urban Block #10 where some traces of life still exist. Self-made machines have been installed there. These machines print 3d objects in various sizes and occupy the whole urban block.

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Participation in the exhibition “The Minimum Structure” curated by Apostolis Artinos (Romantso, October 2014).

Panos Dragonas, Varvara Christopoulou, Architects.

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From mid-19th century on, the desire to escape from the city is at the heart of many fascinating narratives. At Martin Heidegger’s hütte in the Black Forest, at Le Corbusier’s cabanon in Cap Martin, as well as Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’avventura” on the Aeolian Islands, the modern subject is looking for moments of peace and mediation away of the city buzz. The heterotopia of the hut is created in parallel with the development of the 20th century metropolis. The hut is a small residential structure in remote locations. Its primary form seems rooted in the ground. While the minimum dimensions of its cabin may cover only the basic living needs.

The Dawn of L'avventura [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlHcReu_w3U]

Michelangelo Antonioni, L’avventura, 1960.

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Edward Hopper, Office in a Small City, 1953 (Source: http://www.metmuseum.org)

During the 21st century, there are no remote locations. The planet has been explored and digitally mapped in every latitude and longitude. The media and social networks bring the public sphere in every corner of the world. During the new Great Depression, the city dweller’s opportunities to isolate and mediate become increasingly difficult. More than ever, the post-modernist subject remains trapped between the real space of megacities and the digital world of computer networks.

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The indisputable dominance of the urban condition and the exploitation of the countryside, are shifting the quest for new heterotopic structures in the urban area. The new hut is not created on the natural ground, but on the urbanscape of the Athenian terraces, only two meters over the rooftop of a typical “polykatoikia”. The minimum possible distance from the urban surface allows for the contemplation of the city from a different viewpoint. In nine square meters of surface area, the cabin provides the minimum equipment that is required for temporary escapes and contemplation. Offering views of an artificial landscape, consisting of antennas, solar panels and insulation materials, the new structure allows for the minimum detachment from the suffocating environment of the contemporary Greek city. The urban hut creates a voluntary isolation cell over the ruins of the new Great Depression. The hut returns to the city both as a primary form and as a standard of minimum living, and establishes a heterotopia in the stepped skyline of Athens.

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Three Countries. Two Lakes. One Journey.

Diploma Project in the Department of Architecture, University of Patras, February 2014

Maria Bourdi, Architect

Tutor: Panos Dragonas

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The region of Prespa consists of two lakes, which are shared by three countries: Greece, Albania and FYROM. Starting a parallel journey through time and space, this design thesis attempts to define the identity of a place in constant transition. Deconstructing its long history, five time moments are selected. These moments define an imaginary journey throughout time and lead to the selection of seven points of intervention in space.

PowerPoint Presentation

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Για τον Ορέστη Δουμάνη

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Η αποτίμηση του έργου του Ορέστη Δουμάνη θα δυσκολέψει τους μελετητές της ελληνικής αρχιτεκτονικής. Ο Δουμάνης καθόρισε περισσότερο από κάθε άλλον την πορεία και το περιεχόμενο της ελληνικής αρχιτεκτονικής ιστοριογραφίας. Δεν έγραψε όμως παρά ελάχιστα κείμενα ενώ μίλησε μόνο μία φορά δημόσια [1]. Στους 91 τόμους των Αρχιτεκτονικών Θεμάτων και των Θεμάτων Χώρου + Τεχνών, το μεγαλύτερο μέρος των αφιερωμάτων υπογράφεται από τους συμβούλους και συνεργάτες του περιοδικού. Ο καταγεγραμμένος λόγος του εκδότη και διευθυντή των Θεμάτων είναι περιορισμένος παρ’ ότι τα αφιερώματα, αλλά και πολλά από τα άρθρα που δημοσιεύτηκαν εκεί, ήταν αποτέλεσμα συνεργασίας και γόνιμων συζητήσεων των συντελεστών του περιοδικού με τον ίδιο. Στο κείμενο που ακολουθεί, καταγράφεται η προσωπική εμπειρία από τη στενή συνεργασία με τον Δουμάνη κατά τα 15 τελευταία χρόνια της ιστορίας των Αρχιτεκτονικών Θεμάτων. Παράλληλα, διατυπώνονται ορισμένες σκέψεις για το μέλλον των μέσων δημοσιοποίησης της ελληνικής αρχιτεκτονικής, μετά την απώλεια του ανθρώπου που επί 50 συνεχή έτη πρωτοστάτησε στην εξέλιξη τους. [2]

Η γνωριμία μου με τον Δουμάνη ξεκινάει το 1998. Την περίοδο εκείνη τα Θέματα αποτελούσαν ένα αναμφισβήτητο κέντρο αναφοράς της ελληνικής αρχιτεκτονικής. Ο αριθμός των αρχιτεκτόνων ήταν σχετικά μικρός και υπήρχε ακόμη η αίσθηση μιας πεπερασμένης κοινότητας. Κατά τη διάρκεια της δεκαετίας του 1990, το ενδιαφέρον των Θεμάτων είχε επικεντρωθεί στην καταγραφή του έργου των σημαντικών ελλήνων αρχιτεκτόνων μέσα από ειδικά αφιερώματα. Η καταγραφή αυτή είχε μεγάλη αξία για τους φοιτητές και νέους αρχιτέκτονες της εποχής. Ήταν η πρώτη φορά στην ιστορία της ελληνικής αρχιτεκτονικής που προσφερόταν η δυνατότητα μελέτης του έργου των παλαιοτέρων δημιουργών από τους νεώτερους. Στα Θέματα της δεκαετίας του 1990 είχε ήδη προσδιοριστεί η ταυτότητα της μεταπολεμικής ελληνικής αρχιτεκτονικής και είχαν διαμορφωθεί οι προϋποθέσεις για την εξέλιξη της. Τα Θέματα, μαζί με το Ελληνικό Ινστιτούτο Αρχιτεκτονικής, που ιδρύθηκε με πρωτοβουλία του Δουμάνη την ίδια περίοδο, παρήγαγαν σημαντικό έργο, έπλεκαν μια ιστοριογραφική δομή για τη μεταπολεμική ελληνική αρχιτεκτονική, και αποτελούσαν ένα πολύτιμο συμπλήρωμα της εκπαίδευσης των νέων αρχιτεκτόνων, χωρίς να αφήνουν καμία αμφιβολία για τον κυρίαρχο ρόλο τους στον χώρο των αρχιτεκτονικών δημοσιεύσεων. Continue Reading »

Landscape of memory at Plastiras lake

Diploma Project in the Department of Architecture, University of Patras, February 2014

Lia Dalaka, Thalia Poziou, Architects

Tutor: Panos Dragonas

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Plastiras lake in Karditsa prefecture was created in 1959 after the construction of a dam for potable and irrigation purposes. The construction of the artificial lake resulted in the traces of history the area being hidden under the water.

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During the German occupation, the area was used as an airport which aimed to ensure communication with the allied headquarters in the Middle East. The airport operated only at night, while during the day it was covered with vegetation so that it wouldn’t be visible by enemy planes.

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Made in Athens Exhibition Catalogue

The catalogue of the Greek participation in the 13th International Architecture Exhibition -la Biennale di Venezia is available online at academia.edu.

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Starting point: A Landscape

Diploma Project in the Department of Architecture, University of Patras, June 2013

Maria Chasioti, Ioanna Georgitsopoulou, Architects

Tutor: Panos Dragonas

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This design research studies the transformations of the abandoned Skalistiri mines at Euboea -GR. A tripartite narrative evolves through time and refers to a circle of actions caused by the mining activity. The landscape is examined as a field of strategic mapping, as a transformative mechanism and as a cognitive experience.

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In one of the highest points of the landscape a “chimney” stands alone. Its emblematic form is imposed on the landscape as if it has always been there. A single hole in its front view indicates the human presence. However, the chimney doesn’t emit smoke anymore, it is inhabited. Its inhabitant lives there for a reason. He perceives the landscape as a group of parts where each part has a specific value, it is unique. Every day, after having selected the most suitable tool from his toolbox, he begins to wander around the landscape in order to collect useful information. He studies both its quantitative and qualitative characteristics. As a result, the landscape is identified. From all those landscape parts that differ in value he collects soil samples. He creates a soil archive, a huge mosaic made of landscape pieces. As a result, the landscape is classified. Continue Reading »

Rio – Patras Tram Line. New public spaces for the city.

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Diploma Project in the Department of Architecture, University of Patras, February 2013

Dora Papamichail, Bettina Pavli, Architects

Tutor: Panos Dragonas

This is an urban design proposal for a new tram line that connects the suburban area of Rio with the new port of Patras. The tram line replaces the old railway overcoming the existing boundaries that divide the city and its waterfront. This new infrastructure gives the opportunity to create new public spaces along the tram line and activate the dead zones around the old rail network.

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The design proposal focuses on five tram stations that are designed as nodal public spaces:

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Decontamination and Production Mechanism at Drapetsona / Keratsini

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Diploma Project in the Department of Architecture, University of Patras, February 2013

Konstantinos Alexopoulos, Architect

Tutor: Panos Dragonas

The former industrial area of Drapetsona – Keratsini is one of the largest “terrain vagues” in Attica. A few industrial monuments have survived in the area that is awaiting for a new use since the late 1990’s.

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The project aims at the decontamination of the ground and the reactivation of the area. The actual economic and environmental needs of the broader city are taken into consideration through the investigation of new means of production for the 21st century city.

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Open-air Museum at Kokkinopezoula mine, Mitsero Cyprus

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Diploma Project in the Department of Architecture, University of Patras, September 2012

Emily Koustae, Architect

Tutor: Panos Dragonas

Kokkinopezoula mine in Mitsero opened in 1953, when surveys showed copper pyrite deposits at this place. Mitsero was the center of the mining industry of Cyprus and its contribution was enormous for the social and the economic development of the country.

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From 1953 to 1959 the ore was mined with sub-surface mining method, and then until 1967, the last year that the mine operated, with open-pit mining method.

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Today the abandoned mine is considered as a monument of the mining history of the island, although its catastrophic effects against the nature. The project aims to reveal not only the interesting geological structure of the mine but also the fact that this landscape contains memories. This is succeeded through the wandering of the visitor in it, perceiving it as a monument, but also through the interpretation, comprehension and emergence of the unique identity of the specific landscape. Continue Reading »

Μετά το αυτοκίνητο

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Η πόλη του εικοστού αιώνα ανήκε στο αυτοκίνητο. Είτε ως σύμβολο νεωτερικότητας και ατομικής ελευθερίας, είτε ως δαπανηρό και ρυπογόνο μέσο μετακίνησης, είτε ως σύμβολο ευμάρειας και καταναλωτισμού, το αυτοκίνητο αποτέλεσε έναν αδιαφιλονίκητο πρωταγωνιστή στην καθημερινότητα των μεγάλων πόλεων. Ίσως είναι δύσκολο να το φανταστούμε σήμερα, αλλά η μελλοντική εξέλιξη των αστικών κέντρων δεν περιλαμβάνει έναν τόσο σημαντικό ρόλο για το αυτοκίνητο. Διαφορετικοί λόγοι, οικονομικοί, περιβαλλοντικοί, αλλά και πολιτισμικοί, επιβάλλουν τη σταδιακή απομάκρυνση των αυτοκινήτων από τα αστικά κέντρα του 21ου αιώνα. Ο περιορισμός της κυκλοφορίας των αυτοκινήτων δεν μειώνει την προσπελασιμότητα των κεντρικών περιοχών. Ο χώρος που απελευθερώνεται από την αποχώρηση των ιδιωτικής χρήσης οχημάτων αποδίδεται στα νέα μέσα μαζικής κυκλοφορίας, που καταναλώνουν λιγότερη ενέργεια και δεν ρυπαίνουν το περιβάλλον, στους πεζούς, τους ποδηλάτες, και τις ομάδες πληθυσμού που αντιμετωπίζουν προβλήματα κινητικότητας. Μία πόλη χωρίς αυτοκίνητα δεν είναι μια έρημη πόλη. Ένα αστικό κέντρο χωρίς αυτοκίνητα, αλλά με σύγχρονα δίκτυα μαζικής μεταφοράς, μπορεί να αποτελέσει μία πολύβουη, προσπελάσιμη, ανοικτή σε όλους τους κατοίκους, πόλη.
Μια σειρά από πολεοδομικούς λόγους καθιστούν την οδό Πανεπιστημίου ως το ιδανικό σημείο για να ξεκινήσει η ανάκτηση του δημόσιου χώρου από τους πεζούς και τα μέσα μαζικής μεταφοράς: Η Πανεπιστημίου επιτρέπει την επέκταση της γραμμής τραμ προς τα Πατήσια και τη μεταφορά του υφιστάμενου κυκλοφοριακού φόρτου παράπλευρα, στις οδούς Σταδίου και Ακαδημίας. Η Πανεπιστημίου συνδέει σημαντικούς δημόσιους χώρους της πόλης και περιλαμβάνει ορισμένα από τα πιο αξιόλογα δημόσια κτήρια της. Τέλος η Πανεπιστημίου, μαζί με την Πατησίων και τη Λεωφόρο Αμαλίας, επιτρέπουν τη σύνδεση του Μουσείου της Ακρόπολης με το Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο, αλλά και τη σύνδεση του μεγάλου περίπατου της Ακρόπολης με την καρδιά της πόλης. Σίγουρα η οδός Πανεπιστημίου δεν αποτελεί το πιο προβληματικό σημείο της σημερινής Αθήνας. Όμως η ανανέωση μιας παρηκμασμένης πόλης δεν είναι αναγκαίο να ξεκινήσει από τα πλέον υποβαθμισμένα σημεία της. Στρατηγικά είναι πιο ορθό να δοθεί προτεραιότητα σε περιοχές που έχουν τη δυνατότητα θεματικής αναβάθμισης ώστε η δυναμική τους να παρασύρει την ευρύτερη οικονομική δραστηριότητα της πόλης.
Η ανάπλαση της οδού Πανεπιστημίου δεν αποτελεί έργο εξωραϊσμού αλλά έργο υποδομής. Δεν πρόκειται για μια ακόμη πεζοδρόμηση αλλά για μια ολοκληρωμένη στρατηγική αστικής ανανέωσης. Το συγκεκριμένο έργο ισχυροποιεί το κέντρο της πόλης απέναντι στην κλιματική αλλαγή, εξασφαλίζει την προσπελασιμότητα από όλους τους πολίτες και συμβάλει στην αναζωογόνηση των δραστηριοτήτων του εγκαταλειμμένου κέντρου. Η Αθήνα μπορεί να κάνει ένα βήμα παραπέρα. Αρκεί να το πιστέψουν οι πολυάριθμες, και ετερόκλητες, θετικές δυνάμεις της πόλης.

Αποσπάσματα του δημοσιεύτηκαν στην Καθημερινή στις 24 Μαρτίου 2013.

In the Museum of Images

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Diploma Project in the Department of Architecture, University of Patras, June 2012

Lisgara Ioanna, Moudatsou Theodora, Architects

Tutor: Panos Dragonas

“In the Museum of Images” is a proposal for a theatrical performance at the abandoned motel “Xenios Zeus” in Olympia that was designed by Aris Konstantinidis.

23 years after the abandonment of the Motel, the old building is in decay. In this project the modernist ruin is used as a theatrical scene.

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The performance “In the museum of Images” is based on Adolfo Bioy Casares’ “Invention of Morel”. The plot unfolds at a museum, which is located on an island without coordinates, and is mediated by an imaginary axiom: the conquest of eternity. The script of the performance is adapted at Konstadinidis’ ruined building. The abandoned Motel is transformed to a theatrical set, a representation of Casares’ museum. Continue Reading »

Network of Point Interventions at Larnaca Salt Lakes

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Design Thesis Project in the Department of Architecture, University of Patras, June 2012

Michalis Piroccas, Architect

Tutor: Panos Dragonas

Second place in the 2012 “Graduate Architecture Award”

Larnaca salt lakes are located in the southwest of the city of Larnaca. The area is a complex habitat, consisting of the Great Lake, the lake Orphani, the lake Soros and the lake Spiros. It is the second largest of the 4 coastal halophytic systems in Cyprus. The uniqueness of the area is enhanced by the fact that it contains the only super-salty lake in Cyprus, Aliki. The ecosystem is part of the “Natura 2000″ network, while the Great Lake has also been included, since 2001, in the list of Wetlands of International Importance under the provisions of the Ramsar Treaty. Continue Reading »

Once upon a time in Arcadia | An architectural tale

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Design Thesis Project in the Department of Architecture, University of Patras, February 2012

Georgia Syriopoulou, Architect

Tutor: Panos Dragonas

Through texts, mappings and myths, a fantasy about a place is constructed, an architectural narrative that reveals the intangible and fictional, however completely pragmatic in their conventions, interpretations of the place. A modern traveler is wandering across the artificial lake of Ladhon in Arcadia, in Peloponnese. Detached as he is from the landscape he enters it as a spectator and being aware of his position, he begins in his writings a parallel wandering in the landscape of his imagination. The means for this tour is the myth that he installs upon the elements of reality: the hydroelectric dam becomes the gateway to the garden of Esperides that the dragon Ladhon used to guard; a half broken threshing field becomes a mechanism that reveals the landscape as operation; the old stone bunds turn into an experience of the mythical chase of the nymphs by the gods, until Ladhon turned them into plants and saved them; and finally the three existing bridgings of the river are condensed into one compact structure reinterpreting the passage of the water in relation to the landscape. In this way the traveler fantasizes and experiences a parallel reality into which he can feel a sense of belonging, but also from which he can always turn away and depart, only to admit towards the end:

“… we will only be left with this story in our minds: representations of timeless events that took place once upon a time in Arcadia. Thus, somewhere between the uncanny but compact world of fantasy and the familiar space of reality I can in my turn say: et in Arcadia ego”.

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