Made in Athens

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Greek pavilion at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition. Photo C. Louizidis & K. Glinou

September 29th – November 25th 2012

Commissioners – Curators: Panos Dragonas & Anna Skiada

In the summer of 2004, Athens successful hosted the Olympic Games. Major infrastructure and regeneration projects transformed the city’s image. The booming economy of the preceding years created conditions to showcase a new generation of architects, whose outlook was international, and who had the benefit of superior studies and a wealth of professional experience. This generation left its mark on the city map, seeking to live in forgotten neighbourhoods in the centre of Athens, such as Theatrou Square, Ghazi and Kerameikos.

Athens in 2012 is nothing like it was in the summer of 2004. The crisis in the economy has hit the city hard, its centre most of all. Phenomena indicating a disruption of the social web have become increasingly more severe and lead to urban decay. Two additional events had a major impact on the consciousness of young inhabitants of the city: the violent outbreak of street protests and riots after a fifteen-year-old high-school student was killed in December 2008 and the summer of the “indignant” citizens in 2011. The younger generation of creative architects, who benefited from the positive aspects of globalisation, are now facing the harsh aspects of the global economic turndown, a plummeting standard of living and severely limited professional opportunities.

These events are shaping a particular dynamic in the city. Conditions have been created in Athens at this time to redefine the priorities of architectural design. Through the current social and economic crisis, conditions are being created that bring to the forefront new ways of viewing the role of architecture, far removed from professional opportunism and the standards of well-being of the previous decade.

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C. Louizidis & K. Glinou, Athens Archive.

The Greek participation in the 13th International Architecture Exhibition, seeks primarily to highlight the positive forces that currently are emerging from the crisis and to delineate a better future for Athens. It investigates links to the idiosyncratic Athenian urbanity, focusing on two major issues: The first concerns the city’s tradition of the modern and the evolving tradition of the Athenian polykatoikia; while the second looks at the fragmentation of public space and the disputes over such space.

The Athenian polykatoikia constitutes a particular chapter in the history of modern architecture. Although it follows basic principles of the modern movement, the Athenian polykatoikia is essentially a product of vernacular architectural tradition. Trailblazing architects of that time introduced reference models, which dominated the international architectural scene of the period.  The widespread expansion of the polykatoikia model took place experientially, according to the limitations set by construction capabilities, town-planning regulations and, naturally, the system of antiparohi, where the developer covers the cost of building and the owner of the plot of land is repaid with apartments within the final building, which determined the economic development of the Greek city.

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Y. Yerolymbos, Athens Spread.

For many years the polykatoikia was viewed as a failed model of urban development, an unfortunate Greek invention, which shifted the responsibility for reconstruction to the hands of private micro-investors during the post-war period. During the past few years, this position has undergone a reversal. Younger Athenians accept the polykatoikia as a basic element of their city’s identity. The specific model of the development of the Greek city constitutes the object of investigation in European schools of architecture. The research focuses both on the general architecture of the polykatoikia, as well as in the flexibility of its construction structure. It is now generally accepted that the polykatoikia’s capacity to host different programmes of public and private interest, has contributed to the formation of a varied, vivid, urban environment. More recent trends in the design of polykatoikias investigate new possibilities which concern: the morphology of the polykatoikia and the creation of point intensities in the uniform Athenian surroundings, the new lifestyles of the city’s creative class and particularly its younger members, the new strategies for urban development which permit integrated interventions on an urban scale, and, finally, the re-use of existing housing stock.

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D. Michalakis, Burnout, 2012.

For the greater part of the twentieth century, Athenians had only limited interest in public space. Athens, as a city which essentially was shaped during the years of post-war reconstruction, has no particular urban culture of its own. The city’s identity is not defined by its public spaces and its buildings, but by the vernacular architecture of the polykatoikia and its direct interaction with the micro-scale of the road. Interest in public space in Athens started to develop only during the past decade. In 2004 the Grand Promenade around the archaeological grounds of the Acropolis was completed, and constitutes the city’s most successful regeneration project. In the years that followed, dominated by the outbreak of a social and economic crisis, public space in Athens was fragmented and demands were made on it by various groups: the entertainment industry; criminal networks; new real estate investors; the homeless; the abject immigrants; extreme right-wing organisations; and finally, the many movements of the city, activists and initiative groups to save, or at least improve, problem-ridden public space. There is now no doubt that Greek public space has regained its lost political dimension. As far as urban planning is concerned, public space in Athens constitutes an ideal field to investigate new strategies for regaining and re-familiarising ourselves with such space, removed from the architectural standards of previous decades. Recent attempts to design public space are influenced by self-managed parks, occupation / squatting movements and alternative economy networks. It isn’t therefore a matter of chance, that the proposals presented at the exhibition investigate new strategies for direct citizen participation; new programmes for meetings and open assemblies; but also new models of production, such as the formation of urban plantations.

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Self-managed park at Navarinou Street, Athens.

By abandoning models of consumerism and the search for well-being, which dominated the previous decade, contemporary architecture has gained the capacity to recapture its social role. After a decade of professionalism and architectural opportunism, a turn towards research and experimentation can be discerned. Contemporary architecture has greater communications power than ever before, which allows it to investigate and propose new strategies for design, new ways to perceive the city, but also new models for living.

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Antonas Office, Πληθυσμοί αποσπασμάτων.

The Greek entry in the 13th International Architecture Exhibition focuses on eight architectural narratives about Athens from an equal number of groups. Specific projects deal in different ways with the problems facing Athens today. On the one hand there are proposals, which investigate new strategies for intervention in Athenian public space, which could be implemented immediately (AREA, S. Buerger & D. Katsota), and also proposals that introduce new models of living and urban behaviour (Y. Aesopos, A. Antonas). While, on the other hand, a series of representative examples of a new critical, deliberative architecture are presented, an architecture which makes use of the expressive media that architecture encompasses, in order to transmit messages and to point out new, alternative possibilities for the contemporary city (Point Supreme Architects). This line of inquiry includes narratives, which recount the evolution of the crisis from an allegorical standpoint (draftworks*) and make references to the history of the architecture of the city (A. Angelidakis), but also original records of a new Athenian anthropogeography (decaARCHITECTURE).

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draftworks*, Athens Northwest Passage.

A concurrent presentation of the design practice of creative groups in Athens, alongside local urban traditions and transformations of public space aims to chart the new common ground being shaped in Athens by this crisis. The common ground of new creative teams in Athens may be sought through the vernacular tradition of the polykatoikia and its capacity to host public interest programmes and common use programmes. It can further be sought through attempts to challenge for public space, activist actions by citizens and attempts to assimilate these into the design process. Finally, common ground can be sought by developing new communications and collaboration networks between creative groups in the city.

The Greek entry for the 13th International Architecture Exhibition sought to gather a wealth of presentation material from various creative groups in Athens. The heterogeneity of the material presented expresses the basic ideological position that the reconstruction of a city in crisis can come about only through the collaboration of all its creative forces, both from a top-down and from a bottom-up standpoint. Correspondingly, the particular manner in which the Greek pavilion will exhibit the entry, attempts to soften the differences that separate the creative groups in the city; creating a three-dimensional mosaic, in order to present the exhibits, merges disparate tesserae into a collective work and indicates symbolically the particular significance of a common – Athenian – ground.

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posted in Exhibitions by panosdragonas

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