Scholars' Association News
Issue 22
May 2012

01/10


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RE-THINK ATHENS
A city centre for people: Visions and objectives for the city of Athens of 2015

Is it possible to transform the centre of Athens? Having covered all angles when discussing the problems and the discomfort caused by the current situation, what else is there to do? In a time of deep economic recession, Athens is called to find a different way to solve its problems and claim a place amongst today’s major European metropolises.

The Project

The Onassis Foundation is organizing and funding a European Architectural Competition for the creation of a new city centre, a project centered around Panepistimiou Street. The objective of this initiative is to improve the everyday life of Athenian citizens, allowing the accomplishment of the vision for quality of life in the Greek capital. Nowhere in the world a unique avenue of an emblematic metropolis with a rich architecture, quality of images, variety of functions that could promote the city’s competitiveness, has been reserved exclusively for traffic. Panepistimiou Street has been transformed into a mere driveway and the result is depressing, especially if one thinks of the whole downgrading of the centre of Athens.

Deprived of contemporary models and inspiring proposals that could reverse the situation, the financial and administrative centre of the city is forced to an environmental, social and financial disaster. Even the infamous “trilogy” area that consists of the wonderful architectural ensemble upon which the character of the city is reflected, is subject to downgrading, thus proving that the crisis has spread from the Gerani area and Omonoia Square to Panepistimiou Street. Today, more than ever, we have the right to become visionaries while remaining realists. This is the right time to re-think Athens.

Europe supports the attractiveness of European cities through new funding programs that focus on the concept of a “creative” Europe. In their effort to distinguish themselves, cities highlight their advantages, give life to their visions and organize themselves based on cultural networks. Their interest focuses on quality of life, trying to become more people-friendly, combining work, personal life and pleasure. Aiming at a sustainable mobility, central areas and main arteries become pedestrian zones, creating a different, attractive, cosmopolitan urban geography. Similarly, Athens can take an important step towards breathing life into the centre, forming a different perception for the upgrade and re-organization of its public space.

The “Re-think-Athens” project is a multifaceted intervention centered on Panepistimiou Street, extending from Amalias Avenue to Patission Street and ending at a brand new Omonoia Square.

Its main objective is to stop the increasing downgrading and to revive the centre of Athens with multiple functions related to trade, services, housing, entertainment and culture while simultaneously encouraging several activities. The intervention at Amalias Avenue, Omonoia Square and Patission Street will form a ring that will link the pedestrian zone of Dionysius Areopagitus and the new Acropolis Museum with the Archaeological Museum and Omonoia Square with the areas of Monastiraki and Thisseio, thus connecting the liveliness of the modern city with the archaeological sites and tourism.

The idea for the creation of a new city centre centered on Panepistimiou Street is quite old. The “Re-think-Athens” intervention offers a contemporary, fundamental change of habits in the way we use the city by placing people in the centre of things. The value of the area is too high to be used solely as a means of transit for cars. The centre can be accessed by public transportation, it can reconnect its distant areas thus resulting in a creative dialogue among its parts and it can transform its present drawbacks into places of value, highlighting its modern face. The quest for quality upon forming this contemporary profile leads to the search for a form of architecture that can introduce the incorporation of sustainable development in the city, in a decisive, creative and innovative way. For this reason, this European competition has been announced, aiming to collect proposals that will awaken, inspire and reveal options that reflect the character of the city and promote a healthy albeit futuristic image of a lively metropolis that keeps evolving.

The Competition

The Onassis Foundation is organizing and funding this European Architectural Competition and the required studies in total, for the re-creation of the centre of Athens, with Panepistimiou Street serving as the backbone of this transformation.

The Competition will be realized in two stages.: The first stage will be a competition of ideas, out of which a small number of proposals will be selected for the second stage of the competition, where the submitting firms will compete against each other for the selection of the winning proposal. For the preparation of this project, the Foundation is already collaborating with the Greek Ministries of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, and of Transport, Infrastructure and Networks, together with other organizations that will contribute significantly and will coordinate the project.

The architectural competition raises the issue of quality of life, generating an interest on behalf of the public that will lead to a conversation on the new living conditions that will revitalize the centre of Athens in an attractive and sustainable way. It is the catalyst that will promote a debate on all kinds of issues and the creative fermentation of the views of citizens, involved experts, architects, artists, intellectuals and economists, to search for new things in the city’s old canvas.

The aim of the study that will be selected is the substantial change in the image, structure and function of the centre, resolving issues related to everyday life and upgrading the city to make it people-friendly and attractive, in order to compete with other major European Metropolises. Safety, the re enforcement of entrepreneurship and business, the re-inhabitance of the centre, the promotion of Greek cultural wealth and the introduction of quality in all aspects of everyday life, will form the basis of the study. Athens will be transformed into a vibrant 24 hour city.

A crucial question is: can we cope with the implementation cost of this intervention? Yes, we can, because the project will be financed with European funds designed for integrated interventions which aim at improving the competitiveness of cities without depriving them of projects that will be implemented through other programmes. The consequences of the increasing devastation and decline of the city centre are, undoubtedly, even more costly. The architectural reorganization of the public space is a low cost project of approximately 25 million euros. The expenditure on the tram line project is much higher albeit rewarding. The total cost of the intervention, which includes the tramline ending at Ano Patissia, will not exceed 200 million euros (VAT included). This amount corresponds to the cost of a major highway interchange.

In any case, there is an urgent need to formulate a wide visional and sustainable proposal for the reconstruction of the city centre, formed during a crucial period where social, economic, political, demographic and ecological challenges are seeking a way out. This vision is worth to be built with an open mind, unaffected by conventional eliminations in order to lead to wonderful and unexpected versions of the city centre. Thus, it must be powerful and convincing and it should be accompanied by a complete change in the way we have been using the centre of the city during the last few decades, adopting modern practices.

The website

The registration of the interested parties will be completed through the website: http://www.rethinkathens.org/eng-home.

Apart from the competition’s procedure, the website will offer a chance to the public, the citizens and entrepreneurs of Athens to discuss and express their opinions about the project through the social media (Facebook, twitter). The public will also have the opportunity to express their opinion about the best proposal out of those that will be submitted during the competition.

So, let us ‘Re-think-Athens’; after all, there is no better way to predict the future than to design it ourselves!


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