Other Initiatives

The Onassis Foundation, in an effort to meet the needs of the present and take on the challenges of the future, has developed a series of social, educational, cultural and developmental initiatives, making a bold statement when it comes to important events and serious issues of our times. Among them:

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REACTIVATE ATHENS / 101 IDEAS is a research and design initiative directed by the RA Lab, a joint collaboration between the Brillembourg & Klumpner Chair of Architecture and Urban Design at the ETH Zürich, Urban-Think Tank, and local experts and collaborators from various fields.  This multidisciplinary team bridges academia, professional practice, industry, public interest, and community activism to generate new ideas for the city center that focus on design, public policy, and social sustainability. The RA Lab will critically analyze the urban core to develop a new framework for reading and acting within the city, highlighting the social and cultural diversity of central Athens while serving as the basis for innovative, implementable proposals.  As part of the participatory design process, a structure has been established as a dynamic platform to collect ideas from existing initiatives, leading experts, and local community members.

In the last few decades, parts of central Athens have been defined as areas characterized by urban decline and a long series of negative setbacks, beginning with overbuilding and congestion, followed by the progressive decentralization of middle-class households in the 1970s, and continuing up to the contemporary crisis. As a result, many areas host various processes of conflict, solidarity, vacancy, and diverse socio-spatial hierarchies.  Poor building quality and the extent of the economic crisis intensify the complexity of problems that can no longer be treated with conventional approaches.  The city has lost its center, and in view of today’s socio-economic predicament, abandonment seems irreversible if addressed through traditional planning models. But while urban decline is often related to a state of decay, it can also be understood as opening up the potential for alternative urban futures by mobilizing latent resources. The existing social dynamics of these areas can generate new modes of urbanism that manage the coexistence of traditional and contemporary activities; the new city can be built onto and within the old.  As such, the REACTIVATE ATHENS / 101 IDEAS initiative aims to identify and engage the challenges and potential of the existing city in order to develop a new strategic vision consisting of process-based design tools – spatial, economic, social, cultural, and programmatic.

The goal is to generate 101 provocative ideas for central Athens that actively avoid the destructive forces of gentrification and eviction. These ideas will combine top-down and bottom-up processes in order to utilize the territory between the formal and informal as a new point of contact for architecture and social design in the city. Each idea will represent an identifiable tool; a catalyst to reprogram, reactivate, and integrate specific areas within central Athens and foster new urban qualities. Taken together, these ideas will form a transferable urban toolbox that has a strong transformative capacity and proposes socially effective ways of connecting architecture with society.

The initiative is being conducted in line with the ‘Rethink Athens’ program, a planned intervention to reorganize the center of Athens along the axis of Panepistimiou Street by upgrading public spaces, addressing mobility challenges, enhancing commercial and other activities, and highlighting cultural and historical identities. The program is attempting to revive the image of Athens from a downgraded capital into a competitive modern city. REACTIVATE ATHENS / 101 IDEAS will support this intervention, while also using it as an essential foundation for thinking through solutions to crucial challenges in surrounding areas. Through a socially sustainable and participatory standpoint, the initiative aims to produce proposals that will contribute to the development of local communities and improve living conditions. Existing local resources will serve as the basis for new urban models that can strengthen central Athens, adding essential layers to the city that generate effective and sustainable urban transformation for marginalized areas and populations.

The initial phase of REACTIVATE ATHENS / 101 IDEAS will run from September 2013 until March 2014. The results will be featured in a comprehensive design exhibition to be held in Athens next spring and in a forthcoming book to be published in 2014. The project will also produce a parallel collaborative publication entitled Atlas: The Social Geography of Athens, edited by Professor Thomas Maloutas with Harokopeion University. This volume will bring together the work of various researchers focusing on the social geography of Athens in the last 20 years and beyond.

The RA Lab joins a team of interdisciplinary researchers and designers operating under the direction of Professor Alfredo Brillembourg and Professor Hubert Klumpner, who hold the Chair of Architecture and Urban Design at the ETH Zürich and are co-directors of Urban-Think Tank, an international practice dedicated to high-level research and design, with a team of local experts and professionals currently working with the most important urban topics in Athens. The team will collaborate with research groups, institutions, and NGOs already operating in the city throughout the design process.

The recently inaugurated RA Lab Workshop on Athinas Street serves as a meeting point and center for provocative actions, events, and discussions. Each month the space will host a series of informative events showcasing the work of the initiative and providing a forum to collect and discuss the ideas of local residents, who are no longer observers but active participants.  Those who are rarely offered a chance to express their views will be given a strong voice, and through their input the community will help shape the Athens of the future.

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