Scholars' Association News
Issue 26
May 2013


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RETHINK ATHENS: The winning proposal of OKRA architects

The Dutch architectural practice, OKRA, is among the most important offices specializing in the design of open-air public spaces on an international level. OKRA are based in Utrecht, were founded in 1994 and are directed by Martin Knuijt, Wim Voogt and Boudewijn Almekinders. Some of their most recent designs are the center of Basel in Switzerland, London’s “third center” at Croydon, the metropolitan center of Copenhagen, the programmatic design for the future center of Rotterdam, the Cutty Sark Gardens in London and the Flemish Exposition space in Ghent. Aiming towards the middle ground of architecture, urbanism and landscape, their designs combine the visionary and the strategic approach in order to create environments endowed with character, scale, atmosphere and function, capable of assigning an identity to the space of social coexistence.

The Rethink Athens Jury considered the winning proposal extremely successful, in terms of consideration of all of the project’s requirements and of meeting all of the evaluation criteria as described in the Competition Notice. As explicitly stated in the minutes of the Jury Meetings, the winning proposal “manages to integrate a clear design for Panepistimiou Avenue and the city squares into the broader system of the urban spaces and landscapes constituting the center of Athens. By developing a wider conception, this design may also be expanded to include other neighboring spaces in the near future, thereby showing the potential for restructuring the entire city center”. In a comprehensive, functional, visionary and, at the same time, realistic manner, this particular study ingeniously deals with all of the issues prescribed for handling the problems of the city center. Mainly, however, the study focuses on the creation of the necessary conditions that will allow the citizens of Athens to develop a friendly relationship with their city, turning the Amalias avenue – Panepistimiou street – Omonia Square and Patission street axis into a destination point instead of a mere place of transit.

The aim of the winning proposal at the Rethink Athens architectural competition is the creation of a vibrant, green and accessible heart of the city. The study is not merely confined to applying contemporary ideas on the control of environmental conditions, the reduction of car traffic and the reprogramming of the public space. It aspires to get "one step beyond" in order to reach a comprehensive proposal for a flexible, accessible city bustling with life, connecting the adjacent area in the center, acting as catalyst for the revitalization of entire Athens. At the same time it advocates the restitution of the social fabric bringing together Patissia and the Archaeological Museum to the Trilogy and the Acropolis Museum, thanks to the substantial role of public transport and to the reinvigorated usage of public space. All of these, through the perpetual dialog and the restitution of the relation between the center and its surrounding green hills, its neighborhoods, its unique history.

The winning proposal provides the basis for the elaboration of the study to be finally implemented, following the debate with the government and the city authorities. Its main features, according to the laureates, are:

An accessible city: The study area includes four characteristic places. Syntagma and Omonia square will be the two green urban squares, lush in prominent water features. Dikaiosynis square will be transformed into a green urban room that will include a water source and will accommodate activities inside a shaded courtyard. In the middle of Panepistimiou, a green ensemble will ascribe the area a character of urban park. Vegetation will be used as a coherent network, which will unite public spaces in all directions and will connect adjacent neighborhoods culminating upon Panepistimiou. The new tramline will be designed in such a way that it will be prominent and will constitute a basic element of the image of the area, contributing to its cohesion.

A city resilient to climate change: Panepistimiou will be transformed into a green spine of a broader green network that will provide shade and shelter. The overall strategy includes reduction of the urban heat, improved conditions of environmental comfort (natural cooling through planting and shading in the public space, green roofs and facades, cool paving materials), reduction of air pollution, reduction of energy consumption, optimal water treatment (water collection from rain and irrigation). The new green triangle of the city will connect to the surrounding hills and this will result in temperature reduction in the whole metropolitan center. The green strategy for Athens includes the provisions for correct irrigation since the good condition of the plants is of crucial importance to heat reduction. Rainwater will be collected in underground deposits, on terraces or elsewhere, if it is considered necessary and feasible. Furthermore, water will be treated in a poetic manner, alluding to the underground Iridanos River

A vibrant city: The refurbishment of Panepistimiou includes the creation of accommodating spaces along the street. The proposal introduces the idea of the Theater of rooms in the vacant buildings where cultural events take place and new points of interest are created for the enhancement of a vibrant atmosphere. The program of those activities is related to Greek philosophy, science, theater and art. The objective is to create active street fronts that will induce connections between buildings and the public sphere. On a smaller scale, light architectural installations will focus not only upon commercial activities but will as well provide other services, like water pavilions and a toy library. Finally, the interactive ornamental light will endow public space with the proper atmosphere during the night hours.

The authors of the winning proposal declare that the restitution of anonymous space in the heart of Athens is feasible and are certain that the combination of the urban vibrancy of the area with the creation of a green, pedestrian-friendly spine, which will contribute to the improvement of the quality of life in Athens, is possible.

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