Scholars' Association News
Issue 30
May 2014


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...for a 21st century Athens
By Leda Bouzali

The final studies in the Rethink Athens project, that seeks to transform Athens’ city centre along the axis of Panepistimiou Street, were presented to the public during an exhibition held at the Arsakeio Arcade from 19 February to 10 March 2014.The exhibition breathed new life to the 19 empty store spaces in the arcade (generously made available by the Society for the Promotion of Education and Learning - Arsakeia-Tositseia Schools) which were appropriately remodelled and converted into areas for display, study and events. The exhibition’s architectural curator was Aristidis Antonas, while Professor Panagiotis Tournikiotis, NTUA, served as scientific curator. Forty two special issues, twelve video walls, press kits, accurate photoimaging and architectural plans on public display provided visitors with the most comprehensive picture possible about what is going to unfold in the city centre. The studies were completed thanks to the concerted effort of more than 60 experts from various fields and disciplines, and provided an answer to important issues faced by the city, offered solutions and created the necessary conditions that will allow the city centre to regain its human aspect and appeal.

The exhibition spaces were divided into the following thematic sections: architectural design, the architecture of streetscapes, accessibility and streetscapes, urban equipment, remembering old Athens, water strategy and water features, strategy for trees and green spaces, traffic-transport-road building, environmental impact study, bioclimatic study, static design, and electromechanical design.

Among the various gripping exhibits, what attracted the visitors' eye were the restoration and renovation designs and study for three historical hotels in Omonia square, which were sponsored by the Onassis Foundation, following a request made by the City of Athens independently of the Rethink Athens project; three city landmarks: the “Alexander the Great” hotel, the “Bangeion” hotel (both designed by Ernst Ziller, the first in 1889 , and the second between 1890 and 1894 ) and the “Olympias” hotel built in the interwar period. It has been recommended that the latter become a centre for fostering entrepreneurship in the clothing, jewellery and folk art industries.

In addition, an architectural design was submitted to the Academy of Athens last year that proposed the construction of a new building to cater for the institution’s administrative needs and rise to the demands of the new era.

Another thing that stood out in the exhibition was the research proposal to establish an Urban Observatory. The proposal’s scientific coordinator was Professor Panagiotis Tournikiotis. The suggestion is to create an extensive information bank to promote and assess the project’s outcome. The contract will state that the Observatory will cease its activities in 2018.

During the exhibition, similar urban regeneration projects implemented in other large cities were also presented through the European Prize for Urban Public Space at CCCB. “Reactivate Athens/101 Ideas” was also given separate space of its own to present its research project that aims to collect suggestions from the residents of Athens themselves (see ΑΩ 62). The “Reactivate Athens” room and two more spaces hosted an open workshop with lectures and discussions about the city, attended by various representatives of academia, experts and members of the Association.

In particular, on March 1, art historian and photographer Io Paschou presented the photography workshop entitled “Framing Athens” where she informed the public about the history of photography through pictures depicting the capital city. Architects Myrto Kiourti and Kostas Tsiambaos, who won the ‘utopian’ proposal award at the Rethink Athens European Awards, gave a lecture on 25 February on “Utopia and reality in modern Athens”.

The exhibition’s parallel events also featured the following lectures: “Discussing contemporary urban landscape” by Professor Kostas Moraitis, School of Architecture, NTUA; “An innovative approach to rainwater harvesting in the context of the Rethink Athens project” by Professor Michalis Skoullos, Department of Chemistry, University of Athens; “The new centre of Athens” by Panagiotis Tournikiotis; “Rethink Athens with Bicycle” by Professor Thanos Vlastos, Transportation Engineer and City Planner, NTUA; “Arrangements for a new traffic model” by Stratos Papadimitriou, Professor of Transportation Systems, University of Piraeus; “The city and the mystery novel” by author and Professor Petros Martinidis, School of Architecture, AUTH; “Panepistimiou Street: Towards an architectural reorganization. The shadow of history and the question of the 21st century” by Nikos Vatopoulos, journalist at the newspaper Kathimerini, mediated by journalist Dimitris Rigopoulos.

The exhibition also included art events for young and old alike, such as the interactive music performance “Drummunication” with Petros Kourtis’ interactive percussion cycle, the Swing Party with the Athens Lindy Hop dance group, and the narration of Eugene Trivizas’ fairy tales who arrived at the Arsakeio Arcade “…from the Island of Fireworks on a flying croissant”.

Finally, shortly before the “Rethink Athens: The centre of Athens - The Final Studies” exhibition closed in the evening of Sunday 9 March, the Scholars’ Association organised a concert entitled “Rethink Music” that “provided the musical backdrop for Athens’ new face” and brought together many music scholars in a fabulous artistic outcome (see the respective article in the ΑΩ magazine).

The exhibition’s objective was twofold: to showcase innovation and sheer range of the technical studies prepared for the regeneration project with the sponsorship of the Onassis Foundation on the one hand, and on the other hand, to return a number of vacant spaces to use thereby illustrating the types of dynamic urban activities that imminent changes about to take place in the city centre could result in.

As President of the Onassis Foundation, Anthony Papadimitriou, stated in his speech at the exhibition’s inauguration ceremony, in this space which is open to all citizens, the 33 final studies were not merely put on display but were an opportunity for the people of Athens “to meet and to discuss, study, participate in a vision for the city; in the sense of the ancient agora, with the prerequisite of a citizen who never abandons the city despite the hardships, but who returns to it and claims it back. For restructuring the city centre is indeed a claim that must be made by citizens: they must claim their city, they must claim their right to live and to grow and develop in it.”

The plan to organise Athens along the axis of Panepistimiou St. is not a novel idea, as the President reminded the audience. The vision dates back to in 1983 and the unforgettable Antony Tritsis. Nowadays, the imperative changes that came with the passing of time, the needs of a new era, and of course international standards for the building of competitive cities have allowed the “Rethink Athens” project to become a mature, well-planned, well-documented scheme for reviving the centre of Athens.

What will change?
  • Panepistimiou and Patission streets (up to the Archaeological Museum) will be converted into green streets allowing for the mixed circulation of pedestrians, bicycles, trams, taxis and public service vehicles.
  • Omonia Square will be redesigned.
  • The tram line will be extended from Syntagma Square to Egyptou Square.
  • A bicycle lane will be created from Dionysiou Aeropagitou St. right up to Omonia Square.
  • Underground rainwater reservoirs will be constructed to allow integrated management of water resources and to create adequate reserves to irrigate the area’s greenery and to clean public spaces.
  • 800 new trees will be planted.

“One of the various aims of the ‘Rethink Athens’ project is to invite residents, life and entrepreneurs back to the city centre,” said Anthony Papadimitriou. “That is the reason why the Foundation commissioned the Department of Planning and Regional Development of the University of Thessaly, School of Engineering, to conduct an economic and urban planning study. In cooperation with all competent bodies, that study will be used to prepare and propose strategic statutory adjustments and measures to upgrade the housing stock in the centre of Athens. The Foundation aims to develop and propose a series of incentives, measures and mechanisms for the broader “Rethink Athens” project area such as restoring and re-using the housing stock, and attracting residents and businesses with a view to revitalising the financial and social life of the city. In this way we will be creating the conditions needed to curb the continuous decline of the areas where many buildings are concentrated.”

Mr. Anthony Papadimitriou added that, “the Foundation is sponsoring the creation of an Atlas, under the supervision of Professor Thomas Maloutas from Harokopeion University, and the contribution of dozens of academics and other experts. This Atlas will display the main aspects of the city’s social and economic fabric. We know our city, we are studying its past, its wealth, its potential and prospects, and now we are planning its future.

Athens’ future lies firmly in the 21st century and the city’s history becomes interconnected with the vitality our day-to-day life demands. This intervention will bring about changes in public spaces, in the economy, in society and culture. Athens, with its long history, is looking ahead, elevating its past by redesigning its future. Athens is designing a new city centre. And the Onassis Foundation is supporting this endeavour.”

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