Dutch architectural firm wins competition for Athens revamp

Dutch architectural firm Okra was on Wednesday announced as the winner of a competition with 71 entries for an ambitious plan to revamp the center the Athens with the pedestrianization of the central thoroughfare of Panepistimiou Street.

The competition was part of an initiative dubbed Re-Think Athens organized by the Onassis Foundation. The results were unveiled on Wednesday at the foundation's cultural center in an event attended by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, his coalition partners Evangelos Venizelos of PASOK and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left, as well as opposition SYRIZA MP Dimitris Papadimoulis.

Seventy-one architects and firms participated in the international competition with presentations of plans for the complete overhaul of the heart of the Greek capital, a plan that is centered on the pedestrianization of Panepistimiou, along with a revamp of Omonia and Syntagma squares, which it links. The project is slated for completion by end-2015.

The competition, said Samaras, "shows that there are vibrant forces in our society that see through the darkness of the crisis to envision a different Greece. They envision a different Athens."

Development Minister Costis Hadzidakis confirmed that the project would receive 80 million euros in funding through the European Union-backed National Strategic Reference Framework, which would be sufficient to cover the execution of the project as well as the studies of traffic and transport modifications that will go with it. He said that a tender would be announced for the construction of the project in 2014, with an aim of completion by the end of 2015.

Venizelos hailed the project as a "significant transformation that also functions on a symbolic level for a beleaguered part of the city center," while Kouvelis also backed the initiative, saying that it would allow downtown Athens to become part of the public domain once more.

For the opposition's part, Papadimoulis expressed his hope that the project would go ahead, and not end up "as just another model."

An exhibition of all of the entries will be on display at the Onassis Cultural Center (107-109 Syngrou) through March 6.