“Vrisa was such a lovely village. The kind of place where you'd relax walking around its small streets, enjoy the midday quiet, ride your bicycle and admire the natural surroundings,” says Elena Zervoudakis. The architect first visited the village on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos a few years ago for a residential project and fell in love with it. She was deeply saddened by the huge amount of destruction it suffered in an earthquake last month and decided to act, teaming up with a group of Vrisa locals who live in Athens.
The initiative, named Rebuild Vrisa for the time being, held its first meeting earlier this month to discuss how it can contribute to the reconstruction of the village, which is listed for preservation as a traditional settlement. “We're a team of volunteers, most hailing from Vrisa, who want to see our village rebuilt quickly, beautifully and properly,” says the head of the team, Peli Georgi. “We organized a meeting so we could present ideas for its reconstruction, discuss the need for collective management and explore various alternatives. We intend to continue the discussion in Lesvos so that the people who live in the village can also have a say.”
The initiative has the support of the Archpoints network of architectural firms, of which Zervoudakis and professors from the National Technical University of Athens's schools of architecture and civil engineering are members. “We visited the village in late June,” says George Kourmadas, an architect who comes from Vrisa. “The situation is so disheartening. Experienced civil engineers tell us that they have never seen such a concentrated level of destruction in one single village.
“Why did this happen? There are lots of reasons,” adds the architect. “For example, we made a record of the buildings and observed that while the village was noteworthy in terms of architectural style, many of the buildings were not constructed properly. For example, they had reinforced concrete additions that had not been attached properly to the main building. When you build a concrete balcony on a structure made of stone in the 1920, that balcony will act like a battering ram in an earthquake and crack the stone.”
The group is striving to ensure that the restoration of Vrisa is not done in the usual slipshod manner. “To begin with, we want to see a concerted approach,” says Kourmadas. “The state is giving out some compensation right now and says the Ministry of Culture will be in charge of the materials and demolitions, but its Ephorate of Modern Monuments is too understaffed to carry out the task. Instead, the municipal authority has brought in a contractor who's already tearing buildings down. It is our opinion that the buildings have to be stabilized so we can determine which ones can be salvaged, even among those that have been slated for demolition.”
One of the proposals on the table, not just to restore but to improve Vrisa, is a system for tapping into geothermic energy. “The earthquake could serve as an opportunity for Vrisa to become a model village,” says Zervoudakis. “For example, a central network could be created to utilize geothermic energy. A similar pilot program has been applied in Polychnitos. It is difficult to make Vrisa like it was before, but at least we can try take it a step forwards.”