LIFE

At 83, cutting-edge architect Nikos Valsamakis stays on the front line

DIMITRIS RIGOPOULOS

If the jam-packed theaters at the lectures of Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid were to be expected, how can we explain the throngs that turned up earlier this week to listen to the confirmed anti-star of Greek architecture, Nikos Valsamakis? People from all over the capital flocked to the Friends of Music Hall of the Athens Concert Hall to grab what is a rare opportunity: to see the top Greek modern architect presenting his work to a non-academic audience. For the first time in his plethoric 54-year career, the architect, who has designed over 300 buildings and left his indelible mark on Greek modernism, spoke to the general public. «Back in the 1950s, if you said you were an architect, people would look at you funny and ask, 'You mean a mechanical engineer?' Today, some still look at you funny and say, 'You mean a mechanical engineer?' before quickly adding, 'By the way, how much is a square meter going for in Gerakas?'» said Valsamakis. The audience, after receiving an introduction by Memos Philippidis and being put at ease by the lecturer, received a well-rounded appraisal of the architect's most emblematic projects. The slides of Valsamakis's impressive buildings - with their familiar geometry, clean lines, large openings and backdrops of thick Mediterranean greenery or stunning sunsets - did not fail to provoke the enthusiasm of the audience. The enthusiasm turned to surprise after a time, as the audience realized that at the age of 83, Valsamakis not only remains active and at the front line, but continues to experiment and evolve. A sparkling white house in Kifissia, a stunning villa in Vouliagmeni and the new Agrotiki Bank headquarters on Syngrou Avenue, all works in progress, represent the pioneering architect's mark on the 21st century. His personal idiom is still there (geometry, compositions of indoor and outdoor spaces, dominant whites), but, and especially in the case of the Vouliagmeni villa, the audience was awed by Valsamakis's versatility: New, strict earthquake protection regulations prohibit the application of large open spaces and enforce the use of columns and walls - elements the architect despises, but succeeded in overriding with prefabricated metallic structures that lend his buildings their usual feel.

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