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Designing a new park for the capital

By Dimitris Rigopoulos

“I cannot wait to tell my family and friends in North Dakota that I will be working in Athens. The word ‘Athens’ means so much to an American. It brings magical stories to mind.”

As Charles Anderson talks about the Greek capital, I am jealous of his enthusiasm. He has traveled all around the world and has visited Greece before, but for him, “Athens is something special.” Anderson is director of Melendrez, a Los Angeles-based landscape architecture, urban planning and urban design firm which will be cooperating with Greece’s Lamda Development in the creation of the Elliniko Metropolitan Park on the grounds of the city’s former international airport.

Despite not having spent a lot of time in Athens, Anderson is learning fast. “The creation of this park will affect the lives of all Athenians. Athens is special because it combines mountains and the sea. Elliniko, for example, is close both to Mt Hymettus and the coast. But Elliniko itself is very plain and flat. Our goal is to create a park there with greater diversity.”

“We did not come all the way here just to turn Elliniko on its head,” he continues with sincerity. “We will plant trees and create some interesting new spots but at the same time we plan to show respect to and be inspired by what existed here before our arrival. The Elliniko park used to be an airport and it has historical value as such. We will retain the East Terminal building, which was designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen and is of great architectural value. We will also transform one of the runways into a mile-long sidewalk and perhaps keep some of the abandoned airplanes. It’s important to make clear that we are not here in order to necessarily destroy what was already here.”

Thomas Doxiadis, an architect and landscape architect who will cooperate with Melendrez on the creation of the park, agrees with Anderson. “An abandoned airport is not just an empty space. Its historical significance may be no match for that of central Athens, but it still is an interesting location,” Doxiadis said.

“We should preserve elements from the past such as the Trachones stream, Saarinen’s beautiful structure, the runways, abandoned airplanes and some traces of the 2004 Olympic Games,” he noted, adding that the aim is to create a new park that does not turn its back on the past.

Will the design of the new park be influenced by similar projects outside Greece? “The design of the Elliniko Metropolitan Park should definitely be inspired by successful designs of large parks abroad. But here is also a chance for us to create something with strong Greek character and to show both Greeks and foreigners the beauty of Greek landscapes,” Doxiadis said.

“Charles is trying very hard to achieve this,” he said.

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