By Harry van Versendaal
Mr Leonidas didn’t go looking for his apartment. It was more like the other way around.
It was the early 1970s and Mr Leonidas was teaching high school math in an impoverished suburb of Athens. During his lunch break one day, he came across a leaflet printed by the teachers’ association, advertising a new kind of neighborhood for educators. A few years later, with the help of a low-interest bank loan, he, his wife and their three children headed uptown, to the far wealthier suburb of Neo Psychico.
Today, the Teachers’ House, as it is known, provides an intriguing contrast to the modest, low-rise architecture of Athenians’ prized suburbia. Hardly beautiful as a structure, the unimpeded sea view from the tallest tower’s 15th floor, standing 56 meters above street level, is enough to send Greece’s skyscraper lovers, who have few such buildings to admire, into paroxysms of joy – or, at least, touch those who are moved by the qualities imbued in a massive concrete edifice.
If every home has a story to tell, then these modernist high rises use a language rarely observed in Greek abodes.
A decorative motif of rose, peach and tan tiles – possibly a failed effort at whimsy – and a series of gray ellipses girdle the apartment block from its flat roof to its base, emphasizing its horizontal axis almost as if embarrassed by its towering size. At least it can take pride in its generously wide balconies, a rare sight in the high rises of the West.
Sitting in his beige easy chair, Mr Leonidas, a pensioner and for years Block C’s superintendent, yarns about his home’s beginnings, back when they were just a spark in one dreamy literature teacher’s eyes. In the late 60s, Nikolaos Stamatopoulos, who taught at the private Leontios School, traveled to Italy. “He was so impressed by the rows of apartment blocks designed for workers that he decided to get together with some of his colleagues to build a similar apartment building, just for teachers,” says Mr Leonidas. It remains a mystery whether his desire was also fueled by the ideals of a modern academic utopia.
The Teachers’ House was designed by architects Stavros and Angelos Vaseiliou under the junta-era development statute “Law ÁÍ 395/68 on the Heights of Buildings and Free Construction,” which allowed for the construction of tall buildings with up to 28 inhabitable levels. After myriad technical challenges and one bankruptcy, the block was completed in 1973, albeit without the roof garden and ground-level shops foreseen in the original plans.
Along with the “Twin Towers” at its northern end, the Teachers’ House is still considered a landmark, a recognizable anomaly, by commuters who drive along the otherwise monotonous Mesogeion Avenue.
As the years passed, however, the block’s academic character was diluted. “There were fewer teachers per se and more of their spouses, and cousins and children,” says Mr Leonidas. However, the buildings retain the triumvirate of superintendents, a residents’ council and the porter.
The cracks that appeared after the 1981 earthquake were covered over by an outer shell of concrete and the whole exterior was spruced up with a generous Olympic Games-era grant, but inside the shabby hallways, the passage of time cannot be disguised.
Forty years after he first moved in, photographs of Mr Leonidas’s six grandchildren adorn his walls. His three children have all become doctors and two them live here, on the 8th and 10th floors. His own apartment is much closer to the ground.
“Not everybody likes living up high,” he says, smiling. “A lot of people complain they get dizzy.”