Faliro Delta culture park gives hope

While Athens was experiencing its toughest day yet this year, presentations of the final architectural plans for the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFC) in the Faliro Delta down on the city?s southern coast struck a hopeful note as austerity measures were passed through Parliament and violent riots were taking place in the city center.

Most Athenians have seen nothing like what is being planned for the former Athens Race Course on the seafront at Faliro, if the two presentations given on Wednesday by the chief architect and designer, Renzo Piano, are any indication. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is funding the architectural study for the complete overhaul of the 17-hectare plot with 566 million euros.

Following the unveiling of the plans and the scale model, Piano took journalists to the site that will one day house the new National Library and Opera House for a presentation that was also attended by thousands of Athenians who wanted to see with their own eyes where the biggest single urban renovation project to be carried out in the Greek capital in several decades will take place.

The award-winning Italian architect confirmed the good impression he had generated in 2009 during his first presentation of the visionary project, which he sees as a place for exploration and discovery.

?We are not trying to put on a display of strength or wealth,? he told the press on Wednesday. ?We simply want to highlight the fact that the building needs to breathe, to breathe to the pulse of the land, especially under the conditions of Athens, the wind, the energy and the sun.?

Piano insists that the project is not just about buildings, but that it is park, harmoniously attuned to the landscape, nature and the history of the city, facing the sea on one side and the imposing presence of the Acropolis in the distance on the other.

?The idea was to raise the natural inclination of the land and to create a hill,? Piano said. ?The spaces are sculpted out of the earth beneath this hill.?

The two buildings that will house the new premises of the National Library and the Greek National Opera will be united by a common glass volume, providing a large open space called the Agora that will emulate the concept of the ancient Greek marketplace.

Construction on the site is slated to begin at the end of 2011 and to employ between 1,500 and 2,400 workers until its completion in 2015.

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