CULTURE

Building’s makeover clashes with its design

One of the nicest blocks of flats in Athens, highly representative of 1950s architecture and situated at 129 Vassilissis Sofias Avenue, near the Ippocrateio Hospital, is having its facade repainted. This is not just any block of flats: It was constructed by architect Nikos Valsamakis and falls into the category of those postwar buildings that could be declared listed in a few years time. Nevertheless, its facade is being redone in colors that go against the original architectural concept. The matter is rather complex. On the one hand, the owners should be praised for being willing to spend money not only on preserving their dwelling, but also on upgrading Athens’s image. On the other hand, this particular building is one of the best representatives of the peak of 1950s residential architecture. The building’s abuse from the point of view of aesthetics might be unintentional, yet it is important. The facade, initially white, is being painted a shade of dark gray. This is only an example of what could happen to other major Athenian blocks of flats, especially since a very welcome urge to upgrade building facades is gaining momentum, encouraged by the Municipality of Athens. When Valsamakis designed the block of flats in question, in 1955, only a few years after designing the innovative block of flats at 5 Semitelou Street, he put forward a new sense of aesthetics, thus taking architecture further ahead. No. 129 Vassilissis Sofias, considered by some as Valsamakis’s best residential building, had great variety, not just in its shape, but also in its colors, something which, according to the architect, is a characteristic of neoclassical buildings. Initially the background was ochre, the shutters green, the ledges over the windows gray and the entire facade white. As time went by, the white facade turned gray and when the building was repainted, gray was considered to be its original color. Those redoing the facade now opted for dark gray, although Valsamakis not only pointed out the true colors but also offered to provide the original shades. Although the creator parts from his oeuvre once he has finished it, it still represents him. It is also part of the city’s history and a sample of national architecture. Now that people are supposedly growing more sensitive to aesthetics in the city, painting a building of high architectural value in its original colors should not be considered a matter of considerable importance, nor be dismissed as a matter of personal taste. When the architects who designed such buildings are willing to cooperate, it would be wiser to take their advice for the sake of the city.