Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis and the founder of the NEON organization for contemporary art, Dimitris Daskalopoulos, recently unveiled and ambitious but very realistic plan to spruce up the National Garden, one of the Greek capital’s most significant green spaces, which has seen better days. The program, which is designed by NEON and funded by Daskalopoulos with the cooperation of the City of Athens, foresees a few interventions such as landscaping and a series of art exhibitions that are intended to draw the public back to the park.
The landscaping part of the program will be undertaken by French landscape designer Louis Benech, who plans to plant 24 trees and over 7,000 other shrubs as part of his beautification plan.
The study for the National Garden revamp was commissioned in October 2012 and completed in April this year, with the cooperation of Greek architectural firm doxiadis+. Benech has vast experience in revamping gardens, and especially ones with historical significance, such as the famed garden of Versailles.
No trees will be cut down, the French landscape designer has assured, though there will be extensive pruning and new plantings. The lay-out of the garden will also be maintained.
Benech said that the task of revamping the National Garden, which has grown out of control in many parts, was daunting. “The question was how to allow the park to continue being what it is and doing what it has done for centuries without allowing it to destroy itself,” Benech said at the presentation of the revamp.
The French landscape designer aims to cut back most of the vegetation that has grown out of control and to highlight the park’s biggest assets.
The other part of the program consists of a plan for the National Garden to host an art exhibition every two years. The first is scheduled to take place in May and June next year and is being curated by Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. The works that will be presented will be by both Greek and foreign artists. Details of the first show are expected to be published in February.
Daskalopoulos said that he has observed two types of reactions to the plan designed by NEON, which is separate from another program to revamp the National Garden that is being funded in part by European Union structural funds.
“It shocked some people who consider the National Garden their own private property, their own privileged space for taking a walk, and who want nothing to rock the boat,” said Daskalopoulos. “It provoked some people who insist on looking at the world through the eyes of 19th-century Marxists and who believe that anything which arises from damned private capital is by definition evil and objectionable.
“To the first group, I would like to say this: The National Garden belongs to all, without exception, the citizens of and visitors to Athens. To the latter I would say that in this day and age, social awareness is not the exclusive privilege of one class from which the wealthy are strictly excluded. There is good and bad capital just as there are good and bad workers. Nor are the public and private incompatible concepts, much less conflicting ones.
“This is one big step in the effort to make the heart of Athens beat stronger,” Daskalopoulos said.