The June 4 inauguration of the 37th Book Fair on the premises of the Athens Conservatory signaled two important facts: one, that the publishing sector is withstanding the effects of sluggish sales and looking for new ways to reach out to society and, second, that the building housing the event is seeking broader recognition and looking toward the future.
The partnership between the capital’s publishers and the administration of the Athens Conservatory is taking place at a time that is fertile for synergies between the country’s creative and productive forces. The Book Fair’s inauguration was attended by recently re-elected Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis, who had another reason to make a public appearance in light of the planned revamp of the Conservatory with funding from City of Athens via the EU-backed National Strategic Reference Framework. Gavriil Sakelaridis, the leftist SYRIZA candidate for the Athens mayorship who lost out to Kaminis in the runoffs, was also present at the inauguration, further strengthening the climate of cooperation.
“The renovation plan will proceed despite all the adversity,” says the president of the Athens Conservatory, chief conductor Nikos Tsouchlos. The project has already received funding of 7.5 million euros, while a smaller amount is still pending before it can finally get under way. Right now it is in the preparation phase, with the tender being drawn up, and, based on the budget plan, the renovation should be completed by August next year.
“The Athens Conservatory, despite it prominent location, special architectural layout and rich history, is one of the city’s better-kept secrets,” says Tsouchlos. “As part of our effort to reveal this secret and to make it a part of everyday life in Athens, the creative partnership with the Book Fair signifies an important step.”
The Athens Conservatory, located on the corner of Rigillis Street and Vassileos Constantinou Avenue, just a few meters away from the Panathenaic Stadium and the National Garden, is the only building to be actually completed from a plan drawn up by the late statesman Constantine Karamanlis to create a cultural park in the area. It was designed by Ioannis Despotopoulos but was never fully completed, yet its clever facade offers wonderful solutions to that end. The architectural firm Thymio Papayannis & Associates has completed an ingenious study that may become a model for future projects of this nature.
The building, with its signature parallelogram facade set back in a garden, was unveiled in the late 1960s and combines, in a way that is both extroverted and cryptic, many Modernist elements, from the Marxist rhetoric of the Bauhaus in the 1930s to functionalism and the elegant aesthetics of Mies van der Rohe. Inside it consists of vast unfinished spaces that once developed could contribute toward endowing Athens with a new hub of energy, style and inspiration. Part of the building currently houses the National Museum of Contemporary Art, but its impending move to its new headquarters in the former Fix brewery on Kallirois Street and Syngrou Avenue will free up this space to the benefit of the revamped Athens Conservatory.
The 37th Book Fair will run through June 15 and features hundreds of Greek and foreign titles.