Urban look: Megaron splendor, Omonia shambles

Athens Concert Hall The glass-lined, transparent skeletal structure that forms the entrance to the new facilities of the Athens Concert Hall radiates power and assuredness. The completion of the gargantuan construction project – which resulted in, among other things, a large multipurpose hall and smaller exhibition space of 2,000 sq.m., an enormous foyer, a marble atrium, rehearsal rooms – has won the Megaron the position of the largest cultural hub in Greece, equivalent to New York’s Lincoln Center, by this country’s standards. The sheer size of the area (an impressive 900,000 cubic meters), the prevailing marble, the gold-studded chandeliers of the foyer, make reference to an architectural ideal of power, while simultaneously paying service to the symbolism dictated by similar centers around the world. But regardless of personal aesthetic preferences, the Athens Concert Hall is an organization that acts as cultural powerhouse.

D.R. Omonia The completion of the capital’s new Omonia Square has brought the usually sidelined class of architects to the forefront – unfortunately, in the worst possible way. No matter how hard the project’s group of four designers have tried to convince public opinion that this repulsive, cement-covered sight was not exactly their proposal, the result remains unchanged. If the tenders for the refurbishment of four major squares were supposed to offer an opportunity to bolster the public’s faith in state architectural competitions, they definitely backfired in the case of Omonia Square. What does this blatant failure teach us? First, when we don’t know exactly what it is we want from a public project, any competition is bound for failure. Second, this case reconfirms Greek society’s complete distrust of architects, since the opinions of a mayor, minister, and general secretary appear to carry more weight in their minds.


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