Niarchos foundation unveils new Athens opera, national library

Niarchos foundation unveils new Athens opera, national library

A leading Greek foundation on Friday unveiled a sprawling new park, opera and national library in southern Athens designed to “give hope” to a country brought low by a six-year economic crisis.

The 1,400-seat opera, library and adjoining park designed by famed Italian architect Renzo Piano cost nearly 600 million euros ($680 million) and took eight years to design and build.

“We thought it was very important to give hope,” Andreas Dracopoulos, co-president of the Stavros Niarchos foundation that funded the project, told a news conference.

Piano, an honorary Italian senator who famously co-designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris in the 1970s, said he wanted to evoke “the poetry of the Mediterranean” in the project with both buildings open to abundant sunshine and a sea canal close by.

“Cities need these institutions…beauty is something everybody needs, especially in difficult moments,” the 78-year-old award-winning architect said.

The new Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center, expected to fully open in mid-2017, occupies 20 hectares (50 acres) overall near the coast of Faliro in southern Athens.

The centre opened late Thursday for a brief four-day series of events but will close again for a process to transfer ownership and operations to the state.

“It should be governed by the state for the people…we know nothing about libraries or opera,” Dracopoulos said.

The new national library can easily accommodate the 700,000 volumes that currently make up Greece’s state depository, with eventual space for up to two million books, organizers said.

The opera has an adjoining 450-seat stage, numerous rehearsal facilities and a recording studio.

There are already concerns that the Greek state will not be able to run a project of this magnitude given its poor showing in other public areas.

The city's contemporary art museum took 16 years to open, several venues built for the 2004 Olympics were allowed to fall into disrepair, and vandalism and theft of outdoor art is rife in the city.

“The state should fulfill its obligation and run it properly. And the people should show that they respect it,” Dracopoulos said.

“If you can't run those things as a state, as a country, let's lock up everything and jump in the Mediterranean,” he added.

Founded in 1996 by one of Greece’s leading ship owning families, the Niarchos foundation has also donated some 300 million euros to Greek non-government organizations fighting poverty during the country's six-year economic crisis.


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