Remembering the man who redrew Thessaloniki

Ernest Hebrard (1875-1933), the enlightened French architect and city planner who redesigned the city of Thessaloniki following the great fire of 1917, has returned to the spotlight these days due to the recovery of a large part of his personal archives. The material, which was unearthed in Paris, principally consists of a rich photographic archive which has become the basis of a book; published by Potamos editions, it is due to appear shortly at local bookstores. The upcoming publication (in Greek and French) is essentially the first biography dedicated to this great figure of the early 20th century and coincides with an exhibition opening at the Thessaloniki French Institute tomorrow. The exhibition (which will run to January 30) showcases 150 photos taken by Hebrard, the man who employed inspirational methods in order to meld the traditions of East and West, in a series of works in the French colony of Indochina (later Vietnam) as well as in Greece. The architect had a thorough knowledge of Byzantine history and the architecture of the Eastern Roman Empire and traces of his contribution to the city are evident today. The renewed interest in Hebrard, however, is due to the research conducted by photography historian Haris Giakoumis, who traced nearly 1,500 photographs taken by Hebrard in Indochina, India and Greece. Hebrard began taking photos regularly when he came to Greece, together with the eastern army, in March 1917, writes Giakoumis in the book, Ernest Hebrard, Images From the Life of an Architect. After his arrival, Hebrard took photographs of numerous monuments, interspersed with ones of street scenes, and used the photographic medium to carry out plans. There are countless photos depicting Thessaloniki during the wars, together with other northern Greek cities, which he probably visited accompanied by Greek architect Aristotle Zachos in 1920. He collaborated with the governments of Eleftherios Venizelos and promoted his views on urban development. The city of Thessaloniki which emerged from the ashes in 1917, and enjoyed rational planning, is largely indebted to his vision. Hebrard stayed in Greece from 1917 to 1921, and returned several times between 1928 and 1932. In between, he lived in Vietnam where he was in charge of the local architectural administration. In Greece, Hebrard taught at the Athens National Technical University, laid the foundations for the first university campus in Thessaloniki and also worked closely with the Ministry of Education to develop an ambitious plan of constructing 3,000 schools all over the country – thus paving the way for architectural modernism. In the book, architect Aleka Karadimou-Gerolymbou, who studied Hebrard’s oeuvre, places his work in a broader framework of urban planning, while French architect Christian Pedelahore de Loddis offers an analysis of Hebrard’s activities in Indochina and the new architectural trends which emerged through the marriage of East and West. Have you ever considered writing about television, which is at the forefront of the promotion of this nothingness?

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