The architecture of Chios through different eyes

In the late 1920s, Philippos Argentis, a member of one of the leading old families of Chios, commissioned Dimitris Pikionis with a study to document the architecture of Chios. Pikionis, who was a professor at the National Technical University of Athens at the time, accepted the proposal and did systematic research for a full year, producing both text and hundreds of drawings during that time. But the study was never published in his lifetime and, in fact, remained unknown to the general public until just recently when Indiktos Publications decided to release two books – one large comprehensive edition and another concise version – on Pikionis’s study. Meanwhile, an exhibit currently on view at the Benaki Museum is displaying the related drawings, now property of the Pikionis archives but intended by the architect’s daughter to be handed over to Benaki. Both the books and the exhibit reveal the vision of one of Greece’s leading architects known for his strong theoretical views on the architecture of Greece. But more than that, they shed light on a partnership that never came to full fruition and the complex ideological clash behind its dissolution. The offspring of a bourgeois family with distant Genoese roots, Philippos Argentis was mainly interested in showing the influence that 200 years of Genoese occupation had on the island’s architecture. He was deeply concerned with studying and documenting the architecture of his homeland, but his angle was biased both by Western cultural values and class mentality. Pikionis’s angle was biased as well, but in the opposite direction. In contrast to Argentis, Pikionis found greater interest not in the island’s urban, bourgeois architecture but in the more neglected laiko (folk) architecture. His view reflected a broader «back to the roots» spirit that had reached Greece as an echo of other late 19th-century traditionalist movements (the ideas of Ruskin and William Morris are typical) but also anticipated the rejuvenation of tradition in the 1930s. By the time Pikionis started working on the Argentis project, an appreciation for Greek folk tradition had already been established. Nikolaos Politis had established the Greek Folklore Society in 1908 and people like Aristotelis Zachos and Emmanouil Kriezis had begun talking of the significance of Greek folk architecture. Pikionis worked in a similar vein, so that when he began studying the architecture of Chios, his attention went to the laika buildings he found in the distant villages of Chios, rather than the splendid mansions of the Kambos region. If Genoese architecture had any significance for him it was in showing how the local architects and craftsmen of Chios had adapted it to their own needs to produce a distinct architectural style. At the same time, Pikionis noted elements of Eastern influence in the architecture of the island, something which can be traced to the continued commercial contacts between the island and Constantinople throughout the 18th century. Clearly, Pikionis’s perspective was ill-suited to the concerns of Argentis, which is probably why the latter eventually recommissioned the study, giving it to the British architect Arnold Smith, whose unfortunate suicide a year later, however, forestalled the study for good. Deciding whose focus on the island’s architecture was closer to the truth is, to a certain degree, a matter of debate. This is largely because by the time Argentis began his project, two large disasters – the 1822 massacre of Chios and a large earthquake 60 years later – had greatly destroyed the island’s original architecture. Still, the collaboration between Pikionis and Argentis, although incomplete at the time, remains an interesting story of two men, their different viewpoints and the ways that these reflected the broader spirit of their time. Embiricos’s translated works in Russian, a project undertaken by the Greek Embassy’s Educational Department, consist of 35 poems and prose covering all the writer’s phases. Elena Sartori, a 23-year-old Russian philologist and a specialist on the poetry of Embiricos and Greek surrealism, translated and edited the text and also provided its introduction.

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