From old factory to new art

The Athens Concert Hall’s almost-full room, Anna Kafetsi’s certainty and the stimulating images of the architectural presentation managed to change, in the course of one afternoon, the atmosphere of disbelief that has surrounded the adventurous transformation of the former Fix factory into the National Museum of Contemporary Art. «The museum will be ready in August 2007,» said museum director Anna Kafetsi, under the gaze of Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis at the recent lecture given by the architects who won first prize in the 2002 competition for the museum. The designers had to overcome a multitude of smaller and larger misunderstandings, as well as problems. For a specialized segment of the public, Fix may represent a great moment in Greek industrial architecture by Takis Zenetos, but society’s reaction to the old factory has not always been warm. Lengthy abandonment has resulted in the building’s decline: the most substantial element in Zenetos’s design – the horizontal lines on the Syngrou facade that gave the impression of a bright ocean liner anchored at the entrance of the city – have either been covered by advertising posters or are broken. Moreover, the building has been reduced to half its original size in a few years: a major part of the construction was pulled down as part of the metro works. Hence, in theory no one wanted the half-sized Fix building: the area’s residents would be happy to see it demolished, while architects view it as a painful reminder of the state’s indifference to modern architecture. So, the new designers had to satisfy everyone. They had to inject into the museum Takis Zenetos’s pioneering spirit and at the same time give the city an aesthetically upgraded building, which will bear no resemblance to the current, familiar ruin. Reference to Ilissos The goal was hard, yet they accomplished. According to architect Kalliopi Kontozoglou, the main speaker at the lecture, Takis Zenetos’s facades on Syngrou and Frantzi streets will be maintained. The transition to the future will be evident mainly from Kallirois Avenue, where the basic concept of the design will be clearly expressed. This is where a symbolic reminder of the area’s topography is being attempted: the section of the Ilissos River which used to flow until the 1950s, when it was covered by Kallirois Avenue, will make a comeback through the rock «curtain» that will dress the museum entrance, a reference to the river bed’s sedimentary rocks, and through the water wall which will be situated on the ground floor, between the bulk of the exhibitions and the ground. What may be the greatest disadvantage of Fix, the lack of outdoor areas, will be counterbalanced with the development of an atrium on the huge ground floor, which will be about 30 meters high, and the full use of the upstairs chamber. The outdoor sculpture hall will be shaped spirally in a maze-like garden, while the restaurant will offer a unique view of the city. As Kontozoglou pointed out at the end of her speech, «the museum will give back to the city what it took from it.»

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