CULTURE

A new approach to Greek buildings of interwar period

While the Thirties Generation in Greek painting, sculpture and literature have gained significant recognition, the architects of the period are viewed with some embarrassment. It is not that the interwar period left no mark on Greece’s built-up environment. On the contrary, Greek architecture made unprecedented progress between the two world wars, showing surprising depth and pluralism. But while the Thirties Generation in architecture has only recently begun to emerge from mothballs in recent years, absolute darkness continues to cover the contribution of those who preceded it and were not necessarily connected to radical modernism. The bilingual Greek-English volume «Twelve Greek Architects of the Interwar Period,» by Eleni Fessa-Emmanouil and Emmanouil V. Marmaras, translated by Judy Yiannakopoulou and published by Crete University Publications, aims to fill just that gap in the literature and public discourse. It presents 12 notable architects of the interwar period, and corrects a misunderstanding. Greek architecture did not move automatically and in a coordinated fashion from neoclassicism to modernism. Between the two was a transitional phase in 20th century Greek architecture, one that was much more exciting in many ways. This book is unusual in giving the protagonists of that phase, the architects themselves, an opportunity to speak for themselves. «We let them speak for themselves, without trying to interpret them in terms of some theoretical construct or to force them into some mold of thought,» explains Fessa-Emmanouil, historian of Greek architecture and Athens University professor. The criteria for choosing the 12 were «modernity, the authenticity of their interwar work, their influence and adequate documentation,» and the aim was to represent all generations and trends. The 337-page book does not cover architects who were mainly active after the war or whose work was less influential than their contribution to education and ideas, nor does it include those who work has already been thoroughly covered by other publications, such as Panos Tzelepis (1894-1976) or Angelos Siagas (1899-1987). The best-publicized figures of the modernist movement – the Thirties Generation – are there, of course: Nikolaos Mitsakis, Kyriakoulis Panayiotakos, Patroklos Karantinos and the less well-known Vassileios Douras. But the presentation of the earlier generations of the 1910s and ’20s illuminates an almost blank page of Greek architectural history. It has been blank largely because the academic establishment of architecture schools – identified ideologically with the modernist tradition – have not had the generosity to acknowledge the virtues and contribution of earlier creators who experienced and recorded the passage from one era to the next. Generations of graduates from the National Technical University grew up with the dogmatic notion that the Greek interwar period only acquired value after 1930. The emphasis on personalities allows room for discussion of their private lives, making this book enjoyable for the general reader. The 12 chapters, each dedicated to one architect, include brief biographies, «not exhaustive ones,» says Marmaras, a professor at the University of the Aegean. Their professional activities are recorded alongside their personal lives and, inevitably, the climate and the atmosphere of the era. «The correspondences between the character and the work are exciting,» says Marmaras. «For example, you would expect the architect of the blue apartment building, Kyriakoulis Panayiotakos, to be a bohemian type, but he turns out to have been a gentle, rather introverted person who adored classical music.» Twelve architects who left their stamp on Greece Aristotelis Zachos (1871-1939). A leading figure in 20th century Greek architecture and the first to raise the issue of tradition and modernism. A supporter of traditional vernacular architecture, he blended its realistic, functional and colorful qualities with the new technical capabilities and needs of the era. He helped to update the style of the urban detached house and to authentically modernize church architecture in Greece. Constantinos Kyriakidis (1881-1942). An ultra-eclectic architect who came to Greece in 1926 from Istanbul, leaving behind a significant body of work. In Athens, he concentrated on apartment blocks. A major representative of eclectic classicism in Greece, a fine painter and an excellent designer. The N. Lykiardopoulou apartment block on Amalias Avenue (home to the UN in Athens) is an example of his work. Nikolaos Nikolaidis (1891-1967). A member of the «transitional» Twenties Generation; went from eclecticism to radical modernism; the first period was more substantial. He made a constructive contribution to the morphology of the apartment block, and left many well-known works in central Athens. The brother of Apostolos Nikolaidis, who designed the Panathenaic Stadium, he designed the seating for the stadium along Tsocha Street. Costas Kitsikis (1892-1969). Introduced the city apartment block to Athens. In the 1930s, he designed numerous classical-modern blocks (with the top floor protruding). A cosmopolitan spirit, he saw the future of Greek architecture through synchronization with international developments. Disliked by academia, he is considered to be the originator of the European Cultural Center of Delphi. Manolis Lazaridis (1894-1961). Designed the Monument to the Unknown Soldier. With French influences, and highly skilled, he played a decisive part in modernizing urban architecture. He has been ignored to a large extent, since he did not join either the «traditional-local» school or the «modernists» of the 1930s. Dimitris Fotiadis (1894-1974). An inspired personality, Fotiadis was among those who updated urban architectural tradition. Despite health problems, he created his own personal idiom, mixed with influences of art deco. Favored a mildly urbanized architecture, especially in suburban housing, and left his stamp on the evolution of the Athenian apartment block. Giorgos Kontoleon (1896-1952). An early modernist who did not receive the recognition he deserved due to personal problems and unfavorable circumstances. A charming cosmopolitan who loved beauty and solitary nature. His non-conformist work was «a contribution to the history of the Greek and European Modern Movement,» according to Dimitris Pikionis. Leonidas Bonis (1896-1963). Another misunderstood figure, due to his French education. A modernizing spirit, he designed (in collaboration with Vassileios Cassandras) two emblematic buildings in downtown Athens – the Army Pension Fund building and the Rex Theater. Nikolaos Mitsakis (1899-1941). Interwar modernist par excellence. His work can be seen mainly in the Education Ministry’s innovative school building project of the interwar years. An intellectual and the inseparable friend of Spyros Papaloukas, Pikionis and Spyros Lengeris. Died aged 42 in a traffic accident. Kyriakoulis Panayiotakos (1902-1982). An introverted, cultivated music lover. A prime example of his work is the blue apartment block in Exarchia. Responsible for some of the most inspired examples of Greek modernism. Patroklos Karantinos (1903-1976). The standard bearer of militant modernism. A fiery ideologue, he was often intransigent. The schools he designed are often studies in modernism. Remained faithful to the end to the principles of rationalism and functionalism. Vassileios Douras (1904-1981). Douras left a small but significant body of work. One of the most important modernists of the interwar period, he was notable for his clarity of expression. He designed the homes of Nikos Kazantzakis (on Aegina) and Pantelis Prevelakis (in Ekali).