Acropolis Museum to be ‘anti-Bilbao’

Bernard Tschumi’s visits to Athens are far from idyllic. For the past few months, ever since the French Swiss architect and his Greek colleague Michalis Fotiadis won first prize in the architectural competition for the new Acropolis museum, Tschumi has had to make regular trips back to Athens. These visits are full of meetings, discussions and speeches, but that doesn’t bother him; he is used to dividing his time between New York and Paris (where he has two offices), as well as Athens, Sao Paolo and Florida, where his designs are being built. He spoke to Kathimerini on February 19, before flying to New York. There is no reference to the new Acropolis museum on your website. What does this small detail mean? Not what you think. Ever since we won the competition we have had to clarify lots of things, mainly technical in nature. Each city has its peculiarities. For example, Athens is in an earthquake-prone area and this is a factor we have to look at very closely. At the rate we are going, we will be able to provide the final study in a few weeks. It is this final design that we want to put on the Internet, and not something that might not apply. So we shouldn’t worry. There is some concern as to whether the museum will be ready by 2004, and that is understandable. But let me tell you that a few years ago we managed to complete a project in 13 months because the government of the country wanted it ready before elections. In recent years, and especially after the unprecedented publicity surrounding the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, there has been a great deal of talk about what a museum is and what it represents. In my view, there are two kinds of museums: museums that don’t have a collection and have to do something to attract the public’s attention, and museums that have collections and whose only task is simply to increase the level of interest. The Bilbao didn’t have a collection; the new Acropolis museum will have one. And what a collection! I know in every detail what will be in the museum in Athens. Frank Gehry had no idea what would be in the Bilbao museum. In Athens we have natural light; most of the new generation of museums use artificial light. The new Acropolis museum is, above all, a museum of natural light that focuses on the sculptures exhibited in its interior. So we could describe it as «anti-Bilbao.» You live in New York and Paris. What do you have to say about Athens in 2002? Athens is in a transitional phase, and this is apparent. I think it is connected with what has been happening in Greece in recent years. The country is becoming an organic part of the European setup, and this is something which will certainly have an effect on the physiognomy of the city. Athens will grow even larger; this is the fate of metropolitan centers. Personally I adore big cities, so this doesn’t bother me. Does Athens look different to you now from the time of your first trip? I came to Athens for the first time as a student, at the end of the 1960s. It would be silly to say nothing has changed; that was 30 years ago. Yes, Athens has changed a lot, but in no way would I say it has been for the worse. There are cities which change but which lose their character at the same time. I don’t want to name names, but look at Brussels. It was a different city 30 years ago. The Olympiad has nourished hopes among Athenians for improvements in the city and their lives. Some speak of it as a «last chance.» I totally disagree. Cities are living organisms that develop. No city has a last chance.

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