Aegean architecture celebrated

Inspired by Dimitris Pikionis, who taught them at the National Technical University, Dinos Michailidis and his fellow students used to take to the mountains to study traditional architecture more than 50 years ago. Now, with a successful academic career behind him, Michailidis has used his collection of more than 10,000 slides to create the book he long dreamed of, «The Aegean Crucible.» It is a detailed study linking history and economics to highlight the worth of traditional architecture. «In the early days they used to see me as a strange bird,» he recalls. When international style and modernism reigned supreme, study of the spontaneous, anonymous architecture of the Greek islands was an oddity. Mihailidis was encouraged by the famous theoretician Edward Sekler, who advised him to give a lecture at Harvard, saying, «If you pursue it, you’ll arouse interest.» Gradually, with the support of the American Union of Architects, Michailidis completed his first study of the island of Hydra, which was published in 1967 by the University of Chicago Press. Settling in the US in 1960, he taught at Washington University in St Louis and in Ohio, while building up a unique archive in pursuit of his aim. «Every time I came to Greece, I would take photographs of an island. I always believed that the economy of the Aegean produced its special architecture.» In a profound geopolitical analysis, he compares the entire Mediterranean, concluding that its economy was based on a mix of maritime competition and small, home-based industry. «It was the work of many years,» he said. «That’s why I ended up publishing it myself, so as to have the book I wanted.» From a family with varied roots in Smyrna, Syros, the Peloponnese and Cephalonia, Michailidis grew up in Amerikis Square, in downtown Athens. He was exposed to the wisdom of vernacular architecture at a time when Greece was trying to get back on its feet. «Greece was an introverted country then; it had little contact with the outside world,» he said. When he helped document destroyed villages, the discovery of traditional architecture was a magical awakening for him, «and the beginning of a journey.»