The Aegean as a sprawling city

Theoretically, the Aegean islands could be seen as a massive, sprawling city detailed with various centers and peripheries, and populated by permanent residents, visitors and immigrants. This idea, courtesy of historian Spyros Asdrachas, will imbue Greek projects to be shown at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, which will take place from September 10 to November 19. The 10th Biennale, titled «Cities, Architecture and Society,» will focus on the major issues that big cities have to face around the world, including immigration, social disintegration, hesitancy toward sustainable development policies and social cohesion. Four architects (Katerina Kotzia, Ilias Constantopoulos, Lois Papadopoulos and Korina Filoxenidou) will present projects and plans examining the Aegean as a united city encompassing many communities. The architects were inspired by Asdrachas as well as a book by Italian philosopher and current mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, who wrote that the Aegean is a living allegory of social tolerance. In the exhibition’s catalogue, various artists, photographers, filmmakers and poets with ties to the Aegean write down experiences and feelings about their relationships to the area. «Instead of isolating the islands, the sea brings them together and creates a particular, large European city which during winter has more than a million residents and in the summer about five to six million,» Lois Papadopoulos, a university professor, told Kathimerini. «It fills up and then becomes empty again like a living body. Summer visitors don’t just go to hotels, they blend in with the communities which are like sponges.» Papadopoulos said immigrants have revitalized the Aegean islands in the past few years. «From antiquity to this day it has a fully organized supply network, from Crete to Macedonia and from Rhodes to the Peloponnese,» she said. Papadopoulos said this view of the Aegean is more up-to-date than ever. «Lately we have perceived that cities live outside their traditional centers, especially after what happened in Paris,» she said. «We have observed that the standard definition of the European city as we have experienced it for the past couple of centuries is no longer valid. Today, we have the historical center with its monuments and its boulevards, which have been turned into museums of urban life, but all the developments take place in the periphery, where the largest part of the population lives. Hence it would also be wrong to regard the Aegean as many small communities under the Mediterranean light. The Aegean contains different types of urban life. Greek island life describes a way of co-habitation and joint development throughout the centuries.» The architectural group’s first action was undertaken recently, when 10 distinguished Greek architects met up at the ruins of Xenia Hotel in Andros and discussed the concept of the Aegean city. The meeting, which was filmed, will be the focus of a documentary to be screened at the Greek stand in Venice.