Banks to express their new-found status and wealth in architecture

Santiago Calatrava may have monopolized interest due to his involvement in the architecture for the Olympic Games, but the first 21st-century construction in Athens by a major European architect will be undertaken by another of his colleagues, Swiss national Mario Bota. In January, the new administrative headquarters of the National Bank of Greece at the junction of Aeolou and Sophocleous streets will be inaugurated (possibly by Prime Minister Costas Simitis), the product of a collaboration between Bota and three Greek architects: Eirini Sakellaridou, Morpho Papanikolaou and Maria Pollani. It turned out to be an exceptionally successful collaboration, despite the difficulties – the studies were carried out during the endless back and forth trips between Athens, Thessaloniki and Lugano. And most important of all, the partnership is expected to continue into the future. And, in the next few weeks, bulldozers will be beginning work on a big plot on Syngrou Avenue, near Panteion University, clearing the way for the construction of the headquarters of Ethniki General Insurance. The assignment of the work to Bota and his Greek collaborators might herald in a new phase. The logic of assigning works, popular abroad but decried in Greece, seems to be gaining support in Athens. Regular assignments – parallel to competitive tenders – indicate maturity and respect for an architect’s work. It also means that the organization assigning the work assumes overall responsibility and opportunities to meddle are limited. Bota’s involvement brings to the forefront one of big business’s forgotten activities as major commissioners of the work of architects. In Athens over the last 30 years, few banks have dared to undertake the construction of new offices and instead have contented themselves with the restoration of older buildings – generally preferring the neoclassical. The plans for a building to house the presently scattered services of Ethniki General Insurance date back to the early 1990s. The site’s excellent location was suitable for the construction of a landmark building. An architectural competition was announced, but the first prize winner never received the contract, the common fate of most architectural competitions in Greece. The issue came up again while the building on Aeolou Street was under construction. With the successful outcome of the first architectural collaboration, relations with Mario Bota solidified. Consequently, the competition was canceled and the project was directly assigned to the Swiss architect and his three Greek colleagues from Thessaloniki. Both offices are now engaged in carrying out final studies. The direct view of the Acropolis from the plot of land dictates the basic design principles. The main part of the building will be situated on the angle formed by the corner of Syngrou Avenue and Galaxia Street. The street then curves out in an arc with a view of the ancient rock. This open area will house an atrium under which the conference center will be built. A second, much lower building in the shape of a parallelogram will complement the first. According to the schedule, the new building will be ready in less than 24 months, by 2003 at the latest.