Words of wisdom on design

In his advice to young architects, the distinguished architect Alexandros N. Tombazis repeatedly expresses an environmental concern. «Remember that building, which is what architecture is all about, means injuring our planet. So be gentle, tread lightly, for we have only one of its kind,» he writes in «Letter to a Young Architect,» a book published by Libro and presented on the occasion of a retrospective exhibition on his work currently on display at the Benaki Museum. Back in the 1960s, Tombazis began to explore the use of solar energy and other natural sources in architecture and soon became a pioneer of bioclimatic architecture in Greece. His respect for the environment is one of the traits that recurs in the exhibition «The Invisible Thread: Alexandros Tombazis, a Retrospective.» The exhibition – organized by the Benaki Museum in collaboration with the Hellenic Institute of Architecture and Aristotle University’s Architecture Department in the School of Engineering – places photos and maquettes of the architect’s works in chronological order. It also presents a film documentary by Apostolos Karakasis on the architect’s work and a video showing a discussion between Tombazis and the Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza. A series of drawings and photos that the architect took during his various travels around the world are included to suggest the connections that Tombazis finds in different fields of art. In the exhibition, the variety of projects that A.N. Tombazis and Associate Architects has undertaken since 1963, when the office was established, becomes immediately apparent. Many of them completed outside Greece, the projects include the design of the Bin Madiya Mosque in Dubai (1982-86), the Greek Refinery Headquarters (1994-95), Cyprus University, the Candia Park Village resort in the area of Aghios Nikolaos in Crete (1988-90), the refurbishment (in collaboration with Harry Bougadellis and Associates) of the Athens Hilton Hotel and the Stavanger Concert Hall in Norway (2001). Structures designed to allow optimum sunlight to stream in and bioclimatic design features are two of the most important threads that connect the various projects. In the case of the the AVAX SA office buildings, which the Tombazis firm designed in 1992-93, bioclimatic features include a control system that measures the outdoor lighting levels and adjusts interior lighting accordingly and another system that controls ventilation and shading, therefore reducing energy consumption. The offices of the Electric Company of Cyprus were designed in the late 1990s with similar bioclimatic concerns. «Remember to make the climate your friend and not your enemy. After all, it is much stronger than you are and can be very vengeful,» Tombazis tells young architects in the Libro book. At a time of ecological crisis, this piece of advice rings more urgently than ever. As an architect, Tombazis made the protection of the environment his responsibility. The purpose is both environmental and social. «Remember that, above all, architecture is a social art which has to serve society. Your work will affect the lives of many human beings for many years to come. Winston Churchill once said, ‘We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us,’» Tombazis concludes. [email protected] «The Invisible Thread: Alexandros Tombazis, a Retrospective,» at the Benaki Museum’s Pireos annex (138 Pireos, 210.345.3111) to April 15.