An architect’s surviving legacy in a new age

In terms of history, the architect, public administrator and scholar Thoukydidis Valentis (1908-1982) belongs to a world long gone. His era’s technology, daily habits, geopolitics – virtually everything, for that matter – today seem sunk in a distant past dating as far back as the 18th or 19th centuries. Everything, that is, except the buildings. The homes we live in, or the buildings we gaze at for no particular reason from car windows, continue to float above that old sunken world. While designing his first Athenian houses in the interwar period – these early projects featured simple geometrical design and unadorned flat surfaces – Valentis, unsuspectingly, and certainly not alone, was ushering in an entire century. Inherent in the architect’s early work was a vision of a new life as promised to millions of people by the period’s astonishing achievements in technology and engineering. This new life’s prospects were too big for the modest houses of the past. Like other Greek modernists, Valentis’s reputation has been limited. But this is about to change. An exhibition titled «Thoukydidis P. Valentis – The Architect,» recently inaugurated at the Macedonian Museum of Modern Art (co-organizer of the show with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki’s architectural faculty), adds to an ongoing series of initiatives taken to shed light on the modernist period. Valentis was a pioneering figure of Greece’s modernist movement. Following graduation in 1930 from the National Technical University of Athens’s architecture faculty, his prolific and multilayered career, which lasted half a decade, combined both academia and professional activity. Valentis concurrently held a high-ranking administrative post in the public sector, worked as a freelance architect and lectured at university. His pre-war work is almost entirely residential. The architect’s early efforts conveyed the efforts of a restless individual. Valentis’s designs for mansions and villas in the affluent old suburbs of Athens, such as the E. Kyriakopoulos and the Averof family estates in Nea Smyrni and Kifissia, respectively, were heavily influenced by Le Corbusier (1887-1965), the Swiss-born architect and writer renowned for his contributions to modern architecture. In the 1930s, a time when modernism was flourishing in Greece, Valentis, along with Polyvios Michailidis, designed a project that reflected the period. The project, on the corner of Zaimi and Stournari streets in central Athens, referred to as the Michailidis apartment block, depicts clarity in construction, emphasis on repetition from level to level, and horizontally linear windows, all hallmarks of the interwar period in Athens. Similar features can be found in another imposing work by Valentis, the Airforce Pension Fund building at 27 Academias Street in downtown Athens. Essentially, this building introduces a new model for office buildings, which, in the years that followed, was standardized in varying forms. Features such as the building’s protruding structural skeleton, its sub-divisioning – for the development of an arcade and stores – horizontal windows and the geometrical clarity of form are elements to be found in hundreds of office buildings in central Athens. «Thoukydidis P. Valentis – The Architect» at the Macedonian Museum of Modern Art, Thessaloniki, until February 10.