Bank puts its faith in a building for a new era

The new administration building of the National Bank on the corner of Aeolou and Sophocleous streets, which Prime Minister Costas Simitis is scheduled to officially inaugurate on January 21, symbolizes a new era for the bank. After a long period of timidity, it seems as if major economic organizations have regained their faith in modern architecture. The decision by the bank’s administrators, to conduct a competition for the design of the building and to have the winning entry built immediately, has brought architecture back into the limelight. In many ways, it was just a matter of time. Rapid economic developments in Greece in recent years need to be expressed in architectural form, and this led the National Bank’s administrators to seek an appropriate building for their headquarters. The bank’s new building also represents a high point in Greek architecture, designed as it was by Greek women: Eirini Sakellaridou, Morfo Papanicolaou and Maria Pollani. Internationally renowned Swiss architect Mario Bota acted as special consultant, but the three Greek architects shouldered the burden of the complex project, which included resolving important matters of principle. The plot of land contains significant antiquities which had to be harmoniously incorporated into the building site. The perimeter trench of the ancient wall and the Acharnian Gate are part of a larger archaeological site. «The archaeological finds were reconsidered for inclusion during the final draft of the study,» explains Sakellaridou. «We had to highlight much more than we had been asked to for the competition. So, we treated the antiquities as one of the most basic elements of the building.» The ground floor was virtually removed; the building is supported on four pylons. The remaining surface is clad in glass which allows an uninterrupted view of the antiquities. Conserving a large part of the antiquities had an effect on the layout of the interior. An atrium with a transparent roof lets in natural light: «We tried to incorporate the various uses of the different floors – meeting rooms, offices, and restaurant – into a uniform whole, and the concept of the atrium helped form an internal core,» Pollani told Kathimerini. The sand-colored tufa stone used in the building was chosen for similar reasons: «We wanted the new building to blend in with its neighbors,» says Papanicoloau, who points out an interesting detail. «The tufa of the facade is divided horizontally, so as to be more or less noticeable according to the light and shade. It is a little game, as if the facade of the building changes with the light during the day.»