Glittering prizes amid the ruins

The National Technical University is projecting two contradictory images these days. On one hand there’s a useful ongoing initiative of the Architectural Network of the Ministry of Culture, which in collaboration with the school’s Department of Architecture is presenting an exhibition of the Mies van der Rohe European Architectural Awards; this show is currently on display at the university’s renovated deanery wing until Friday. On the other hand, however, lies the harsh reality: The university’s building complex is, quite frankly, a mess. Walls are tumbling down, and there’s graffiti everywhere, on the floor, on the mosaics, even in the boiler rooms, not to mention the out-of-control bill postering. Those who defend the total chaos that reigns in Greek educational institutions offer a positive view of the situation: They consider this to be healthy proof of the restless spirit of the young. That’s one way of looking at things. Yet one can’t stop thinking that if the Greek State – and eventually the whole of Greek society – cannot protect a building of the Technical University’s caliber from destruction, then what kind of an audience is it targeting when presenting an exhibition that features the top 37 European architectural works from last year? It cannot possibly hope to offer much more than a drop of relief in an ocean of ugliness. In any case, although this effort seems like an unequal battle against the elements, you have to start from somewhere, even though the old question returns tirelessly: How does one go about inspiring the general public to attend a show on architectural matters, when aesthetically, Athenian daily life is at such a low point? Furthermore, why is it that while the National Archaeological Museum next door is going to be completely revamped – it is closing its doors for two years in order to welcome 2004 in a wholly new way – the National Technical University does not seize the opportunity to do some housecleaning? Not to mention the old plan for creating an underground link between the museum and the university. The European Architectural Awards were established in 1988, following a joint initiative on behalf of the Barcelona-based Mies van der Rohe foundation – dedicated to the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the highly influential German-born 20th-century architect – and the Council of Europe. They are awarded every two years by an impressive panel comprising members of various European architectural associations as well as professors, and there are usually no more than 40 works that reach the final stage of the competition. This year the committee’s grand award went to Rafael Moneo for his design of the Kursaal conference center in San Sebastian, Spain, while a special mention of work by a young architect was given to Florian Negler for his design of a company transport center in Germany. As for Greece’s participation, two Greek projects reached the final stage: a private residence in Palaio Psychico, which was designed by architect Zoe Samourka, and the new gates standing at the Helexpo complex in Thessaloniki, developed by architect trio Katerina Tsigarida, Alexandros Skouvaklis and Nikos Kalogirou.

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