Charalambos Sfaellos retrospective at Benaki

Almost any survey of Greek architecture marks the postwar period as a turning point in its development. Beginning in the early 1950s and gradually continuing throughout the ’60s, urbanization and economic prosperity were paralleled by rapid construction around the country and changes in the urban landscape. The building of the Xenia hotels all over the country was one of the most ambitious and novel projects of its time initiated by the State to meet a growing tourist industry. Hotels of more or less uniform, modern and functional style were erected across the country but what is noteworthy about the project was the choice of esteemed architects to design many of them. Charalambos Sfaellos was one of these architects. His work is the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Benaki Museum organized by its Architecture and Photography Archives Department and curated by Margarita Sakka-Thivaiou and Aliki Tsirgialou. As the head of the Greek Tourist Organization in the 1950s, much of Sfaellos’s work focused on the Xenia hotels; he collaborated with architects Dimitris Pikionis, Prokopis Vassiliadis and Kleonas Krantonellis for the hotels in Delphi, Myconos and Nafplion, respectively, and designed the Xenia in Kastoria (jointly with Maria Zagorisiou), Argostoli, Thasos, Ypati and Tsagarada. The architectural designs for and photographs of these buildings constitute one of the three sections of the Benaki exhibition and help chart the career of an architect who in many ways also reflects the broader developments in Greek architecture. Like many of his contemporaries, Sfaellos was influenced by the work of Le Corbusier, whose ideas he was exposed to while studying in Paris, and Pikionis, who, like Anastasios Orlandos, was one of Sfaellos’s teachers at the National Technical University of Athens. From them, Sfaellos learned how to use a modern architectural style and blend it with the spirit of tradition, an idea that became prevalent in postwar Greek architecture. Aris Constantinidis, a contemporary of Sfaellos, became particularly well known for his theoretical views on the subject. Besides influencing local development in Greece, Sfaellos did much work internationally, especially in the late ’60s when he moved back to Paris to become a professor of architecture, a post which he kept until the late ’80s. Throughout this period, he also became engaged in the United Nations Development Program which involved the tourist development of West African countries. Photographs taken by Sfaellos as part of this project are included in the exhibition. Like the rest of the material on view, they form part of a rich archive donated by the architect to the Benaki and whose partial display calls attention to the work of a renowned Greek architect with a cosmopolitan perspective and diversity of output.