Historic building in Athens to become new shopping center

Transforming a 1930s listed heritage building into a modern shopping center right in the heart of Athens is undoubtedly an ambitious and very complex project. The building in question is that of the former Army Providence Fund (MTS), which will soon become a shopping and entertainment complex under the name «City Link.» According to the timetable of PICAR, the subsidiary of Piraeus Real Estate which is participating in the project, the mall will receive its first visitors in spring 2005. Restoration works are now in the final stages, making PICAR optimistic it will meet its deadline, following repeated postponements of opening even a part of the mall. This project will mean different things to different people: For PICAR, turning the MTS Mansion into a successful shopping center is a huge bet; for the commercial real estate sector, it will be like a compass; for most shopkeepers in the area, it will be a potential threat; and for the architects involved in the project’s various phases, it is a real challenge. One of them is architect Yiannis Kizis, a professor at the National Technical University of Athens, who told Kathimerini: «PICAR has placed special emphasis on promoting significant preservable elements, which stand out from contemporary commercial investments in shops. This is why it came to Kizis and Partners, which specializes in preparing modern interventions in historic buildings, for the architectural study and care of preservable elements and special areas, including preservation and transformation of the Pallas and Aliki theaters, the Spyromiliou Arcade and the front side of shops around the ground floor. Based on these studies, which complement the one by Stelios Agiostratitis that dealt with the initial and very crucial phase of reusing the mansion, the building will get its final shape,» Kizis says. Art deco example The MTS Mansion was built between 1928 and 1940 in three stages: Stadiou Street, Pallas Theater and Panepistimiou Street. Its side on Stadiou, in particular, is a characteristic example of art deco, while the one on Panepistimiou represents modern classicism. It is located close to Syntagma Square, occupying an entire block, defined by the streeets of Panepistimiou, Voukourestiou (which will be pedestrianized), Stadiou and Amerikis. PICAR officials admit turning the building into a mall was harder than expected, repeatedly putting off its opening date. City Link now fulfills all anti-earthquake regulations, and will occupy 57,000 sq.m. Attika department stores will take up 23,000 sq.m., the administration offices of Piraeus Bank will cover 15,000 sq.m., Holmes Place gym will occupy 3,000 sq.m. and the rest will be split into restaurants, theaters, luxury shops, a nightclub and common spaces. The obvious lack of circular movement for consumers/visitors in City Link follows the pattern of big shopping centers abroad. Kizis explains: «The original idea for building the mansion included the ability to walk through the building, from side to side… Then the idea was abandoned and the Pallas Theater was built, stopping circular movement around the building.» Studying the original ideas indicated the next step as well: The building will now include a spa, an unusual and profitable idea that was not considered at first. The Spyromiliou Arcade will also become the center of commercial activity inside City Link: «With the appropriate formation, the arcade will host tables and chairs on the one side and shops on the other, making the most of the space inside the arcade,» Kizis states. Glass roof There will also be a transparent roof, 20 meters above, flattering the sides of the building at their full height. This glass roof will allow natural light and air in but will protect the arcade from rain. The ground floor will have a split level, letting light through to the basement where the spa will be. «Thus with the development of new uses, maintenance of original preservable elements and the introduction of modern architectural ‘gestures,’ the Spyromiliou Arcade evolves into a strong urban location,» underscores Kizis. Five preservable staircases from the 1930s will be a point of focus, with their extraordinary marble, wavy steps and peculiar windows of excellent ironwork. Further care has been taken for shop windows on the ground floor to have a uniform look, to preserve the mansion’s character. Extensive maintenance and transformation work is programmed for the Pallas Theater, too. The preliminary study by Kizis’s company is complete, providing for the protection of the architectural characteristics of art deco and the preservation of the style and flavor of that time. The theater is being modernized, the stage gains extra depth and the acoustics and the lighting of the hall are to be improved.