Architecture without architects: When designs by award winners are changed or bypassed

Kathimerini’s interview with Yiannis Kalantidis, the president of the office for the Unification of Athens Archaeological Sites (EAXA), about problems arising from three award-winning studies for Athens’s main squares (Omonia, Syntagma and Monastiraki) caused a storm of protest from the usually silent community of Greek architects. In the interview, reported in Kathimerini on March 9, Kalantidis commented, «If we were to start over, I would not hold [architectural] competitions.» He also suggested that the architects concerned were inexperienced, due to their youth, and that Athens would have to pay the price for this. The first to react were the teams that conducted the studies for Omonia and Monastiraki squares. Below are extracts from their letters, edited for reasons of space. But the response from architects was not restricted to those letters. Kathimerini heard about ongoing interventions which, though lacking any institutional legitimacy, altered or nullified studies and plans. In one case, a member of the political leadership of the Culture Ministry, during a visit to the archaeological site of Olympia, abolished on the spot some entrance kiosks that had been approved by the appropriate authorities. Competition judges upset Some members of the committees which judged the architectural competitions also appear to be upset, and they probably find themselves in a difficult position when the studies are not implemented. Among the members of the committee that judged the competition for Monastiraki Square was Kalantidis himself. Similar problems to those affecting the plans for the squares have arisen in connection with studies of ways to highlight archaeological sites. The pedestrianization of Adrianou Street, work on the slopes of the Kerameikos and the Ancient Agora are racing ahead, without taking the architects’ studies into account. Even on Aeropagitou Dionysiou Street, EAXA’s flagship, there are snags which may have considerable consequences for the final result. Kalantidis contacted Kathimerini to express his desire for a one-day conference – jointly organized by EAXA and the Architects’ Association – on architectural competitions in Greece. Let us hope that this is the beginning of a process that may end this impasse. After all, it’s never too late.