Wise men: Omonia Square needs total reconstruction

Sculptor Costas Varotsos’s recent statement on behalf of the «committee of wise men,» set up by the Environment and Public Works Ministry and Athens Municipality, was straightforward: «In our recommendation to [Planning Minister] Vasso Papandreou and [Athens Mayor] Dora Bakoyianni, we unanimously propose Omonia Square’s reconstruction from the beginning.» Varotsos, the committee member who has attracted the most attention, has connected his name with the square that has been through so much, since his sculpture «The Runner» decorated it before the works for the metro began. The statement supports the radical view that all the thinking behind the square is wrong; it claims that at this point, all depends on the political decisions to be made by the leadership of the Environment and Public Works Ministry and calls on those responsible to make a brave decision. The recommendation has thrown the ball into Papandreou’s court, although circumstances indicate that total reconstruction of the square, which the team proposed, should go ahead. That view did not appear to be very popular at first, since the committee was supposedly only to make recommendations to improve Omonia Square, but it appears to be the most obvious solution right now. There are two problems, however, before reconstruction can get going: The designers will probably claim their intellectual property rights, and secondly, political responsibility has to be undertaken for the blatant failure of the project, since building the current square cost about 5.9 million euros (2 billion drachmas), and an equal sum might be needed to reconstruct it. Who will take on the responsibility of the cost and apologize to the citizens? Kathimerini traced Varotsos in Washington, where he is currently supervising the construction of a public space bearing his signature. The conversation brought him back to Greek reality, but he seemed willing to talk and did not appear resentful. «We must all admit that Omonia Square cannot really function the way it is today. In my opinion, terrible and irreparable damage has been carried out. No matter what happens from now on, it must be from the start, if we want to host the Olympic Games with a credible square.» The Greek artist did not agree with the designers’ objections that their study was not implemented, and he claimed that the design was wrong. He blamed the organizers of the architectural competition for rushing and failing to set any specific terms, insisted that one year is sufficient to create a new square, and verbally attacked the architects who were quick to discourage their colleagues from participating in the committee: «By refusing to participate in the solution of an obvious problem, architects are undermining the institution of architectural competitions themselves.» According to Varotsos, two factors led to today’s stalemate: «The design was wrong from the point of view of volume, and did not respect the structure of the square. But most of all, the study did not take into account the square’s social composition. If you are not careful, you might create ghettos of dependent people.» The leadership of the Environment, Planning and Public Works Ministry had asked the committee members to come up with two alternative plans: one with improvement ideas and another that would disregard what the square looks like today. The committee, unanimously, decided to opt for the second solution. But what provisions does it make? This is not a normal architectural study, but rather a «package of principles»: maintaining the square’s structure while emphasizing visual contact with Triti Septemvriou Street, which looks on to the Acropolis; significant additions of greenery; and the removal of resting places and stops from the square.