NEWS

Hope for refugee buildings?

A Council of State judge will advise fellow-councillors to reverse a government decision to demolish a historically and architecturally important group of buildings in central Athens, reports said yesterday. In a move strongly criticized by academics, architects and local residents, top Culture Ministry officials in late October approved Public Works Ministry plans to demolish six of the eight 1930s refugee housing blocks on central Alexandras Avenue and create a park in their place. The three-story buildings, which stand opposite the Panathinaikos soccer ground and stretch northward toward the Elpis hospital, were built for refugees from Asia Minor who fled to Greece after the 1919-22 Greco-Turkish war. They form an important part of the capital’s sorely-depleted architectural heritage. On December 16, the fifth division of the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court, issued a provisional order that suspended demolition work pending a final ruling this month on an appeal brought by architects and local residents. According to press reports yesterday, rapporteur Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou has concluded that the government is obliged to preserve the entire group of buildings for their historic, architectural and social significance, as well as importance as an example of town planning. Furthermore, Sakellaropoulou will advise fellow-judges that the Culture Ministry should have listed the entire group as a protected monument. The rapporteur will also reportedly recommend that the court rejects government arguments that the buildings – which weathered the 1999 earthquake virtually unscathed – did not comply with modern earthquake safety standards and would be too expensive to conserve and maintain. The government has already expropriated more than half of the 228 apartments. Designed in the spirit of the Bauhaus-inspired modernist movement, the blocks are surrounded by open ground which conservationists want planted with trees.