Historic complex saved

An historically and architecturally significant central Athens housing complex is to escape demolition following a decision by Greece’s top administrative court that was made public yesterday. Responding to an appeal by citizens’ groups and architects, the Fifth Section of the Council of State rejected as insufficiently justified an October 2003 Culture Ministry decision to allow the destruction of all but two of the eight 1930s refugee housing blocks on Alexandras Avenue. The buildings were to have been knocked down to make way for a park – that was supposed to have been completed in time for the August Olympics. While admitting that the complex – built in the Bauhaus-inspired modernist style to house refugees from Asia Minor after the calamitous 1919-22 Greco-Turkish war – was of particular historic, social and architectural importance, the ministry had then proceeded to list only two of the buildings as meriting protection. Ministry officials had argued that it would be too expensive to properly conserve and repair the entire complex. But the Council of State ruled that, in cases of heritage, cost should not be a concern. Designed by architects Kimon Laskaris and Dimitris Kyriakos, the complex of ochre-painted, three-story blocks – several of which are still pock-marked with bullet holes from the Civil War – occupies over a hectare of prime land between the Panathinaikos soccer ground, the Elpis and Aghios Savvas hospitals and the Supreme Court building. With its modest proportions, the now sorely dilapidated complex forms a much-needed break in the densely built-up city center. The ruling made public yesterday followed a preliminary decision last December, which suspended planned demolition work. Over half of the 228 apartments have already been expropriated.