Buildings set to grow in ‘largest park’

According to an announcement by the prime minister made on February 1 this year, this was to be the biggest metropolitan park in Europe (550 hectares) worthy of a major Western city. With the passing of time, however, it appears that the site of Athens’s old east airport at Hellenikon will also be put to other uses, shrinking the park area considerably, according to a study by Professor Louis Wassenhoven of the National Technical University of Athens and commissioned by the Organization of Athens. As the designs for the park’s installations are about to be finalized, and with pressure mounting from various interest groups, a number of questions have arisen. These concern the large number of Olympic projects suggested for construction here (perhaps more than five) including their use after the Games are over, as well as shopping centers, hotels, a business park and low-density housing, a point of friction among local residents. There are also rumors that the Panathinaikos football stadium is to be situated at Hellenikon, since the football club does not appear to have resolved its dispute with the State. Local mayors have presented a counterproposal focusing on more green space and less housing. Plan leaves much to interpretation When Simitis made his announcement in February of the changes to the former airport at Hellenikon, he said in the presence of Wassenhoven that the plans had to be specific. Six months later, there is no institutional framework for developing the area and the placement of the Olympic projects is not at all specific. The proposal submitted by the National Technical University to the Athens Organization for a conference center contains the requirements for Olympic installations as determined by the Athens 2004 organization and the Public Works Ministry. What is significant is that the study makes it clear that the question of siting 210 hectares of Olympic projects there should not be considered final, since other temporary installations have not been ruled out. According to information to date, it is not clear which Olympic installations are to be sited at Hellenikon. The original study provided for the field hockey, softball and baseball playing fields and two indoor gymnasiums, but after several revisions, the State appears to want to transfer the canoe and kayak slalom course to Hellenikon from Schinias. The National Technical University of Athens study also sets out both general and specific construction conditions and restrictions for the conference-exhibition center and associated activities. The maximum area permitted for its use is set at 10 percent. The study’s final version presents a proposal for the post-Olympic period for the exhibition center, focusing on the old east airport terminal. The proposal for the northern end of the site is for a business park which would also utilize the joint car park. A high-density shopping center is planned for the western end, and a model housing settlement on the southern end, although its extent has not been specified. Lower on the southern side a series of hotels have been planned, and considerable office and other commercial space at the northern end.   The central section is destined to be the actual green space, with an aquarium, recreation area, a belvedere and other light recreational facilities, including space for municipal cultural and social activities. Complete data on the Wassenhoven study has not yet been announced, although the National Technical University’s department of zoning and housing development was assigned the project in 1995. At first, the designers focused on the development of the Hellenikon site after the airport’s closure. Another study on how to transform it into a recreational area was never completed. Instead, a special study was carried out toward expanding the possibilities for Olympic Games venues there. Green, please National Technical University of Athens professor Yiannis Polyzos emphasized the need for the area around the park to be unified and to reflect today’s needs for quality recreation. It is very important to be clear about the character of the park. If the State decides to create a park, it should consist chiefly of green, open spaces. This means that its post-Olympic use should be assumed. The old runways should be dismantled and the concrete recycled. Existing buildings should be made use of, particularly the old east airport terminal, which happens to be the work of the architect Eero Saarinen, he said. However, the design gives the impression that no one has yet worked out what the park’s image should be. The size of buildings permitted to be built in the park has been increased – according to the details of the Wassenhoven report – and no one knows if the measure will be extended to the entire coastal front, said Polyzos. At the same time, the fact that all the Olympic installations in the area are to be prefabricated creates some uncertainty about their use after the Games. Resorting to prefabricated structures in such a systematic way indicates the State’s concern about the approaching deadline, so it seems a luxury to to be able to talk about their use after the Games, he added. The State could decide to turn the site into a sports complex or a recreational area. Whatever other uses the site is put to, said Polyzos, none of them should detract from the concept of a park as understood by international standards. A match made in heaven? A football stadium in search of a home and an old, lonely airport One of the recent rumors circulating among the fans in the grandstands at soccer matches recently is whether the PAE Panathinaikos stadium will be transferred to the site of the old airport at Hellenikon, and cover a 20- hectare area. The idea was put forward by the Public Works Ministry, although PAE Panathinaikos’s position has not yet been made clear, as the reply by its president, Angelos Philippidis, could be interpreted in several ways. We do not have an assertive opinion about any of the proposals that have been made to us from time to time, he said on hearing of this prospect. It has been known for some time that Panathinaikos wants to move. However, people also remember that the original proposal was for a transfer to the Goudi Park. Yet despite strong pressure, the plan did not go ahead. Then, the region of Elaionas was raised as a counterproposal by Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos, although the ministry did not commit itself. PAE’s management has not ruled out Elaionas, but clearly the proximity to the turf of rival Olympiakos would create problems. In the end, it was decided that the team’s leaders would make its own financial and technical study and then decide. Prior to the Hellenikon, the idea of the area behind the park at Galatsi had been suggested, although rejected almost unanimously because of its restricted access and due to local opposition. It now appears more likely that Hellenikon will get the stadium, a prospect that has caused great concern among local residents and environmental organizations who declare they will vehemently oppose plan. Municipalities’ counterproposals Early this summer, the municipalities of Hellenikon, Glyfada, Argyroupolis and Alimos which surround the old airport commissioned their own study on how to refurbish the area, a study that was quite different from the official one produced by the National Technical University of Athens. This plan is free of housing and commercial construction and emphasizes recreational use and the establishment of green spaces. The study, presented to the media last June, has not yet been approved by the local municipal councils but is clearly oriented toward three main uses – green space, cultural activities and recreation – so that the new park should not include model housing, commercial areas, hotels, or a business park. The municipal study, carried out by Attica Environmental Refurbishments, has as its focus a natural environment throughout the park. In the northern sector, where there are now blocks of high-density housing development, a modern administration center could be established including local government offices (such as the Hellenikon Town Hall) and other municipal buildings for the purpose of better serving the public. The old east airport terminal would be converted into a conference center. There is no objection to plans for Olympic installations, despite the fact that it appears there will be more than the original five, as long as these are removed after the Games are over. The plan also suggests retaining the old aircraft hangars and many of the buildings at the former US military base as a way of remembering the past.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.