From sports facilities to cultural infrastructure as the capital’s physical renaissance continues

Close you eyes and imagine life in Athens as it was a year ago. Imagine the construction sites, dust, closed-off streets, stress, anxiety over the Calatrava-conceived roof over the main Olympic Stadium, the bad press internationally. That is all in the past, and yet some Athenians still miss the rush of that time. The feeling (or, rather, the illusion) that the capital’s evolution came to a standstill after the Olympic Games is like a balloon gone flat. But cities are not balloons and illusions are never a good guide. Cultural shakeup Life goes on and we still have our construction sites. But they are no longer building stadiums and arenas. Over the next three or four years, the capital is in for its biggest program of cultural infrastructure development in modern times, and it’s not some kind of planned government program. Many may shake their heads in dismay, but let’s not jump the gun. The government may be slow and we may hold it responsible for the city’s cultural infrastructure, but the flip side of the coin is that this very problem has helped awaken private initiative. Indeed, two of the biggest projects currently underway in Athens – the House of Letters and Arts being constructed on Syngrou Avenue by the Alexandros Onassis Cultural Foundation and the extension of the Hellenic World venue of the Foundation for Greater Hellenism on Pireos – have not received a single cent from state coffers. On a symbolic level, however, the most talked-about project is the New Acropolis Museum, where the ground has been broken on a controversial plot in Makriyianni. Construction of this museum, along the plans of architects Bernard Tschumi and Michalis Fotiadis, have already begun and by May we should be able to see the building pushing out of the ground. Any antiquities buried under the museum are being protected by balancing the building on special pylons. According to reports, the New Acropolis Museum should be ready for delivery by the end of 2007. Onasseio statement Also on Syngrou, about one kilometer further south, between the Ethniki Insurance building and a new entertainment complex being constructed by Kontellis Group, the Alexandros Onassis Foundation is erecting the House of Letters and Arts, a cultural ark dressed in glass. Designed by the French firm Architecture Studio, the building will have an 18,000 sq.m. interior which will include a 1,000 seat amphitheater capable of hosting symphonic music concerts, opera and dance productions, two smaller theaters of 100 and 300 seats respectively, an exhibition space that will spread across an entire floor of the building, a library of rare tomes, a professional recording studio, a restaurant (indoor and open-air) and other auxiliary rooms. The Hellenic World venue of the Foundation for Greater Hellenism on Pireos Street represents the first concerted effort in Greece to combine education programs, new technologies and recreation. Today, the 6.5 hectares of the old Viosol factory, which stands next to the venue, is being put to use for an ambitious program that is already being developed. Dome on Pireos On the left of the existing building, work has already begun on a large, digital dome (designed by architects Giorgos Andreadis, Yiannis Tsiomis and Natalia Efraimoglou), which will set the tone for the rest of the complex. Lights ring around the dome and special effects will give the dome the appearance of a stellar body floating in space. Its similarity to a planetarium is obvious, yet the dome will have a different function: Plans call for it to serve as an interactive, virtual-reality theater, the likes of which exists only in New York. Once complete, the theater, which will be right behind the dome, will have a capacity of 1,100, but thanks to the technology being employed, it may also be separated into two smaller venues. The Fix makeover The reconstruction of the former Fix brewery on Syngrou should remove Athens from the shameful list of big cities without a contemporary art museum. The National Museum of Contemporary Art has officially been in existence since 1999, but in fact it has been without a permanent home, currently residing, for example, in the new wing of the Athens Concert Hall on Vassilissis Sofias Avenue. The Attiko Metro SA company, official owner of the Fix brewery, has given it over to use by the Ministry of Culture on a 50-year contract, paving the way for the establishment of the museum. The architectural tender for the project was awarded to one of Athens’s most respected firms, 3SK Stylianidis Architects, whose plans include keeping the feel of original architect Takis Zenetos’s facades on Syngrou and Frantzi with the striking horizontal glass panel work. The Kallirois side of the building is being designed in such a way that will draw references to the site’s historical background, while the Ilissos River, which was paved over to construct Kallirois Street, will make a brief symbolic appearance behind a glass curtain at the building’s main entrance. The absence of an atrium is balanced by the roof, which will have a restaurant (with an Acropolis view) and an open-air sculpture gallery. So far, the building is expected to be ready in 2007. It will be a happy day when this eyesore in the center of the city is finally transformed into something new. Film Library leap The Greek Film Library will take a giant leap from its Kolonaki premises to Metaxourgeio. Its new premises, in the former Lais Cinema, will also be its own, meaning that it will no longer be threatened with eviction as it has been for so many years from Kanari Street. It will boast two indoor screening theaters and an open-air theater, which is, in fact, the old cinema revamped. The larger of the two indoor cinemas, seating 200, will host tributes, while the smaller will play host to the Cine Club, a members-only cinema seating 60. The entrance and foyer will have a book and film library and a refreshment stand. This article first appeared in the April 3 edition of «K,» Kathimerini’s Sunday supplement.

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