Modern monuments on point of demolition

The strangest things happen in Athens. For instance, while a hallmark of the 1960s is being demolished in one part of the city, in another the Council of Modern Monuments (KSNM) is listing for preservation a humble neoclassical house – presumably a source of income for some wage earner. Recent news of the Hyatt company’s intention to demolish the Mont Parnes casino and hotel, designed by the late Pavlos Mylonas (1915-2005) and a significant expression of modern architecture, brought to the fore once again a problem we first encountered in 1995, when bulldozers clearing the way for the new metro chopped off a large portion of the Fix building. Danger signs The danger signs are multiplying alarmingly. The Xenia hotels, a supreme moment in Greek modernism, are being attacked on all sides (the one in Iraklio, designed by Giorgos Nikoletopoulos, has already been demolished). The Archaeological Museum of Ioannina, designed by Aris Constantinidis, and one of the Greek buildings most frequently mentioned in the international bibliography, is under threat of irreversible changes, thanks to a study by the Culture Ministry – of all organizations. The Kyriakopoulos residence in Nea Smyrni, designed by Valentis and Michailidis, was demolished after abbreviated procedures, as was the Fix ice factory on Patission Street. Another important chapter in Greek architecture, which began in the 1930s with the explosion of modernism and continued in the reconstruction that followed the war, is at risk of disappearing before our very eyes, and in the same way that our stock of neoclassical buildings was lost. We obviously haven’t learned from our mistakes. Moreover, modern buildings, particularly those dating from the 1950s and ’60s, do not necessarily have the support from society in general that neoclassical buildings did. Identified with the years of antiparochi – the system of exchanging houses and land for an apartment in a new building on the same land – and of feverish construction, many fine postwar buildings are being knocked down amid the general leveling. Worse still, the lack of social sensitivity is not counterbalanced by determination on the part of the state. The existing legislation leaves post-1905 buildings unprotected. The KSNM, which is the prime protection mechanism, is being fragmented, according to the Culture Ministry’s new organization, and it is not clear what background or training the new decision-makers will have. In the meantime, the council is under heavy pressure from vested interests, which must affect the decisions it makes.

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