Architecture goes to the sports ground

When former Greek AEK soccer club ace and current president Demis Nikolaidis got on the plane to Germany, finding budding new talent among the local clubs of Greek migrants was the furthest thing from his mind. The purpose of his trip was to take part in a tour, conducted by German architects and engineers, of the new soccer stadiums built over the last four years for the upcoming World Cup next year. The AEK president wanted to get ideas and probe the international climate on the latest construction of new stadiums, as the No 1 issue for his team was the building of a new stadium, not finding new players. Old wounds AEK is not the only one looking for a new home either. The other big club in Athens, Panathinaikos, is also anxious for a new venue, depite the fact that the move of this club has opened up old wounds: Goudi was initially suggested as a solution but the neighboring residents and municipalities did not warm to the idea and the Hellenikon venue was proposed as an alternative. This, however, was also problematic, as the old airport site is currently entangled in the time-consuming process of being converted into a metropolitan park. The most feasible solution was the suggestion put forward by the Athens Municipality: for Panathinaikos to move to Votanikos, on the edge of the rundown area of Elaionas. The list does not end there: The Larissa team, which will be returning to first division in the coming season, presented its new 20,000-seat covered stadium this June, while last year’s Olympic facelift does not seem to be quite up to snuff for the PAOK club, which is now demanding a complete renovation of the Toumba Stadium. The new soccer stadiums have become a status symbol for the teams and their armies of devoted fans. Piraeus club Olympiakos’s Karaiskaki Stadium was the first new-generation stadium in Greece: It was built in record time (14 months), bears the signature of an architect (Stelios Aghiostratitis) and is clearly a business venture. The unused areas below the stands now house dozens of retail outlets, creating the first sports area of mixed use in the country. The ambitious aim of Olympiakos was to create a local focal point, with stores, gyms, cafes, restaurants and supermarkets at Karaiskaki, and Greek habits have been put to the test to ensure that it works. Ideas are far from lacking: To retain its clientele during the summer, when the floodlights are turned off for three whole months, the Karaiskaki venue has been turned into a cinema. A huge cinema screen was installed in the stadium, creating the largest open-air cinema in the country. Transforming stadiums from small-scale sports centers into metropolitan-style mega-constructions, not only changes the whole concept of the stadium but raises new urban planning issues. The unfortunate history of the Nea Philadelphia stadium is a case in point. Pain of change The stadium was pulled down. Local residents and the Council of State canceled the plans for the construction of a new stadium that had also provided for intense commercial activity. The pain of change has also affected Panathinaikos. Theoretically, moving to Votanikos seems less difficult to implement as there is the enormous advantage (unrelated to soccer) of boosting activity in the undeveloped area of Elaionas, an area of 1,250 acres just a stone’s throw away from Omonia Sq. In urban planning terms, the proposal makes sense: It is not in a densely populated area; it is close to a metro station that is under construction and the KTEL inter-city bus terminal, and there is ample parking space. The stadium seems like a godsend. But this, it would seem, is not how matters stand. Architect and urban developer Rena Kloutsinioti was a member of the team involved in drawing up plans for improving the area of Elaionas in the mid-1980s. The prospect of moving Panathinaikos to Votanikos with the creation of a new sports center is admittedly rather attractive, but there are conditions: «It has been planned in the same way the Karaiskaki Stadium was handed over to Olympiakos,» she told Kathimerini. «A soccer stadium is not green and what we want in Elaionas is greenery. If this actually happens to the remaining land in Elaionas, then we are abandoning the central idea of introducing greenery there.» What she proposes is not giving everything to Panathinaikos without getting something in return. Panathinaikos should pay the price and with this money a part of Elaionas could be re-appropriated. Kloutsinioti also pointed out that the exchange (the Votanikos site for the Alexandras Avenue stadium) is not that easy, as the present Panathinaikos site is municipal property.

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