A stylish new complex

The Ethniki Asfalistiki complex at Panteion University has brought new style to the aesthetic shabbiness of Syngrou Avenue. The product of close collaboration between Swiss architect Mario Bota and his Greek colleagues Rena Sakellariou and Morfo Papanikolaou, it maintains a fine tradition created a few years ago when the same group (with the addition of Maria Pollani) designed one of the best-known new buildings in downtown Athens: the National Bank’s administrative headquarters on Aeolou Street. Conditions were very different on Syngrou – a large plot of land just beyond the city center, along a busy road with high visibility. In a key feature of the design, one of the two buildings in the complex, the administrative building, opens out toward the Acropolis. An internal atrium visually unifies all levels and gets natural light from two circular skylights. This multistory space is transected by alternating metal bridges with floors of sanded glass. The office building is at right angles to it, forming an internal square running from one side to the other at a slightly different height from the main road. Try walking through this exemplary public space in the evening when the recessed lights in the ground come on. The alternating colors continually generate new images, revealing the existence of another public area hidden below – the congress center which, apart from a 500-seat hall, will have an exhibition space, library and cafe. The Ethniki Asfalistiki complex, which has been in use since September 9 (the inauguration is scheduled for March 2006), has elements in common with the National Bank’s headquarters, from the robust volume and the sand-colored limestone to the horizontal bands on the administration building. The Ethniki Asfalistiki complex adds to the gradual concentration of architecturally ambitious office buildings on Syngrou. There are increasing exceptions to the general rule of indifferent, workaday buildings, with an islet of high-quality architecture near the Inter-Continental and Ledra Marriott hotels. First came Dimitris Porfyriou’s retro-style building (Interamerican’s new headquarters), then Ethniki Asfalistiki, and right next door to it, the Onassis House of Letters and Arts, designed by the French Architecture Studio, is due for completion next year.

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