NEWS

Imagining a new cultural hub for central Athens

A group of experts is urging local authorities to give Athens a cultural lift by making radical changes to the center of town, including lowering the level of Academias Street in that area. «We absolutely need to not only boost culture but also give it expression in the contemporary center of town,» said Athanassios Aravantinos, an emeritus professor of town planning at National Technical University of Athens (NTUA). Aravantinos drafted the study along with architect Dimitris Kontargyris and architect and town planner Constantinos Serraos, in cooperation with transport expert and NTUA professor Thanos Vlastos. Modern culture «We are talking about modern culture,» Aravantinos said. «With the culture of the past we are doing relatively well. But it is not enough for Greece to keep showing the Acropolis as a dominant element.» Aravantinos believes that elements of the modern center should also be highlighted «to show that the cultural tradition continues.» As he pointed out, in the geometrical center of Athens «we have the exceptional good fortune» to have these three buildings which are surrounded by significant listed buildings such as the Athens Municipality Cultural Center, the Catholic Cathedral, the Goethe Institute, the Odeon and the National Opera. «It is a compact cultural core which also borders on Klafthmonos Square and, through it, with the commercial triangle and the historic center,» he said. «But the area needs upgrading in terms of town planning and public transport.» Lowering Academias The most significant intervention proposed in the study is to lower the level of Academias Street. Years ago, while he was mayor of Athens, Antonis Tritsis made a similar suggestion. The authors of the plan have taken into account another vital factor: «That in any case, in a few years’ time the entire area will be excavated for the fourth subway line [which will run through Galatsi, downtown Athens, Pangrati, Zografou and Maroussi],» said Aravantinos. «That line will connect with Line 2 where Panepistimio Station is now located. One can imagine the upheaval that the works will cause. Why not take advantage of the opportunity to radically reshape the surface?» he asked. As Aravantinos sees it, the lowering of Kifissias Avenue in Psychico involved one fundamental error: «We didn’t gain any public space; the surface was immediately converted into a traffic junction.» Lowering Academias Street will produce a new square that links the University with the Athens Municipality Cultural Center. The plan also proposes banning traffic between the University and the Library in order to to unite the forecourts of all three buildings. Special attention has been placed on shaping the open space that will emerge from the changes. The idea is to excavate a lower level in the area bounded by the rear of the three neoclassical buildings, and by Ippocratous, Academias and Sina streets (16,000 square meters). A part of that lower area, covering around 3,500 square meters, would be used to house cafes, galleries, bookshops, small venues for screenings, lectures, plays, and student and cultural societies. Under the plan, not all of the lower level would be covered. The plan envisages two atria, situated behind the Academy and the Library. They are designed in such a way so they would provide ample light and ventilation to the surrounding area as well as extra space for cultural activities.