Toward a new monumental architecture?

Last century, Athens turned in on itself. Despite the huge sprawl of the 1950s, the look of the city harked back to earlier decades and modest ambitions, even during the euphoric development of 1955-67. A city on the European periphery by conviction and choice, 20th century Athens did not have any vision for itself. It was being chosen to organize the 2004 Olympic Games that marked the awakening from its introspection. The prospect of creating emblematic buildings for the National Library and the National Opera at the Faliron Delta with funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation raises these issues again. It brings the relationship between architecture and private sponsorship firmly back into the spotlight. It consolidates the the city’s opening out toward the sea. And it creates monumental landmarks to be used for purposes of great symbolic value. Nearly all of Athens’s 19th century public buildings were paid for by private individuals: Zappeion Hall, the Vallianeios Library, Athens University, the Varvarkeios Market, the Metsoveio Polytechnic, the Marasleios School, the Gennadius Library, the National Bank, Evangelismos Hospital, the Archaeological Museum and the Panathenaic Stadium are just a few examples. Architecturally, Athens missed the 20th century. An endless mishmash, it had no points of reference to attract international interest and inspire action and creative energy. In the 1980s, when the international trend was for new monumental architecture, which brought cities and areas out of obscurity, Athens remained inward-looking. Greece will never have its own Bilbao, but at least Athens can accept a new concept of architecture that demands self-assurance and faith in the future.

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