Syngrou Avenue goes upmarket

The construction of three new buildings on Syngrou Avenue, all designed by major international architects, is unprecedented for Athens. The colorless boulevard will suddenly be enriched with three new complexes, each of which, in its own fashion, is a symbol of Greece’s wealth. The Interamerican insurance company is to acquire an administrative building, Ethniki General Insurance will construct its new headquarters and the Onassis Center for Literature and Fine Arts will erect an ambitious structure to house its cultural activities. This architectural boom has elbowed aside previous design criteria in Athens. Kifissias Avenue, the boulevard par excellence of new money and ostentatious architecture in the 1980s and ’90s, lies at the opposite extreme. Will Syngrou be the successor to shallow Kifissias? The contrast is more symbolic than real (good architecture can be found, albeit sporadically, on Kifissias, while mediocre to downright ugly buildings are to be found on Syngrou), but all the signs point to slow but substantial change. The big companies are showing themselves willing to trust and invest in good architecture. Making an impression requires more than uninteresting facades. What seemed in 1985 to be new and modern, today seems dull and commomplace. What is needed are better thought-out solutions, and big foreign architects. Mario Bota, who is designing the Ethniki General Insurance building, and permanent London resident Dimitris Porphyrios, the architect for Interamerican, are major names in global architecture, while the French architects responsible for the Onassis Center have won plaudits in Europe. This new awareness is a prime opportunity for Greek architecture to escape the insularity of the past decades. Syngrou’s assets Syngrou has three advantages as a locale. One is that it is the main road down to the sea from Athens, which in the future is expected to re-establish a closer relationship with the now cut-off coastal strip, due to the large number of Olympic Games facilities to be built in Faliron, Aghios Cosmas and at Hellenikon. However, the look of the new sea front will be determined after the Games, when the post-Olympic use of the facilities will be decided. Syngrou Avenue will be called upon to play a new, leading role. As the least congested road in Athens (in contrast to Kifissias Avenue) and a swift highway from the Fix factory down to the sea, Syngrou Avenue offers adequate transport facilities, while most of the districts it transects will be accessible by a tram or metro line. An enterprise seeking offices near the center is quite likely to end up on Syngrou Avenue, not only because land is cheaper there than on Kifissias or in the historical center, but also because it provides better access for clients and employees. Syngrou has also not been built up to the extent that Kifissias has, though available plots of land are rare in both cases. But Kifissias is a relatively new road, with buildings dating mostly to the 1980s and ’90s. In contrast, Syngrou Avenue has stagnated as far as new constructions are concerned – with the exception of two large hotels built at the beginning of the 1980s – as is obvious from the absence of large architectural or contractors’ offices which were responsible for Kifissias’s present glory. The offices built on Syngrou were much less ambitious and ostentatious, while a large number of buildings are no more than two storiess high, thanks to the presence of a large number of car dealers. Five such buildings have been leveled over the past few months, making available large plots of land for development. Work to erect the multistory complexes that will replace the lowly car dealers has already begun.

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