‘Glass buildings not appropriate for Athens’

You have not worked in Greece so far. Why is that? I would like to do something important for the country, which is why I haven’t done anything yet. I don’t want to return and compete with other architects. As it is, there is a lot of talent in Greece. I would like to offer something based on the experience I have gained in America, and New York in particular. Such as? Something that would arouse my architectural imagination is the site of Hellenikon, the former Athens airport. It is the best plot of land in Europe and the best chance for something new in Athens and hence Europe. I am not being vague. A whole community of skyscrapers, the Canary Wharf, turned London into the financial center of Europe. The same occurred in Paris with La Defense. New commercial centers were created without spoiling or degrading these cities, providing new areas for business to develop. The old airport, therefore, is the ideal location for a commercial center with office skyscrapers that could become a focal point for foreign companies as well so that Athens can become the financial center of the Balkans and Middle East. I have images in my mind that could form a harmonious whole. For example, an Olympic square with an Olympic Torch lit permanently in the middle, green spaces between the buildings, passageways to provide easy access to the sea, creating the Copacabana of Athens, hotels, apartment blocks, schools… How feasible is all this? In Greece at the moment everyone is so concerned with their everyday problems that no one can see the development of the country in the long term. The long term is of no political interest. After a four-year term you want to have a project to present and you can’t leave an important work unfinished. We need a politician with vision. We think we can get by with tourism but it’s not enough. Large-scale works need political and entrepreneurial guts. Business pluck is not lacking in the Greeks; I see it in New York every day. This, though, is restricted to companies and not the civil service. All Greek politicians are afraid of making big decisions in case they are criticized. It is possible to realize what I have envisioned. I could see myself as a symbol in such a situation. I am not interested in making money in Greece. I am quite busy here as it is. But I would like to offer something to Greece. In terms of aesthetics, what have skyscrapers got to do with the Attica landscape? I have seen several glass buildings in Athens that are good but nothing fantastic. I agree that glass buildings or buildings with mirrors are not appropriate for the Athenian climate. In Athens I can see more buildings with stone and glass. I do not exclude glass buildings from the city but I don’t think they are ideal for Greece. This article first appeared in Kathimerini’s color supplement K on January 21.

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