Athens grows taller as builders tweak the rules

The demand for apartments with a view has made Athens a taller place. In many parts of the capital, especially those that still retain something of a neighborhood flavor, many new apartment blocks are overshooting the buildings that surround them by one or two stories. This development does not arise from any change in town-planning regulations, which have remained unchanged for seven years, but from the use of legal loopholes and sometimes through small illegal additions. Though Aghia Paraskevi, Papagou, Dafni, Neo Psychico, Aegaleo, Glyfada and Petroupolis all became part of the main urban fabric decades ago, large parts of these areas were relatively low-rise but that image has changed in the past five years. Why are the new buildings higher? Higher prices «The builders know that apartments higher up fetch higher prices,» SADA architects’ association President Panayiotis Georgakopoulos told Kathimerini. «What they do is simple. They use the building coefficient [which regulates the ratio of building to plot] to make apartments that cover less area but are taller. Instead of building two floors of 150 square meters, they’ll build four 75 square-meter apartments, one on each of four floors. Besides, most apartment buildings have an empty ground level space, which is not counted as a floor.» Another loophole is used when the land is on a slope. «One regulation allows the house builders to make the land 1.5 meters higher and start building there,» Spyros Papadopoulos, architect and Athens Technical Chamber representative on the Town Planning and Environment Council (SXOP), told Kathimerini. «Another regulation allows the basement to protrude 1.5 meters above the surface. The builder who gets the permit empties the basement and makes it into an ordinary floor, increasing the number of floors in the building.» The fourth method is the most common, the gradual transformation of an area by means of the antiparochi system, whereby vendors exchange old properties for an apartment in a new building on the site. «Antiparochi was of great value for the Greek family, and for the market,» architect Giorgos Diamantopoulos told Kathimerini. «But I think that, at least in most municipalities of the capital, it will soon stop, not only because of the new VAT charge that landowners will have to pay, but because very few empty plots and small old houses are left.» In the examples mentioned, the area must have a fairly high building coefficient. Are there are ways of tweaking it to make it higher? «By covering up partially enclosed areas, a builder can increase the area by 20 percent, which he can use to increase apartment size and the number of floors. Unfortunately this is very common throughout Greece.» It’s easy to spot the illegally covered area in a new apartment block. It’s that room with a big window that does not overlook a balcony. Last year, Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias announced the reduction of partially enclosed areas to 15 percent and mandated that they be distributed equally among all floors. Engineers acknowledge the problem but object to the regulations, «Partially enclosed areas are a valuable architectural tool in climates like ours,» said Papadopoulos. «They’re good if they’re used correctly. We shouldn’t restrict them just because they’ve been misused.» The architects’ association sent a recommendation to the ministry that a body of building inspectors be formed to conduct regular inspections and issue stiffer fines for violations. «For architects, semi-enclosed areas are an aesthetic tool which give a building greater plasticity,» said Georgakopoulos. «We suggested to Souflias that when an apartment building is handed over, a delivery protocol be signed by the local town-planning office, the contractors and the supervising engineer. Now there are no inspections.» It is not only the absence of inspections that is to blame, but the market itself. «The market is implacable,» said Papadopoulos. «The builder breaks the rules to sell extra square meters and make a profit. But potential buyers also ask if there is a semi-enclosed area that can be covered up. So the customer also bears a large share of the blame.»

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