National Gallery expands to meet modern demands

The National Gallery is bursting at the seams and has been for years. The unfinished building, designed by Pavlos Mylonas (1904-2005) and Dimitris Fatouros, can no longer meet the most basic requirements of the country’s leading gallery. The National Gallery has a closed-in, almost provincial air that does not suit its role or the city of 4 million people that Athens has become. A few weeks ago, Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis officially announced the expansion of the National Gallery and its inclusion in the Fourth Community Support Framework, to the tune of 30 million euros in funding. The minister also said that 2.8 million euros for the final implementation study plus a further 400,000 euros would go to the studios of Constantinos Milonas (son of the late Pavlos Milonas) and Fatouros, who will update the original 1970 design. Additions The new preliminary study has received the approval of the Central Council of Modern Monuments, but the architects’ fees and inclusion of the final study in a reliable funding program had not been settled. The addition of the third floor will add 6,000 square meters to the National Gallery. «We’re talking about new exhibition space, an amphitheater, a sales point and modern storerooms,» gallery director Marina Lambraki-Plaka told Kathimerini. «We’ll have a lovely cafe with a view of the Acropolis, and the building will be stabilized in accordance with the new anti-seismic regulations.» The updated study includes additions that did not appear in the original study, such as two new basements and a spiral staircase that will inject dynamism into the facade on Vassileos Constantinou. Lambraki-Plaka assured us that the announcement was not inspired by pre-election motives. «The ministry has been working hard on this for the past six months and the prime minister himself has made the extension of the building a top priority in the government’s culture policy.» As for the timetable, she thinks it unlikely that work will begin before 2010. It will take two-and-a-half years and the existing building may continue to operate while work is in progress. Part of the gallery’s activities will be transferred to the National Glyptotheque in Goudi. Lambraki-Plaka hopes that the gallery will be given two more buildings in Goudi. «There are two more buildings, one identical to the Glyptotheque and a large bakery. We could put our Collectors’ Museum there, an area we are planning for items donated by collectors.» At present, the National Gallery lacks such an area (which is why the Papaloukas collection was lost), and collectors want, at the very least, an independent, named area for their donations. The buildings belong to the National Defense Retirement Fund, and only strong political will and satisfactory trade-offs will persuade the veterans to drop their objections. Lambraki-Plaka has long-term plans in mind. «An older plan of sinking Vassileos Constantinou avenue would allow the gallery to be united with Rizari Park and our extension, albeit underground, toward the park. It is a feasible plan and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias has shown an interest.»

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