A museum with a view that divides

A dilemma has arisen as the New Acropolis Museum nears completion at the foot of the country’s most famous landmark. Its view of the Sacred Rock is obstructed by two listed buildings on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street (Nos. 17 and 19), and a proposal has been made to demolish them. The two buildings are the first structures one sees upon entering the main archaeological promenade, that is, at the intersection of Makriyianni and Dionysiou Areopagitou streets. The building that once stood at No. 15, which had been listed, was demolished in 2003 for the same purpose. Naturally, strong opposition to the demolitions has come from the buildings’ owners, but also from a large number of architects and a significant segment of the public. Apart from the sentimental and aesthetic value of the buildings, the opponents of the move cite the state’s lack of consistency, since until recently the two buildings had been exempted from demolition precisely because of their intrinsic significance. Looking toward the Parthenon from the new museum, the sight of the rear walls of the two buildings strikes a jarring note, in stark contrast with the facades that face the street and the Acropolis (as with many listed buildings), even though No.17 has recently been restored. Those who want to save the buildings propose some form of aesthetic renovation or the planting of tall trees to lessen their impact. The other side claims the two buildings should go in order to free the space between the Acropolis and its museum, to create a visual association between the two. The museum’s architect Bernard Tschumi is investing a great deal in precisely that kind of added value for the building which is expected to be the most visited site in Athens next summer. Athens is providing not only its own citizens but the entire world with an example of state-of-the-art modern architecture of immense symbolic value and therefore it should be done under the very best conditions, even at the cost of sacrificing two important (for Athens) buildings. The goal is a long-term one and a city has a duty to break with its past when necessary. All cities have been built and have grown at the cost of some sacrifices. However, defenders of these two buildings cite the guarantees given by the authorities that these edifices would be saved. From the outset, the design for the new museum should have taken into consideration these structures, which have been protected by the state for decades. Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, they say, comprises one of the most aesthetically unified groups of buildings in Athens. Number 17, the work of architect Vassilis Kouremenos, is a prime example of art-deco architecture. Number 19 is an example of early neoclassical architecture dating from the early 20th century. The Kouremenos building is causing more concern because it is seen as unique in Greece. Lifting the protected status of these two buildings by the relevant Culture Ministry services is seen as an unacceptable precedent that harms the state’s credibility. According to legal precedents established by the Council of State, a listed building cannot be declassified «unless good reason is given that it had been classified as such without there being any legal grounds for doing so, or if it can be shown that deception was involved.» Although the owners of the buildings and the architects who want to save them appear to have a long struggle ahead of them, the issue has given rise to a lively debate. Irrespective of which side one takes, the issue has many facets. However, there is no doubt that the New Acropolis Museum, as a new attraction, will be of long-term benefit to the city.

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