The chronicle of an extension

The long, narrow two-story rectangle of the main gallery and the single-story cube of the Alexandros Soutzou Museum that thousands of Athenians pass every day on Vassileos Constantinou Avenue is what remains of the original study by Pavlos Mylonas (1904-20005) and Dimitris Fatouros. Popular legend has it that the former management of the neighboring Hilton Hotel was instrumental in reducing the height of the National Gallery. True or not, what matters is that the third and fourth floors were never built. The new building was inaugurated in 1976, but within the space of 20-25 years it was already too small. Gallery director Marina Lambraki-Plaka exerted systematic pressure on the culture ministers of successive governments to get work started on extending the building above and below ground, which would yield an extra 6,000 square meters. At long last in May, Giorgos Voulgarakis, the culture minister of the day, announced that the gallery extension was to be included in CSF IV with a budget of 30 million euros. The final study is being drafted by the architecture firm of Constantinos Mylonas (son of the late Pavlos Mylonas) and Dimitris Fatouros, who undertook to update the original 1970 study. The preliminary study, already approved by the Central Council of Modern Monuments, adds two new basements and a spiral staircase on the Vassileos Constantinou side. The gallery will acquire new exhibition spaces, an amphitheater, a decent shop and modern storerooms. Work is unlikely to begin before 2010 and is expected to take two-and-a-half years.