Transitional phase in Greece: ‘Architecture matters’

The 2004 Olympic Games in Athens gave construction companies that specialize in major public works a chance to develop and consolidate their position. At the same time, growing consumer and entertainment demand increased the size of the pie. The first big architect-designed buildings started to appear, putting architecture on the lifestyle agenda. Among them were the administrative headquarters of the National Bank of Greece on Aeolou street (designed by architects Mario Botta, Rena Sakellaridou, Morpho Papanikolaou and Maria Pollani), Interamerican’s offices on Syngrou Avenue (architect Dimitris Porfyrios) and Ethniki Insurance’s new building on Syngrou (designed by Mario Botta, Rena Sakellaridou and Morpho Papanikolaou). Architecture has its own momentum, and now there are signs of a shift from what we know to what we want. The theme of this transitional phase could be «architecture matters.» An increasing number of companies related to the real estate business are seeking architects. Even multiplex cinemas and vast electronics and furniture stores in classic box-like buildings with predictable facades want architects who can make the difference. Harry Bougadellis, one of the first architects to out his name on an anonymous «box» (the Factory Outlet at the airport commercial park, with its eye-catching, wavy aluminium surfaces), recently accepted a new proposal. He is to give an architectural identity to the stores of a major toy chain. The first will be ready in a few months on Pireos Street. «Large-scale, box-like buildings designated for well-known logos are a hard call, because they come with a bunch of commitments that don’t allow the architect much room for creativity,» he said. But that is changing. «The deals with Factory Outlet and the toy chain have convinced me that even ‘boxes’ need a new look.» Bougadellis believes that companies and clients have realized that good architecture creates added value. «And they want buildings with personality. An architecturally neutral building may cost less, but it’s not what big clients want. An architecturally adequate building offers other advantages, beyond aesthetics, that are to do with proper orientation, saving energy, and fire safety,» he said. Among the cautiously optimistic is architect Nikoloas Travasaros, whose company (Divercity) is working on the sailing center at Aghios Cosmas, the biggest project on the seafront, after a direct approach from the consortium that won the competition held by Olympic Real Estate. Travasaros notes that the consortium’s approach and the general atmosphere are signs of a new approach toward architecture, which is no longer deemed a useless luxury but a social good. «Architecture has become rather fashionable lately, an aspect of lifestyle, and we shouldn’t underestimate it. People are starting to appreciate good architecture.» The trend affects smaller projects too, he said. «A few years ago most residential buildings were designed by civil engineers; now you come across builders who are looking for architects.» On Gennadiou Street, a high-apartment block designed by Rena Sakellaridou and Morpho Papanikolaou is under construction. The client approached the two Thessaloniki architects after hearing about their most publicized buildings in Athens. The new approach is apparent in the way construction firms and other real estate companies operate. In the 1990s, all that mattered was to have a good plot of land in a good location. Now that is not enough; you need an architect as well. Architect Giorgos Nikoka-vouras, who has been collaborating for some years with the Vovos company, agrees: «It has become noticeable lately what great care multinational companies take when choosing their buildings,» he said. «The architect’s design, including the interior layout, is carefully chosen to reflect the values and work ethic of the company.» Indeed, architecture is starting to sell.