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‘Boxes’ with style, designed by architects

N the 1980s, Babis Vovos was a rising star in Athens, when Kifissias Avenue looked pretty much like any another main road, except for the more attractive parts of Psychico and Filothei. It took several years for Kifissias Avenue to develop into what it is today. The biggest construction company in the real estate business was responsible for the first very tall buildings in the northern suburbs, the Atrina Center (1980), the Agora mall (1987) and the Polis mall (1995). Recently, it built the ultra-glamorous Monumental Plaza (1999), the most striking office building in Athens. Many architects took exception to the smug facades, the insistence on uniform walls of glass, and the repeated use of the same style, and they hastened to point out that Vovos was not an architect. Vovopolis It became fashionable to denounce his work: Anything made by Vovos was said not to be architecture and Athens was supposedly becoming a «Vovopolis.» In fact, Vovos’s buildings met a real need. New prosperity in the 1980s and the gradual opening up of the Greek market revealed a serious shortage of office space. Downtown Athens was already old and outdated, and major clients were looking for a new image that was more in line with fantasies of «Dynasty» and «Dallas.» Vovos and others (the company of Ilias Barbalias also played a part, as did Greek-Cypriot architect Stelios Agiostratitis) responded, reinventing Kifissias Avenue. The standardization that the Babis Vovos Diethnis Techniki company applied to its buildings gradually erased any architectural features. Invisible architects The Atrina and Agora centers were designed by well-known architect Yiannis Vikelas, but the company’s policy of not promoting architects’ names didn’t help. All its buildings bore the sign «babis vovos,» a name that made enemies rather than friends. Besides, it was known that the boss always had the final say. If Vovos didn’t like a design, it would be rejected. Vovos wasn’t selling architecture; he was selling buildings and he still does. The company’s strategy is the overall development of real estate, from the acquisition of the land to construction, rental and sale. Their projects can take less than 12 months. For instance, they have just started digging the foundations for the largest mall in Greece (in Votanikos, near the future Panathinaikos stadium), to be ready in 2009.