OPINION

Squaring the circle

squaring-the-circle

People will most certainly love the revamped Omonia Square at the heart of Athens. Any comparison with what had been in its place over the past 15 years would, after all, be devastating. Sure, we must pay heed to the objections raised by architects, which are legitimate from an institutional point of view: An architecture tender should proceed a project of this magnitude.

However, such concerns have to be measured against reality. The square as we knew it, as well as the design that had been favored by the previous municipal authority before it was abandoned, were both bankrupt. The people were fed up with the situation all these years and the damage done to Omonia was irreversible. New Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis was aware of the facts. So he decided to move fast and try out a tested solution that would establish an emotional connection with the citizens of the capital. He knew his decision would receive the support of a dejected public that was tired of the shameful spectacle.

Thanks to his experience in local administration, Bakoyannis was also aware that given the snail’s pace at which Greek bureaucracy and the Greek justice system move, calling an architecture tender would be the ideal recipe for a fresh adventure with no end in sight. He picked a solution verging on the territory of institutional activism in a bid to produce an immediate and tangible effect. He certainly did not want to identify himself with the restrained style of his predecessor. Bakoyannis needed a project with the emotional magnitude of Omonia in order to confirm his reputation as a mayor who gets things done; and he needed it fast.

Of course it’s not just Omonia, the square, but the whole neighborhood which requires institutional activism of that sort. Not far from the square, on the corner of Stadiou and Aiolou streets, lies the plot that used to host the Katrantzos Sport department store until it was burned down in 1980. Revamping this corner of Athens would involve taking on a major obstacle. The plot belongs to the Maria Kasimati Foundation, which is chaired by the archbishop of the time. It would appear that the leadership of the Greek Church never took the fate of the plot very seriously.