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Polykatoikia: An architecture of Crisis


Although the creation of shelters is often considered as a very needed and basic component of the human life, the act of building has always maintained a close relationship with economy, politics and technology. It is a domain that requires resources and those resources come with opportunities. If looking at a large scale, a scale grand enough to speak of tendencies, structural improvements, shape of cities or even architectural currents, architecture has to be linked with parameters others than just the need to built. This complicated imbroglio of various occurences through time that are situations such as wars, economical crisis, political alliterations, increase of needs, evolution of technology, and so on have provoked and still are provoking strong fluctuations in the world of architecture. So, not only human needs have affected architecture, but also and mainly events in history that have radically changed the rules of the architectural game.
In the current times of crisis in Greece, it is time to take a look back at architecture in this great old city that is Athens, and how the choices that were made, the wars that had been lived and the various needs that occured have changed the shape, the rules and the economy of the city, leading to what can be seen nowadays as a crisis of architecture in Greece.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Athens was subject to a lot of various crisis in the shape of wars, military occupation and demographical changes. Architecture had to deal directly with those issues and find solutions to counterbalance the induced negative effects of these periods. Sometimes the changes happened so fast and were so radical that the architecture struggled to create efficient responses and suffered from lack of resources and time. One of those responses was the Polykatoikia.
The Polykatoikia is an urban housing typology instored in and developped all over Greece since the early thirties, becoming gradually (at least in Athens) one of the most dominant typology of greek cities. The interest in this building type is its close affiliation with the greek urbanism, since most of Athen's was build more or less informaly with this typology. In other words, the relationship between Athens current state in terms of architecture and urbanism has to be explored through the understanding of the Polykatoikia; and this means by extension that the Polykatoikia is somehow directly linked to the current state of crisis in greek architecture, not as a factor causing it but more as an actor living in it.

Through this essay will be analyzed the Polykatoikia in its globality, from its early beginnings in modernity to the current asphyxiated status in the city of Athens. Several examples of Polykatoikias that are part of its history, its contemporary situation or its possible future will be displayed in order to understand its importance and impacts in the growth of the city, leading to the current state in the ongoing crisis situation.

Polykatoikia: An architecture of Crisis



1 - Athens Urbanization I


When looking at today's Athens, one could say that the urbanization strategy of the city is close to inexistant or at least very poorly executed, above all when looking outside the old town and the historic center: The city is dense, very dense, almost asphyxiated in some places with the lack of parks or green areas. Well, saying that the urbanization is inexistant is a mistake, but it is however less visible and radically different than in most other cities.

The underneath debate around the urbanization of the city is linked to its strong informal urbanism, an ''accumulative growth of small-scale interventions that respond directly to the needs of inhabitants, the environment and resources at hand.'' [1]. That leads to the question of formal urban planification; Were there any plans drawn at all? This is only a half-right reasoning, as the response to this question has to be assimilated with more parameters than just matters of planification, and it brings immediately to the thematic that will be approached in this essay: The Polykatoikia.

There were plans drawn for Athens, and this from the beginning of its existence as new capital of Greece in 1832. Architects Schaubert and Kleanthis, under the asking of king Otto 1st, analyzed the remains and ruins of the (at that time) small 400-houses city and, with the modifications of Léo von Klenze, established a first strategy of urbanism for the extension of the city of Athens [2].

Several plans were made for the upcoming challenges that were awaiting Athens as a new capital, that is no question [3], but maybe what is more interesting than the planification is how those plans were somehow left aside or progressively rendered ineffective by the state itself. In a way, there is no pure formal or informal planification in Greece, but something else inbetween.

There is a greek tradition between the public sector and the private real estate market, and that bond is directly reflecting in the shape of the city. This means that the public sector is used to deal directly with the private real estate market without the implication of the state. To understand this link and how something so theoritical can affect the built reality, the urbanism of Athens has to be considered as something more abstract than just formal planification, and the antiparochi system has to be explained.

In 1929, a law of horizontal property in Athen [4] allowed the invention of the antiparochi system, a ''cashless deal between landowners and builders for the construction of multi-family housing in which the builder is paid through the ownership of one or more flats after completion'' [5]. In other words: ''an unique property-swap system received tax privileges that soon became the principal method of real estate transactions in Greece.'' [6]

This system not only supports the greek culture of collectivity and ownership, but is also to be considered as a strong urban device. Here the state does not drawn, but creates a system that allows more flexibility to the builders. The traditional state-led planning is here replaced by a tool in the shape of a certain lack of governmental control, allowing more autonomous and spontaneous moves from the people: the self-entrepreneurship dream.






[1] See 'Athens Unplanned' by Platon Issaias: http://www.uncubemagazine.com/blog/15008881

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athens and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Athens as well as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eduard_Schaubert , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamatios_Kleanthis and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_von_Klenze for more details

[3] See ''The (Master) Plans of Athens and the challenges of its Re-Planning in the context of crisis, Pantoleon Skayannis

[4] See ''The general building regulation of the state'', 3 April 1929 and the 3741/1929 law ''On horizontal property divisions and other provisions''.

[5] See introduction on Self-promotion of Housing, including Anto-Parohi definition in 'Housing and Welfare in Southern Europe', Judith Allen, James Barlow, Jesús eal, Thomas Maloutas, Liliana Padovani: https://books.google.de/books?id=MS3ei5oEEBQC&pg=PA1&dq=anti+parochi+system&hl=fr&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q=anti%20parochi%20system&f=false

[6] See definition in http://www.mascontext.com/tag/polykatoikia/ , article by Panos Dragonas

Polykatoikia: An architecture of Crisis




3 – Arrival of the Polykatoikia


The Polykatoikia was created in a singular and very strange context. The beginning of the 20th century was a time of creation and sparks were striking everywhere. A new century has arrived and was accompanied by this feeling of infinite possibilities. There were things happening in any direction at any moment.

With this tidal wave of renewal breaking all over Europe, Greece was hit by the arrival of new technologies and advances in the structural domain. It is in the 1910's that reinforced concrete was introduced in Greece. It is not long after that (1914) that swiss architect Le Corbusier designed his Dom-ino system (abbreviation for 'Innovative House' ), system that quickly made noise in the architectural field.



The Dom-ino system is a design idea that is supposed to be understood as a prototype as the physical platform for the mass production of housing [1]. It is composed of a reinforced concrete framework (slabs supported by thin columns) that remains open to any filling, according to his plan libre theory. It was invented in a post-war period and intented to be a flexible way to answer the urgent need of housing, especially for the middle and low classes. It is a simplification of vernacular systems, reduced it to its very essence and thought for an industrial era. It works like a basis tool that can be enhanced in accordance to various needs such as location, materials, plan typologies and so on. The principle of this dispositif remains easy to understand, assimilate and reproduce, allowing the increased amount of post-war low-skilled workers to do it.

If the Dom-ino system was inspired by the needs of the post-war era, it can be said that the Polykatoikia was an application of this system. Indeed, the post-era crisis that allowed the invention of Dom-ino is also the cradle of the Polykatoikia. Even if it can't be proven that the Polykatoikia comes directly from the Dom-ino, traces of Le Corbusier's system as an inspiration can be found in Athens, like the Michailidis Building, a Polykatoikia built by Le Corbusier's office in 1933 near the historical center of the city (see picture).



The Polykatoikia system was in the beginning (1910's) a multistorey building designed by the finest modern architects and intended to fulfill the needs of the upper and elite classes. Nevertheless its horizon as an architectural masterpiece was quickly replaced by its practical aspect and adopted by the middle and low classes.

The Polykatoikia characteristics can be subtle to understand for the outsider because of its flexibility and somewhat banality. Basically, it is a quite simple structural system of concrete slabs sustained by reinforced concrete pillars, allowing a free gestion of the floor plan. Each level, ground and top levels aside, is similar and is a repetition, which results in a facade with a strong horizontality. The main facade always possesses large openings or balconies, acting as a transition between the public (street) and the private (apartment). The ground level is used for entrances, public circulations and public services such as cafeterias or shops. The top levels are somehow shrunken and smaller than the other levels, producing often a building ending in the shape of steps. The flexibility, or capacity to adapt itself, being one of the main characteristic of the Polykatoikia, other elements such as details, height, main entrances and so on may be part of its culture or not, and are above all an evidences of the Polykatoikias capacity to be a hybrid and its evolution through the various years.

The Polykatoikia was modified from its luxurious origins during the critical period for Athens that was the first post-war. After the greco-turkish war (1919-1922) occured a massive population exchange between Greece and Turkey [2]. Athens population litteraly exploded from 473'000 in 1921 to 718'000 later the same year. This express demographic increasing generated numerous needs in terms of housing. The city of Athens expanded itself very quickly with a severe social polarization between the native and the refugees. The urban expansion struggled during the first years to eventually lead to the antiparochi system of 1929.




[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dom-ino_House

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_exchange_between_Greece_and_Turkey

Polykatoikia: An architecture of Crisis




4 – The Interwar Era


After the instoration of the antiparochi system an era of modernism soaked all over Athens. At that time, the central european modernist movement was at its peak and numerous greek architects experimented in accordance to this style with the Polykatoikia.

One of the most famous example, a true symbol of the interwar era, is the Blue Polykatoikia (ble polykatoikia) [1], a building taking place in the center square of Exarcheia, a neighborhood not far from the center. The area of Exarcheia gathers several examples of famous interwar Polykatoikias, such as the Michailidis Building explicited in the last chapter.

Architect Kostis Antonopoulos is the designer and builder of the Blue Polykatoikia, or Blue Condominium of Exarcheia, created a 6 floors building, originally blue, according to the spirit of the Polykatoikia: The two last floors get narrower and the ground floor is used to public interaction and hosts here a cafeteria, the 'Floral'. The ground floor, as always in the Polykatoikias, was designed as a place permeable to the public and was intended to gather the inhabitants of Exarcheia together.

The Blue Polykatoikia, besides its color and style, also represents the arrival of a new standard in terms of luxury and confort. Every apartment was equipped with swiss cookers, refrigerators and somes were also created with extra rooms for maids. The public spaces between the 32 flats such as corridors, entrances or staircases where also allowing a strong potential to interactions and meetings between the inhabitants. There even was a public lounge on the roof [2]. To summarize, it was a building designed for the human as a social being that introduced a new way of living for the upper and lower middle-class (Exarcheia was an area representative of the middle-class at that time).

Unfortunately, the building became a core for the resistance during the occupation and was subject to several attacks. Gunshots marks can always be seen today on the facade walls. It lost its blue color, potentially due to inhabitants complains (the blue color was acting as a magnet for the hot sun), but is still in a good state nowadays.

The Blue Polykatoikia represents the blooming of the interwar modernist adaptation that was the Polykatoikia in Athens. This building has the particularity to be situated directly on a square, which differs from the majority of other constructions built in the area. Indeed, most of the Polykatoikia were built on sides of small streets without any public space in front of it. Like the Blue Polykatoikia, it was the ground floor that was operating as a public area and was often hosting shops or cafeterias. The entrance was almost always in the shape of corridors going inside the building and weren't prominent on the facade. The public space became the street and the bottom of the Polykatoikia.

If the first post-war era molded the Polykatoikia and established the rules of the game, the interwar era allowedits blooming but it was nothing compared to the coming World War II and the following civil war that ravaged the city until 1949.






[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blue_Condominium_of_Exarcheia and https://voxversendaal.wordpress.com/tag/ble-polykatoikia/

[2] http://www.kathimerini.gr/63509/article/epikairothta/ellada/ekleise-ta-80-h-8rylikh-mple-polykatoikia-ths-a8hnas-br

Image 1 rights: https://voxversendaal.wordpress.com/tag/ble-polykatoikia/

Polykatoikia: An architecture of Crisis




5 – The Post-war Era

During World War II Athens war occupied by the Germans and suffered from a severe lack of resources and even went through a rough famine. After the 1944 liberation by the allies, the city was under constant tension due to a civil war, provoked mainly by the combat between the new government trying to annihilate communism and the National Liberation Front of Greece, backed up by the Communist Party of Greece [1]. Social and economical differences that were already visible during the interwar period escalated radically.

At that time, Athens began to grow again due to an exodus of the people living in small villages or islands that were struggling to find work. It eventually resulted in a demographic explosion, the population of Athens urban area growing extremely quickly from 1'379'000 in 1951 to 3'027'090 [2] in 1981. There was a lack of housing and most of the people coming in Athens to find jobs founded themselves in the construction sector. The flexibility of this sector increased through the support of the state (tax privileges and easy permits distribution) and the flow of new workers that were constantly incoming.

This intense migration created a new urban middle-class and provoked not only a demand for housing but also a modernisation of the housing forms [3]. This working class appropriated quickly the knowledge of concrete technology and its concordance with local materials and techniques. The Polykatoikia, answer to housing demands during the first post-war and the interwar period, continued to be used to counter the increasing needs of the second post-war period. From more or less a thousand Polykatoikias in 1950, more than 35'000 were already built in 1980 [4].

As the new industry of construction was expanding Athens over every single possible plot, it resulted in the creation of a kind of vernacular architecture, most of the builders being entrepreneurs and not trained architects. Indeed, most of the professional architects remained of secondary importance in the urban expansion and sticked to work with the upper and bourgeois classes.

The Polykatoikia evolved from its interwar situation as the needs for modernisation and the changes in the family structure occured. Fortunately, the flexible plan and construction structure allowed it. Concretely, the Polykatoikia became mostly a building for families, with one floor being one apartment. Small apartments and studios were often located on the upper part of the building or in its back. The ground floor was still used for public shops and practices, assuming the street as an extension of the public space and a semipermeable lower floor, like it was already the case during the interwar era.

It is not easy to find which buildings inspired builders for their Polykatoikias, or which Polykatoikias played a generative role in its evolution. As the Polykatoikia is often a response to local parameters and a field of vernacular experimentation, it remains difficult to track references down. However, the Polykatoikia built by Nikos Valsamakis (building ''Lourou'', Semitelou street) was one of the constructions that truly marked a break from the norm through the instoration of a new kind of balcony, a large front main entrance, a symmetrical plan typology and a clear rational hierarchy from the facade to the back (see pictures) [5].

The multiple regulations instored by the government, such as directives for the typical linear balconies or the height limitation, have played a large role in the evolution of the Polykatoikias and like in its early stages, the Polykatoikia remained somehow dictated and restrained by abstract laws. The height regulations were frequently modified resulting in a strange stepped skyline all over Athens. Even though, the scale of the Polykatoikia remained small and homogeneous; there were fast no towers or enourmous buildings built in Athens.

Nevertheless, there was a strong will for change and especially attempt to break with the 1930's architectural language. The cubic forms of modernism were sometimes replaced by classic elements in the shape of mouldings or cornices and the plan regained a classical touch through symetrism and rationalism. Some followed that trend, some not. What is remaining is this will of experimentation and establishment of a new identity.

The Polykatoikia became the building that many were living with and created a big role in this greek collective consciousness of culture diversity, importance of family, the hedonistic dream of ownership and a specific interpretation of the public space. The Polykatoikia became a popular symbol of the greek post-war architecture and the greek way of living.





[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dekemvriana

[2] http://www.mascontext.com/tag/athens/ by Panos Dragonas

[3] See ''Polykatoikia, the Popularization of a Status Symbol'' by Olga Moatsou https://www.academia.edu/3428437/Polykatoikia_the_Popularization_of_a_Status_Symbol

[4] www.sgt.gr/en/programme/event/2180

[5] See 'Nikos Valsamakis et la réinvention de l'immeuble à Athènes', article by Olga Moatsou in Matières 10, 2012, PPUR presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes

Polykatoikia: An architecture of Crisis



Image 1: Square in central Athens used by the population. Picture article's author


6 – The Current State

After the Greek entry into the European Union in 1981, Athens began to suffer from globalization. The traffic grid wasn't ready to accomodate so many vehicles and quickly escalated into an infernal congestion and massive air pollution issues.

The diversity alwo increased all over Athens and its population slowly began to be polarized between classes, locals and strangers, religions, origins, and so on. Even though the population was severely polarized, the various districts of Athens remained relatively mixed in terms of differences.

The 'consumerism and wellbeing that have constituted central elements in the identity of local society' [1] remained up-to-date and the aggressive entrepreneurship was still actively in command of the athenian construction culture. Meanwhile, the urban tissue of Athens was under a lot of development and progressively began to be entirely filled with buildings, leaving no blank space at all. Pier Vittorio Aureli describes Post-World War II Athens as a 'lava flow of Dom-Ino-like Polykatoikias' [2].
After the 1996 Olympic game failure due to infrastructural urbanistic issues, Athens received help from the E.U. and created solutions to counter this problematic: A new international airport, a new metro system, a restriction for the use of cars in the city center and the Athens Ring Road [3]. Those new infrastructures allowed a delocalisation from the historical center to the peripheries and reduced the amount of pollution in the old town. It also allowed the creation of peripheral giant shopping malls, destructing gradually the small and local shops that were established under the Polykatoikias. Several districts were almost completely abandonned by industries and services.


Image 2: Closed stores. Picture by article's author


Besides, the globalization raised the awareness of the people about the outdated typology that was the polykatoikia. New demands emerged for housing forms that were more in accordance with the contemporary needs and way of living, and soon creations like apartment complexes or rehabilitations of old buildings appeared.

Nevertheless, the financial crisis that Athens was undergoing became stronger and a lot of buildings suffered from it; Debt increasing and accumulation, tax explosions, and so on. The prolonged economic recession brought a lot of issues reflecting all over Athens in every possible field, including its urbanism. The amount of homeless people increased drastically, showing a true collapsing of the middle-class. Violences against other classes and ethnics groups also increased, turning the neighborhoods that once were vivid areas of multicultural interactions into unpeaceful areas. The lower parts of Polykatoikias, that were formerly the basis of the life in Athens are now often closed at night or filled with homeless people spending their night there.

While the tax impositions increased, the prices of greek real estate falled down. The Hellenic Property Federation estimed that those values have been slashed in half during 2009-2014 [4]. The stores and offices in the city center are also fully touched by the crisis and numerous are closing due to the extremely high taxes on rent.


Image 2: Street near Athens center. Picture by article's author


In Athens, 100 square meters apartments can be easily found for less than 60'000-70'000 euros [5], and small apartments in the city center can be found for 4'000 euros [6]. In other numbers, for an big apartment in correct state in the municipality of Athens (close to the historic center), the price per square meters is around 500-700 euros or more and for small studios the price can drop to 200 euros/sq.mt. or less [7]. In the old historic neighborhood of Pláka, usually 1500 euros or more per square meters are required [8], as for the popular district of Exarcheia, the prices are a bit similar starting around 500 euros/sq.mt [9]. For the suburbs (west, north, east and south Athens, Piraeus suburbs), the price is distinctively lower going from 300-600 euros/sq.mt. and houses of 200 sq.mt. can be found for less than 120'000 euros, even if they are often unfinished houses[10].

The crisis at the scale of the city can also be found at the scale of the buildings: there is a lot of tension between residents due to the economical impossibility to pay back debts or simply paying the rent. 'Home ownership, the once dream-come-true for the middle class, has now become a source of fear ' [11]. The Polykatoikia and its system of entrepreneurship, self-housing and dream of ownership has become one of the indirect roots for the current economical crisis.


Image 4: Athens density, view from the Acropolis.
Picture by article's author



[1] http://www.mascontext.com/tag/polykatoikia/ by Panos Dragonas

[2] http://sma.sciarc.edu/theme/polykatoikia/

[3] 'Athens Today' chapter https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Athens and http://www.mascontext.com/tag/polykatoikia/ by Panos Dragonas

[4] Article: http://www.chaniapost.eu/2014/08/11/economic-crisis-slashes-real-estate-prices-in-half/

[5] http://www.homegreekhome.com/en/sale_Apartment_Votanikos__Gazi_-_Metaxourgio_-_Votanikos_-l3167245?ref=searchListViewLD

[6] http://www.homegreekhome.com/en/sale_Apartment_Gkyzi_-_Arios_Pagos__Gizi_-_Pedion_Areos_-l2524628?ref=searchListViewLD

[7]http://www.homegreekhome.com/en/search/results/residential/sale/r100/m100m/order_pricepersqmeters_asc

[8]http://www.homegreekhome.com/en/search/results/residential/sale/r100/m2039m/order_pricepersqmeters_asc

[9]http://www.homegreekhome.com/en/search/results/residential/sale/r100/m2013m/order_pricepersqmeters_asc

[10]http://www.homegreekhome.com/en/search/results/residential/sale/r104/m104m/order_pricepersqmeters_asc

[11] http://www.mascontext.com/issues/21-repetition-spring-14/an-obituary-for-the-greek-city-of-repetition/ by Panos Dragonas

Polykatoikia: An architecture of Crisis



Image 1: Point Supreme Architects: Projects for Athens


7 – Expectations


In sommer 2015, the crisis has maybe reached one of its peak. Change has almost become an obligation for Greece in terms of economy, international relations and politics, but also architecture. Which choices where made in the past few years to counter this crisis of housing, prices of debt and rents? Which solutions have been found to give back to the city center its attraction of the past? In which directions are going the architectural projects in the current years of crisis?

Athens has become the symbol of a fragile city, where the hyperdensity meets unfinished buildings caused by a market-driven economy and unsafe speculations. The promising era of Athens modernism during the sixties has quickly changed into a deep questioning. The ruins of the past have infected the city and created ruins of the modernity. They are witnessing the actual state of mess and abandonned constructions that are strewing the city. Even though the Polykatoikia has been seen for long as a failure of urban development, the new generations of younger Athenias have accepted the Polyatoikia as a symbol of their city and an element anchored in their culture; They try to work with it instead of against it.
Pier Vittorio Aureli stated that a possible answer to urbanism issues may be found if engaged in its totality and not scattered projects [1], meaning the creation of a new masterplan, new regulations and new infrastructures at the size of the city. A new regulatory master plan for Athens-Attiki (a neighborhood in the northwest of Athens center) has been declared for 2021 [2], showing the will of the autorities to counter urbanism issues frontally and at a large scale.

Several other projects at the scale of the city have been proposed, some more utopian than others, but always critical of Athens urbanism in its globality. For example, a project developed at the Berlage Institute [3] by Pier Vittorio Aureli, Maria S. Giudici and Platon Issaias is proposing an intervention at the scale of the city not in the shape of a masterplan, but a catalogue of architectural actions dealing with the fragmented urban elements that are the courtyard, the block, the street and the ground floor in order to create collective radical and distinct figures of Mediterranean architectural archetypes [4]. In other words, transforming damaged and fragmented areas into nucleuses through a collage-like insertion of architectural archetypes (for the outsider: specific and well-known architectural figures, typologies, forms, buildings and theories) with the intention of reinstoring a certain hierarchy in the urban tissue.


Image 2: Pier Vittorio Aureli, Maria S. Giudici and Platon Issaias: Project for Athens


Another good example of a large-scale intervention is the project 'Heaven' by Point Supreme Architects. The office composed by architects Konstantinos Pantazis and Marianna Rentzou has been working on several large-scale proposals and specific modifications in the urban tissue of Athens, always with a certain sense of critique. 'Heaven' is a project trying to solve two issues due to Athens urbanization: the lack of green spaces and the lost connection from the city center to the sea [5]. The study for this project witnessed a serious problematic of public green areas, with numbers like 0.4 to 2.7 square meters of green space per inhabitant coming out, showing the severe lack of public accomodations and the intolerance between current Athens urbanism and the contemporary idea of a city.


Image 2: Point Supreme Architects: 'Heaven'


Nevertheless, it is sometimes easier to make middle- or small-scale interventions become reality and is perhaps a good start to create samples of urban regeneration that can inspire the upcoming challenges that awaits Athens. It is the case of the numerous projects that have been made for the old athenian airport and its surroundings, the Hellenikon park. More than 300 teams participed in 2004 in a competition for the new metropolitan park and there even was a winner (international team David Sereno, Elena Fernandez and Philippe Coignet). Unfortunately, the project put to sleep in 2008 due to economical issues till 2010 where the Greek Government commissioned the research of a new proposal but was also shortly shutted down by the crisis. In fall 2013, one of Yale's advanced design studio, led by the greek critical architect Elia Zenghelis, also took the Hellenikon Metropolitan Park as target of the studio project [6].


Image 3: Yale advanced design studio: Elia Zenghelis. Student Work


Other interventions that are also massively part of Athens urban regeneration are the small-scale restoration of buildings, unfinished Polykatoikias or abandoned backyards. A nice example of contemporary rehabilitation is the bar Six d.o.g.s. and its garden by architects Point Supreme [7], situated in the city center near the Monastiráki place. The project shows a re-use of an open space between old buildings for the making of a garden located behind a cafe & bar. This green oasis in the surrounding density proposes a smart transformation of an abandoned area, current situation in the current urban tissue of Athens.


Image 4: Six d.o.g.s. Garden by Point Supreme Architects
Picture by Pinelopi Gerasimou


The participation of Athens to the 13th Architecture Biennale of Venezia allowed the creation of a pavilion hosting the exhibition 'Made in Athens', an exhibition proposing a catalogue of contemporary interventions made by creative groups in Athens. 'Made in Athens ' retraces the peculiar modern history of architecture with the Polykatoikia as well as the current crisis issues and impacts over Athens urbanization [8].

The heterogenous collection presented in the pavilion shows very various ways of seeing the future of the capital but above all a will of experimentation in the current urban tissue that many consider as an open-air laboratory, and the will to liberate themselves from the restrainings of Athens 20th century urbanization .

The Greek Pavilion for the 13th Architectural Biennale of Venezia creates a good summary of what are the current preoccupations for Athens future in architecture. Once again, the links between the Polykatoikia, the urbanism, the political infrastructure and the current crisis are underlined and are showing that those elements are all imbricated and not isolated from each other. The Polykatoikia was born and moulded in a state of crisis and has somehow found its way to the contemporary situation through the numerous obstacles that showed up against it, but is still living and part of the city. What the recent examples are proving is that the current crisis may not be the time for a radical combat against the Polykatoikia, but more a time of experimentations in order to transform it into a contemporary plausible urban solution for the city. The Polykatoikia may be experiencing another mutation right under our eyes...






[1] See the conference http://sma.sciarc.edu/video/pier-vittorio-aureli-theory-and-ethos/

[2] see ''The (Master) Plans of Athens and the challenges of its Re-Planning in the context of crisis, Pantoleon Skayannis

[3] http://www.theberlage.nl/

[4] See the project: http://www.domusweb.it/en/architecture/2012/10/31/from-dom-ino-to-em-polykatoikia-em-.html

[5] http://www.pointsupreme.com/content/urban/athens-heaven.html

[6] http://architecture.yale.edu/courses/advanced-design-studio-zenghelis and student project example: http://architecture.yale.edu/gallery/long-center

[7] http://www.pointsupreme.com/content/commercial/six-dogs-garden.html

[8] http://panosdragonas.net/?p=646 and https://www.academia.edu/5588248/Made_in_Athens_-_Greek_Participation_at_the_13th_International_Architecture_Exhibition_-la_Biennale_di_Venezia_Exhibition_Catalogue_

Polykatoikia: An architecture of Crisis



Image 1: Athens density, google maps


2 - Athens Urbanization II


The urbanization in Athens in the early 20th century, highly experimental at that time, introduced a new perception about the gestion of a city and the relationship between the governance, the economy and the urban planning.

It is an infrastructure that does not possess any physical body, but only works in theoritical terms. Instead of plans, the greek legislative system created very precise regulations that were analyzed as they were used and modified for a strategic mutation over time. The builder and the owner were not linked to the state outside those regulations, and so the complete freedom (and support) of construction was allowed by the state. A flexible plan at the scale of the city.

The athenian abstract approach to urbanism permitted a very fast response to the need of housing that were created by the various demographic explosions with a minimal state intervention [1]. This self-entrepreneurship and the regulation in terms of building typology (simple and flexible structural system, local materials and coherent techniques) also promoted the rise of new workers that had not necessarily something to do with building construction before. The knowledge didn't require to be highly-skilled and soon became part of the athenian culture.

Besides those benefits somes disadvantages have also to be noted, such as the fact that this system was pushing the people to a private ownership resulting in a market-driven economy that some see as one of the early neo-liberal structure [2]. The informal planning was trapping the people not into drawn plans, but in legislative structures promoting the dream of bourgeois ownership, the concurrence and the risk of fluctuations and crisis leading directly into social inequalities and poverty.

In this system where the builders, the owners and the clients were always more and more pushed into consumption, there were some high risks of failures due to economical circumstancies. Those failures took place all over the city in the shape of unfinished buildings and illegal constructions [3]. As much as 1/3 of the city may have been built illegaly in terms of size, conditions of constructions, location or constitutionally rights [4].

With a severely exponential demography, the demand was always higher and higher and the market followed this increasing by building more and more, all of this without masterplans. The city quickly became very condensed with this expansion method that wasn't planning any public space. A true act of repetition.

The city, particulary in the periphery, was and is still completely asphyxiated under the amount of constructions eating every possible plot and this because a building was more valuable for the owners and builders than creating a park or a square. Furthermore, this condensation problematic in the various neighborhoods has nowadays reached the size of the city. Indeed, what were before several cities (Athens, Pireus, ...) is today one gigantic city with several districts. More worrying, the contemporary Athens has reached its very own limits in terms of surface; the city is blocked east, west and north by mountains and south by the sea. A city trapped inside its geography.

For those who have been walking randomly in the streets of Athens, another fact resulting from this urbanism system is a strange state of the city balancing between a strong homogeneous surface in terms of building height, typologies of the buildings (Polykatoikias) and the density of built, and a intriguing heterogeneous accumulation, as if each plot was completely ignoring its surroundings, creating innerworlds and interesting creations at each street corner. Even if the image of the city appears to be a bit confuse through this result, it is not sure that this one is entirely negative. At least it brings some life into the repetitive hyperdensity.

[1] See http://www.domusweb.it/en/architecture/2012/10/31/from-dom-ino-to-em-polykatoikia-em-.html by Pier Vittorio Aureli, Maria S. Giudici, Platon Issaias

[2] http://www.uncubemagazine.com/blog/15008881 Interview of Platon Issaias

[3] and [4] Article http://www.franceculture.fr/blog-globe-2011-05-05-urbanisation-d-athenes-ultra-liberale-en-crise-et-sans-cadastre.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mall_Athens as a famous example of Illegal construction