Few professions have demonstrated a greater dedication to our collective futures than architecture. History is replete with examples that pushed society forward, such as Hagia Sophia, the Pantheon, and the Empire State Building. Perhaps this is why, since its inception in 2011,
The Ellinikon in Athens, Greece, has drawn attention—in apparent defiance of the country’s 2009 economic collapse and geopolitical woes.
The sprawling 1,532-acre Ellinikon project appears to be Europe’s largest urban regeneration project on paper. When phase one of three is completed in 2025, it will connect an all-new public park the size of Monaco (dubbed The Ellinikon Park) to a new business district, residential community, and coastal attraction.
And it will all be done with the most advanced smart infrastructure available for a sustainable future. If this appears to be a difficult task, it is.
That is why the developers brought masterminds Kengo Kuma, Fosters + Partners, Aedas, and Sasaki to the table, whose collective experience shines through the project.
Much of the project is being built on the sprawling site of Athens’ former international airport. Ellinikon International Airport, which opened in 1938, was in many ways the embodiment of twentieth-century Europe.
During WWII, the Germans and Italians occupied Greece, converting the airfield into a base for Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe. Later, in the decade after the mid-1950s, Greece experienced a golden age of modern travel.
This gave visitors from all over the world the opportunity to see the country’s gleaming beaches and historic archaeological sites for the first time. Eero Saarinen, the renowned Finnish architect, designed the new East Terminal building.
Our team truly believes this moment is comparable to New York City prior to Central Park or London prior to Hyde Park
The Greek economy began to deteriorate by the late twentieth century, and the airport was officially closed in 2001. As a result, the space was converted into stadiums and other facilities for the Athens Summer Olympics in 2004.
The global financial crisis of 2007 exposed the country’s serious economic problems. Locals yearned for better days and a reason to be hopeful.
If architecture has a defining creed, it is that we build because we believe in the future. “Our team truly believes this moment is comparable to New York City prior to Central Park or London prior to Hyde Park,” says Odysseus Athanasiou, CEO of LAMDA Development, the company in charge of the massive urban renewal project. “The Ellinikon is one of those truly one-of-a-kind projects that will completely transform the face of a city.”
Athanasiou’s team will, by definition, be remaking the city. Since the city’s founding in the fifth century BC, no building could exceed the Acropolis’s height of 512 feet, which is why Athens has become a sprawling city full of concrete and little public green space. The Ellinikon, located 7.5 miles away, falls outside of that jurisdiction, allowing the tallest tower in Greece to be built.
The possibilities appeared to be limitless
“My family lived in the former airport’s adjacent suburbs,” Antoinette Nassopoulos-Erickson, an architect, urban designer, and senior partner at Fosters + Partners, says. “When the airport closed, everyone was waiting to see what would happen to it for a long time.” “The possibilities appeared to be limitless.” Nassopoulos-team Erickson was instrumental in creating the project’s defining anchor, the 656-foot-tall Riviera Tower. The residential tower, which is set to be Greece’s tallest building, will have a striking verdant facade. “Everything in architecture is a response to the local culture.” Riviera Tower is no exception, which is why we chose to have the towers mimic the new park’s extensive green public realm.”
The slim structure, which is located along the coastline and provides tenants with uninterrupted views of the sea, is set to achieve a LEED Gold rating because it will save 35% more energy than a conventional building of a similar size. “There’s a constant dialogue between the inside and outside world with Riviera Tower,” Nassopoulos-Erickson says. “Think about the private balconies on each floor. They are shaded overhangs that connect the building to the environment while also cooling the interior spaces. For this reason, biophilic architecture has been around for centuries.”
The Ellinikon will include not only new residential units
When finished, The Ellinikon will include not only new residential units (including plans for more affordable housing), but also a university, hospital, and a school for disabled children, among other things. “We truly believe this will be a city within a city,” says LAMDA’s Athanasiou, who knows a thing or two about the subject as the author of a forthcoming book on the history of small nation success. “Of course, this is a vast tract of land. However, our partners have designed it so that you can get to any point on The Ellinikon in 15 minutes or less.”
The Ellinikon needed a retail component to truly be a city within a city. The team hired architect Kengo Kuma to design one of the project’s two major retail spaces. Kuma, a Japanese native, is an expert in designing spaces near water. It’s an intuition he’s had since he was a child, and it’s part of his fascination with architecture.
“My father took me to see [Kenzo] Tange’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which was built for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo,” Kuma recalls. “The way the light reflected from the pool on the ceiling was incredible.” Tange’s ability to manipulate natural light in this manner reminded me of a magician.” As a result, Kuma’s design for the series of commercial spaces along the coast includes a sinuous, cantilevering roofline that both reflects the abundant sunlight and follows the curves of a calm sea.
The Ellinikon’s ultimate success would mean that it does for Athens what Marina Bay did for Singapore or the Guggenheim did for Bilbao. Locals estimate that the project will generate 75,000 new jobs and attract 1-1.5 million additional tourists (Greece’s 2022 tourism numbers are currently on track to surpass their 2019 numbers, which were a record at the time).
The Ellinikon, like any other city in the world, will display flashes of brilliance in some buildings while practicing modest restraint in others. However, every symphony requires a melody in between notes. This symbiotic relationship is the foundation of the belief that our greatest places and times are still ahead of us.
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