Tuning Athens*

“Everything leads us to believe that there exists a certain point in the mind at which life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the communicable and the incommunicable, the high and the low, construction and destruction, cease to be perceived in terms of contradiction. Surrealist activity, therefore, would be searched in vain for any other motive than the hope of determining this point”
– Andre Breton [1929]

The idea of transforming an entire city, as some avant-garde architects dreamt on the 60s and 70s when Archigram proposed to “tune-up London“, has returned by the hands of Point Supreme Architects. It is refreshing to find this kind of projects, in an era when everybody is trying to build new cities, from Masdar to The World; architects, urban planners and developers have spent the last ten years researching, designing and building new cities, instead of stop for a moment and rethink what we can do to transform the cities where we live.

Point Supreme Architects has developed some different proposals for Athens, their ideas are quite interesting and the fact that you can mix them up and have a complete overview of speculative projects to improve the city, make them part of a complete set for “redesigning Athens“. They use “a kind of archigramesque” design, with collages on full color, to take us in travel through Athens current problems and their proposals to solve them.

Tuning London by Archigram. Source: Archigram Archive

Athens by Hills. Point Supreme Architects

“Without question the city must endure.
Without question the city as [sic] a significant environment because it is total theatre and total experience.
Without question we must engage with the city with enthusiasm and resource.
Our project seeks to augment.
Such an augmentation must be made with wit at the same time as sympathy. It must be made with audacity at the same time as empathy.”

Ron Herron and Diana Jowsey wrote this text in 1972. Now, questioning their city [Athens], Konstantinos Pantazis and Marianna Rentzou and pointing that one of the problems in the contemporary Greek city is the lack of any overall planning or vision. They points that the expanding of the city is being materialised through the endless repetition of polikatikias [apartment building] which becomes, in essence, the realization of the domino house. This fact also drives the city to miss the green space necessary for its inhabitants:

There is only 2.7 m2 of green space attributed to each resident of Athens making it the most deprived of all European Capitals. In the most densely built central areas the percentage drops to a mere 0.4 m2 per person. How much additional green does the city require in order to reach the European average of 7 m2? How can this be placed in the city?

Answering these questions, Point Supreme proposes the imposition of this gigantic missing-green, which can undo another major urban dysfunction –the lost connection of the Acropolis to the sea. The design is based on a kilometer wide strip of the city to be demolished and replaced by nature, directly linking the Acropolis to the water. Doing this, the polikatikias and the Athens neighborhoods suddenly will start to coexist and to be connected to the seaside through big expanses of park, forest, jungle and lakes that return to the city the piece of Heaven that it had been deprived of.

On the project Archipelago Cities, recently published on San Rocco Magazine, the proposal is developed on the geography of the Greek archipelago, which seems to reappear in the urban setting of Athens; the main idea is to visualize the city as a translation of the archipelago landscape of the Cyclades. With hills and mountains floating in Athen’s urban fabric with the Acropolis sitting majestically on a gigantic piece of rock at the circle’s center, the proposal tries to answer to Point Supreme’s questions: “Can we imagine a parallel urban archipelago using a different landscape as the inspiration? If Athens is the city that corresponds to the Cyclades “circular” archipelago, what kind of city would correspond to Hawaii, a “linear” archipelago?

The project is described as:

Kawaii is an imaginary linear city built by the people of Hawaii and located in the ocean. It is autonomous and self contained.Kawaii’s urban fabric connects a linear series of hills of different programs and features that mysteriously resemble Hawaii’s linear collection of islands. The hills of Kawaii are experienced in a predefined sequence; the development of each specifically influences the hills on either side. The elongated side views of Kawaii reveal the hills in breathtaking simultaneity while the experience of the city depends on ones direction of movement. Due to the specific arrangement of the hills the perception and experience of Kawaii becomes objective.

We can perceive on the idea of a linear city, the influence of Alan Boutwell and Mike Mitchell’s Continuous city for 1.000.000 human beings, as we can see:

Alan Boutwell & Michael Mitchell. Source: Domus 470, Milan, 1969 at RNDRD

Kawaii linear city. Point Supreme Architects

Kawaii linear city. Point Supreme Architects

We can end this post quoting Alan Boutwell and Michael Mitchell, when they described their project with the self-confidence and urgency that is characteristic of that time: “This is our city. We have not sensationalized. All that we have described is feasible today […] If we do not act now, in spite of all the seemingly insuperable difficulties, we shall soon reach a state where action is no longer possible.”

It is still possible for Athens?

*Tuning Athens. Title taken from Archigram’s project “Tuning London

Point Supreme Architects was founded in Rotterdam in 2007 by Konstantinos Pantazis and Marianna Rentzou and is now based in Athens. Their work integrates research, architecture, urbanism, landscape and graphic design. During 2009-2010 they were joined by Beth Hughes.


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