Monday, December 07, 2009

Athens Building Database

Sometime over 10 years ago, I started a little photographic project that I never completed: to document all the 1930s buildings in Athens. I was inspired by the methodologies I had learned in documenting vernacular architecture at the Morea Project and wanted to apply it on the modern apartment buildings of the interwar period. My 1930s Polykatoikies Project was a great excuse to walk every street of Athens and take photographs. A couple of books on 1930s apartment buildings have come out since then, and the Benaki has established a great architectural archive. Things are looking a little better for modern architectural studies. The field is still dominated by the super-scholars of the Polytechneion (Manolis Korres for ancient, Charalambos Bouras for medieval, Dimitris Philippides for modern), but a new generation seems to be emerging as well.

Athens is full of modern architectural jewels like the 1932 Blue Apartment Building at Exarcheia (published by Maro Kardamitse-Adame, 2006). Some have been studied thoroughly on a one-to-one case and the general historical narrative has been well established. What is still missing, nevertheless, is a systematic documentation of what is on the ground that might include lesser and greater buildings. The online database Contemporary Monuments Database is a good start. The project is directed by Leonidas Kallivretakis of the National Research Center. The database includes 267 buildings and is searchable by construction dates (1467-2003). The general website, Archaeology of the City of Athens, also includes 12 papers by experts on each period. The only annoying thing about the site is its ominous musical introduction.

The recent controversy over the houses on 17 and 19 Dionysiou Areopagitou Street have highlighted the preservation threats of modern Greek architecture. The destruction of the older housing stock during the 1960s is now lamentable. "Here is Athens ... the City before," a documentary from 1980, makes the case most poetically. It features a very nice text by painter Yannis Tsarouchis. The documentary begins with works by Spyros Vasileiou. If you remember from my last posting, Vasileiou is the painter of Patesion Street that Sotheby's just sold for $330,000. The video is available on the Archaeology of the City of Athens website and it's worth the 20 minutes. The documentary itself seems like a relic of the late 1970s. Its images of Athens are already historical.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States