• Competion
  • Athena
  • GR
  • 2004
  • i.c.w. Joost Meuwissen

The project concerns the urban redevelopment of the 540 ha site of the former Hellenikon airport of the city of Athens (GR) into what should become a ‘metropolitan park for the 21st century’. The slightly sloping site is beautifully located within the existing metropolitan area, between the mountains and the sea.

The scheme aims at sustainability and disposability. In the 21st century, a park or public green area, with regard to space, program, financing and maintenance, should not rely upon isolating these conditions from its surroundings. Regarding space and program: a public, or rather civic space must be available and open to everyone: at the same time it provokes various interests of different kinds of people. It will be not only a place to relax, but through that, also a place to reflect. Regarding financing: as the program states it should be mainly paid for by a) urban developments at its edges and b) some commercial functions which fit into the nature within the park. Regarding maintenance: although visually highly artificially intensifying, its vegetation and functioning follow the ecological rules of the region.


No Through Roads
Being considered within its urban environment, the scheme does not impose a new or alternative structure which would stick out against the existing surroundings. Instead, the grid-like structures of the city of Athens itself, which also inside our area are very dense, loosen up into the park, thus making both entering into it and sojourning at it into quite a familiar experience. Almost all of the roads already exist; they only extend into the park now, where they all stop. In that sense, they are not dead-end or blind ones but roads that simply stop because you are already there. The roads stop because where you are is more important than the road itself at that very moment is. You are already in the park. The former structure of the airport as a gated community is replaced by a total access for all.

Alongside the No Through Roads.

Lit Landscape
A park is mostly a deliberately designed landscape with lampposts. So, in general so to speak, leave the park out, and take only the landscape with the lamps. More specific, the existing Hellenikon landscape is ‘planted’ with lights,creating a park. Rather than aligning themselves along roads and pathways, now the lights follow a logic of their own, within nature, a secret natural logic of straight lines, like a Platonic idea. But since lampposts are points, not lines, each point will be part of a certain configuration of lines, and also relate to these other lines or to some lampposts on these other lines. In this way, the landscape will be lit through a configuration of lines of lights, which must have a logic of its own, but at the same time this configuration will be able to fully extend over the area – any area – since its pattern is based both on the lines themselves and their configuration within the area. Unlike the signs of the zodiac, which are based upon observation rather than upon nature itself, the configuration of lights within the Hellenikon Light Grounds does not form signs, curiously enough because the configuration of lines reflects a pattern of streets which are absent from the park, thus defining the park as an absence of streets on the one hand, and not allowing any other sign to be derived from the same configuration on the other hand.

Feather Parking
Parking will be along the roads that lead into the park or rather, from the park outwards. The parking places along the roads have a feather-pattern, so that the actual parking goes smoothly into the same direction as the road. The idea is that in driving the car, you suddenly become aware that you are already there, and just relaxingly stop the car by the same movement. With regard to the refined road structure, with no big concentrations of parking places, feather parking also means that the amount of traffic upon such roads will be rather low; only a few big roads lead to the urban facilities such as the shopping mall and the convention center.

Hellenikon Forest
The major parts which have been preserved from the former airport strips are an asset to the new park by providing large promenades, whose width is so generous that they also provide opportunities for official and spontaneous manifestations such as concerts, fairs, and the like. On the one hand, their sharply defined shapes are too big to perceive aesthetically at one glimpse but, after their bigness can be felt anyway, they get the same sublime quality which is striven for in the whole of the landscape on the other. As such, the awareness of them being former runways should fade away. They should be experienced as very big formal shapes. Their formally defined scale is the only one that matches with the similar but informal scale of the whole of the park (as well as that of the sea nearby). In order to overcome the existing repetition of the three of the strips, however, which somehow diminishes their scale, between the two eastern ones the scheme proposes a dense forest of mainly chestnuts, which is precisely as long as the strips, just filling in the area in-between them, the result being that both taxiways and the forest in-between together form an independent megaform in the landscape. This is called Hellenikon Forest. Since the taxiways at either side of the forest disappear in the shadows which are cast by the chestnut trees, both of them act as one huge socle upon which the forest arises. This fusion of the artificial and the natural into a completely new architecturally defined Classical image is of course of Romantic origin (Schinkel), and dates from the same period as the Greek independence.

For unknown reasons, the tramstop of the tramway that passes through the quite wild savannah landscape facing the Olympic facilities, and which stops in a completely symmetrical position in front of the northern smaller side of the Hellenikon Forest, is preferably called Bahnhof.

Swimming Pools
Since most people like to swim, lots of swimming pools are added to the park, mostly in conjunction to the structure of the endings of the roads and pathways. They should be as open as possible for everyone but, of course, maintenance and security measurements, as well as their financing, should be worked out for each of them. Their point is to provide the whole of the park with rather uniform and therefore easily imaginable amenities now, since the scheme is affluent and flexible enough to accommodate all kinds of other attractions which may come out from initiatives in the future. Together with the lights, the swimming pools illuminate the nature ensemble in the evening.

In order to not only attract neighbors and the shopping mall and convention center visitors, but also modern tourists from all over the world, two completely new monuments will be erected: the beautiful Frei Otto roof on top of the hillside at the north-eastern part of the site, overlooking both the Olympic facilities and the shopping mall underneath, and at the southern end of the former airport runways the Museum of Art Works that Have Been Stolen in the Past, which will be built according to a famous, as yet unbuilt design by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Nature Hill
The rather low, flat green hill next to the Olympic amenities and the planned shopping mall will be given a roof. Nature sometimes needs a roof, for us in order to be able to really think or reflect in nature. Roofing nature or roofing a green area provides it with another level, another, unnatural and artificial floor space, a Romantic preservation of a Classical vertical layering comparable to the one of the Hellenikon Forest (see above), but in this case vice-versa: roofed nature instead of socled nature. Both Hellenikon Forest and Nature Hill act together in a way the Stoa and the Parthenon might be seen to act together: the very elongated, one-sidedly- observed, darkly edged, and almost endless synoikeia of rows of chestnut trees beneath, and the floating roof on top of columns above. This floating roof could be a real realisation of the beautiful design by Frei Otto: a flat roof on open, leafless tree-like, almost natural columns which arise from a real forest of trees, thus vertically stacking four horizontal layers of, subsequently, natural ground, natural trees, leafless trees, supporting an abstract, idealistic layer on top of them. Nature becomes architecture. Very beautiful is the way the small hilltop on top of the rather flat hill emerges from that flatness, as if the idea of having a hill is enheightened when the hill is under the roof and reflects its own height by enheightening itself in the second degree through the presence of that roof.

Museum of Art Works that Have Been Stolen in the Past
At the southern end of the bigger runways, a Museum of Art Works that Have Been Stolen in the Past is situated. The museum is empty. The theme is political. It is about all the art works from the country’s past that vanished both legally and illegally. Through exhibitions, discussions and public manifestations the museum is dedicated to documenting the efforts to bring them back. The empty museum is a new to build quotation of one of the most fascinating unbuilt designs of the architect Mies van der Rohe: his Museum for a Small City from 1942. That museum, which presumably was to only house Picasso’s Guernica, would have been empty as well, would it have been built in the small city it was meant for. The extra-large forecourt Mies foresaw for his museum as an extending plain serving as a visual base to the hilly landscape at the rear, similar to Hellenikon’s setting within its surroundings, would finish the two bigger runways by binding them together into an apotheosis of public square at their south side.

Urban Facilities
Today, urban facilities are necessary to support a park’s sustainability both functionally and financially. To these facilities, the park provides an asset and an attractive advertorial image of being in nature. At the eastern side of Hellenikon’s, both a shopping mall and the convention center that way parasitize on nature.

Shopping in Nature
A repetition of the existing hangars, not into the direction of the park, but toward the existing urban fabric at the east, thus not being a threat to the park at all, allows for a loose commercial development which consists of shopping – or dancing, having dinner, for that matter – in big?buildings sliding upon a landscape, whose strong characteristics are not derived from their being big buildings but from being a repetition of something else, something from the past. It is the hangars that are repeated, not the shops or the dance party halls themselves. Repetition makes things beautiful. The repetition of the former hangars should be just as literal as to be easily recognized as a repetition, for instance either in volume or in material or in color. After that condition has been met, there will be an almost inexhaustible freedom of development.

Convention Center
From its center, Saarinen’s beautiful former airport terminal building, the convention center develops along the line of similar beautiful buildings. Together they form an independent small city within the borders set out by a huge roundabout, which is broken up in order to avoid amounts of traffic. Within the roundabout, the surface area allows for almost inexhaustible development. At the same time, the elongated former airport taxiway promenade and the Hellenikon Forest as a proper background for the whole of the convention ensemble form a place to reflect and communicate nearby in the park.

Urban Redevelopment
The metropolitan park should be mainly financed by commercial developments at the edges of the site and some urban facilities that fit into the natural developments within the park.

The park area consists of a loose configuration of groups of trees and shrubberies, with only the Hellenikon Forrest as a tight body of green and shadow. Since the area is there for everyone, as a genuine public space, the plantings of trees and bushes should be recognizable to almost everyone, both as species of their own, and clearly distinct from each other. As recognizable visual accents they are not exclusive though, for the whole area should be as much as possible maintained as raw nature, which would welcome all other sorts of trees and plants to join. The park is not only open to the people but also to plants and animals. Soil amelioration and adaptation, as well as irrigation should be kept to the minimum, and will be presumably only necessary at the start of the implementation. As for pollutions from the past, the lessons from recent experiences are that if at the places concerned the human safety is separated from natural development for a while, polluted areas can turn into richer ecological niches than non-polluted ones. But of course, with regard to that further inquiries should be carried out.