101 Ideas for Athens from Urban Think Tank

From Venezuela to Greece

With relevant experiences gained in Caracas, Urban Think Tank (U-TT) now addresses the European city. One of the most recent proj- ects of this multidisciplinary team, focused on Athens, suggested ways of reactivating the city centre. Alfredo Brillembourg, Hubert Klumpner and Alexis Kalagas of U-TT explain their approach, which has been documented in a book recently published by Ruby Press.

 

Detail: Your initiative for the Greek capital is called “Reactivate Athens”. What is the background to this project?
Alfredo Brillembourg: Caracas was burning when we left Venezuela. We arrived as profes- sors at the ETH Zurich in 2010 and began to think about the most appropriate city in Eu- rope on which to focus our attention. Given the spiralling effects of the debt crisis, it quick- ly became clear at the time that we had to concentrate on what was happening in Athens. We began with a design studio and sought to develop a new strategic vision for the urban core. Then Athens went up in flames and riots, and it became clear that parallels could be drawn between certain con- ditions in South America and crisis-stricken Europe. This experience confirmed something we had often said, namely that Caracas is everywhere.

You established a lab in Athens – a partici- patory platform for workshops and discus- sions and for the many different protago- nists you involved in the work. Can you tell us about your experiences there?

Alexis Kalagas: We had a local team of about 15 people in Athens and another team of 10 people in Zurich. We also consulted and collaborated with many local actors. We en- countered some political resistance, but we had a conciliatory tone and tried to use the space to simulate dialogue. Our position as outsiders ultimately worked to our advantage. We were able to circumvent certain fixed atti- tudes and take a fresh look at our area of study – not just in terms of the challenges the city faced, but also the hidden potential that existed.

Hubert Klumpner: The lab was situated in the middle of one of the poorest areas of the city, near Omonia Square. We placed ourselves in the hotbed of the crises and tried to find solu- tions that could be realized even in a climate where funding was almost non-existent. Athens is a fantastic city; it has long been a place of pilgrimage for architects – people like Le Corbusier, who published the Athens Charter. Our aim was to go there and pro- pose a kind of “informal charter”. In one sense, therefore, the book can be read as a new manifesto for a city where architecture and urbanism are situated at the heart of multidisciplinary thinking and have a role to play in suggesting a range of solutions for a city subject to stress....

Interview: Sandra Hofmeister

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