Is it possible to transform the centre of Athens? Having covered all angles when discussing the problems and the discomfort caused by the current situation, what else is there to do? In a time of deep economic recession, Athens is called to find a different way to solve its problems and claim a place amongst today’s major European metropolises.
Within the framework of its public benefit activity, the Onassis Foundation responds to the present need for a reviving project by funding and organizing a European Architectural Competition for the creation of a new city centre for Athens, focusing on and around Panepistimiou Street. The objective of this initiative is to improve the everyday life of Athenian citizens, allowing the accomplishment of the vision for quality of life in the Greek capital.
Today, more than ever, we have the right to become visionaries while remaining realists. This is the right time to re-think Athens, taking an important step towards breathing life into the centre, forming a different perception for the upgrade and re-organization of its public space.
The “Re-think-Athens” project is a multifaceted intervention centered on Panepistimiou Street, extending from Amalias Avenue to Patission Street and ending at a brand new Omonoia Square. Its main objective is to stop the increasing downgrading and to revive the centre of Athens with multiple functions related to trade, services, housing, entertainment and culture while simultaneously encouraging several activities. The intervention at Amalias Avenue, Omonoia Square and Patission Street will form a ring that will link the pedestrian zone of Dionysiou Areopagitou and the new Acropolis Museum with the Archaeological Museum and Omonoia Square with the areas of Monastiraki and Thisseio, thus connecting the liveliness of the modern city with the archaeological sites and tourism.
The idea for the creation of a new city centre centered on Panepistimiou Street is quite old. The “Re-think-Athens” intervention offers a contemporary, fundamental change of habits in the way we use the city by placing people in the centre of things. The value of the area is too high to be used solely as a means of transit for cars. The centre can be accessed by public transportation, it can reconnect its distant areas thus resulting in a creative dialogue among its parts and it can transform its present drawbacks into places of value, highlighting its modern face. The quest for quality upon forming this contemporary profile leads to the search for a form of architecture that can introduce the incorporation of sustainable development in the city, in a decisive, creative and innovative way.
For this reason, the Onassis Foundation organized and funded a two- stage European architectural competition (with further funding of the required studies in total), aiming to collect proposals that will awaken, inspire and reveal options that reflect the character of the city and promote a healthy albeit futuristic image of a lively metropolis that keeps evolving.
The architectural competition raises the issue of quality of life, generating an interest on behalf of the public that will lead to a conversation on the new living conditions that will revitalize the centre of Athens in an attractive and sustainable way. It is the catalyst that will promote a debate on all kinds of issues and the creative fermentation of the views of citizens, involved experts, architects, artists, intellectuals and economists, to search for new things in the city’s old canvas.
There is an urgent need to formulate a wide visional and sustainable proposal for the reconstruction of the city centre, formed during a crucial period where social, economic, political, demographic and ecological challenges are seeking a way out. This vision is worth to be built with an open mind, unaffected by conventional eliminations in order to lead to wonderful and unexpected versions of the city centre. Thus, it must be powerful and convincing and it should be accompanied by a complete change in the way we have been using the centre of the city during the last few decades, adopting modern practices.
Furthermore, the intervention in and around Panepistimiou Street, will link smaller individual or collective creative interventions and initiatives regarding the city centre. It marks the shift in perception in relation to traffic around the centre of the city, because today the conditions that define traffic design are different since they focus on the prevention of intersections. The city centre should be enjoyed by its citizens and thus a development that takes into consideration not only the deadlocks but the actual circumstances as well should be achieved.
So, let us ‘Re-think-Athens’; after all, there is no better way to predict the future than to design it ourselves!