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Abandoned buildings in Athens

12 December 2015 / 17:12:29  GRReporter
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Athens Biennale shed light on a long neglected issue, namely that of abandoned neo-classical buildings in the centre of Athens, and mainly around Omonia Square. Architect Fanis Kafandaris is managing the Speleo project that aims to find and map them, and to launch a public discussion on the fate of empty buildings.

The building of Bageion is the first on the list, which is a former hotel built by Ioannis Bagas in the late 19th century. It is an example of the architecture by Saxon architect Ernst Ziller. The traces of the great past are still visible as well as those of the sad present, with cracked and peeled stucco elements.

Not far from Bageion there is another abandoned neoclassical building, "Alexander the Great", with melancholic pseudo-caryatids as well as the desolate Court of the Peace, the hotels Fashion House, La Mirage, the former Excelsior Hotel and the Andrikidi Chamber.

Towards Panepistimiou and Stadiou streets, at the beginning of Themistokleus and Emmanuel Benaki streets, on Athinas street to Sofokleus, in Dikeosini and Vathys squares, the number of empty buildings is constantly increasing. At least 70 such buildings have been listed until now, and things are even more depressing if we take into account their great size. Ghost buildings, not somewhere else but in Athens’ geographical centre, in the sad area of ​​Omonia.

"Sadness is an internal condition. I prefer the word anxiety, with its negative or positive meaning. Anxiety about the changes in the city in which we are living," says Kafandaris. His thesis is devoted to the changes in the urban network around Omonia.

Deregulation of the centre

The centre deregulation has left behind a very sensitive balance whose disruption has been accelerated by the current economic conditions. Companies and institutions prefer to relocate or close in general, wholesale and retail trade has been hit hard and all that, combined with recession, is vacating the buildings, says Kafandaris.

Buildings left to their own fate

It is very difficult not to use the word "abandonment" when speaking about the situation in the city centre.

"When a building is described as abandoned, it means that someone has left it to its own fate. This may be true for some old buildings with many heirs, which cannot be used and which fall under a mixed protection regime by institutions. The term "functionally inactive" or the more liberal "waiting" building is more correct. Many of these buildings belong to public or private agencies and institutions. The centre cannot be defined as "empty", as often happens. But its past dynamics has changed. It is logical for the city to move. If something causes sadness, it is the refusal to recognize the depth of the transformation of the city centre," says the architect.

The case of Bageion

The building, which hosted the Athens Biennale that ended on 29 November, belongs to the Bageion Foundation that is the owner of "Alexander the Great" too. Filippos Dragoumis from the Foundation states, "Since their last use in 1993, there has been no demand for the buildings. We tried to find an investor but it proved impossible because of the position of Omonia, and because of the economic crisis later. Meanwhile, the Foundation funds decreased, because they were in the form of shares of the National Bank and the Bank of Greece, according to the will of Bagas. Therefore, we decided that the best solution would be to provide the buildings to Athens Municipality to include them in the ESPA programme. However, this did not happen because the deadlines for funding were missed. We thought it would better to open them, even partially, for various activities such as the Biennale, and to repair them gradually, without waiting for a big investment. There is a demand for a variety of artistic performances even in "Alexander the Great" already. Such events as the Biennial contribute to the revitalization of the area."

Tags: Athens centreOmonia SquareAbandoned buildingsBageionAthens Biennale
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