Our site will be Greece’s Argosaronic Gulf and its varied coastlines, which includes both the islands within the gulf and the Athens agglomeration.
The Saronic Gulf—the body of water with its 5 islands lying in front of and protecting modern Athens/Piraeus—lies at the heart of the most intense cultural and archaeological tourism in Greece. From the temple of Sounion at the tip of the Attica peninsula to the Byzantine fortress town of Monemvasia at the south-eastern tip of the Peloponnese, this body of water once linked seven ancient city states. Its coastal roads provide access to historical sites ranging from the Bronze age to modern times, including the Corinth canal, dug between 1881 and 1893, and Nafphlio, Greece’s early modern capital before the re-establishment of Athens.
This project proposes a set of punctual interventions (and attendant landscaping) whose purpose is to extend the possibilities of tourism for leisure, business, scholarship, the arts, sport… The project seeks to develop prototypes for a new form of high-value tourism—for both Greek and international use.
These prototype designs will be for long term but still temporary inhabitation (one week to 6 months). They will house and support various special interest groups whether a team of archaeologists working on digs nearby, small working conferences, film crews, theatre groups, universities from abroad, athletics, religious retreats, summer music schools, wine and food groups etc., etc… In fact, these inhabitations, secluded to support concentration, are intended for any group with a shared focus that stands to benefit from such accommodations. While the use of these facilities would likely remain in-house, they could also be extrovert in nature, preparing and staging events and performances that attract audiences and participants from Athens and the region.
The result will be an archipelago of interventions within an archipelago.
First, cultural infrastructure:
Although important archaeological destinations lie outside this zone—notably, Delphi, Delos, Knossos, it is the destinations next to and inside this zone that make up the irreducible “must see” of any cultural tour in Greece. These include ancient Athens, the Dionysian Eleusis, Acrocorinth, Mycenae, Tiryns, ancient Olympia and Argos, with ancient Sparta, Byzantine Mystras and Monemvasia nearby. The Gulf itself boasts three notable archaeological sites: the Asklepieion and its theatre at Epidaurus, the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion and the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina (the latter making a mysterious equilateral triangle with the Parthenon and Sounion). Important sites for other chapters in history also lie within the region: the medieval Venetian fortress at Nafplio and notable sites of the Greek war of Independence.
Since these sites are so close to each other most can be thoroughly visited in a two-day bus trip (one night in an hotel) and ALL can be visited in a 3-day bus trip (2 nights in hotels). Because of this, a highly specialised, inexpensive yet high quality tourism has evolved that combines well informed multi-lingual guides, Pullman bus companies and good quality local hotels and restaurants. All year round, Pullman buses of foreign and Greek tourists depart from Athens for these sites. In winter a one-night expedition hotel included costs as little as 70 euros.
Therefore, every day of the year thousands of visitors (10,000s in summer) are moved through this landscape by bus or boat*, disgorging briefly at key points that are well equipped to handle them—and then disappear again.
Thus, a successful, ecological and “pointillist” tourism has evolved that—except in the parking zones and highway rest stops—remains strangely invisible, despite intensive use.
Second, leisure infrastructure:
Despite its historical significance, its beauty and its intense use locally the Argosaronic gulf is not a favoured ‘leisure destination.‘ With 1000 inhabited islands to choose from (and open waters) neither Greeks nor tourists save up to have memorable holidays here. Instead its coasts provide the local day beaches, the weekend houses and flats, the weekend camp sites for Athens and Piraeus…
Thus, there is an intensive urban use of the coastline, which bypasses and ignores not only the archaeological sites, but also the historic landscapes, mountains and rich farmland behind. Athenians use this landscape but don’t really know it. Visitors and tourist buses pass through this landscape on the highways, with little opportunity to experience it. There is little to no opportunity to inhabit it…
This project seeks not only to bridge this gap but to add in quality.
The Saronic Gulf is the guardian of Athens and protects the Metropolitan area from the open Aegean Sea. The gulf offers a great variety of site conditions, character and features. Most of the gulf and all its islands are counted within the greater Athens Metropolitan area and is quickly accessible by road or sea. Each part offers different amenities.
A secondary tour, popular with tourists, is the one-day Saronic island tour by hydrofoil, visiting Aegina, Hydra and Poros. Its purpose is to give a taste of the Greek islands for visitors to Athens. Again, it is well organised with historical commentary, lunches and plenty of walk-around time.
The inner gulf includes the islands of Aegina, Angistri, Salamis, and Poros. In addition, Hydra and Spetses complete the island complex of the larger Argosaronic Gulf. Piraeus, Athens’s port, lies on the northeastern edge. Beaches line much of the gulf coast from Epidaurus to Kineta, from Megara to Eleusis and from Piraeus to Sounion. The volcano of Methana is located to the southwest along with the Isthmus of Corinth, Aegina and Poros. A hydropathic institute (spa) at Methana uses the hot sulphurous springs that still surface in this area. The most recent eruption was of a submarine volcano north of Methana in the 17th century.
The northern part of the gulf including east and west of Corinth counts several refineries, which produce most of Greece’s refined petroleum products, a large proportion of which are exported. Commercial shipping to the refineries, Piraeus, and to and from the canal make the northern gulf a busy area with commercial shipping.
The Battle of Salamis, just to the west of modern-day Piraeus, was a major turning point in European history which saw the Athenians defeat the Persian fleet of Xerxes, assuring Athens its place as the cradle of modern European culture.
The first four weeks of term will be the concept-forming, pre-travel-week period and will consist of two components: a collective part, in which the Studio works as a team, and an individual part, in which each student undertakes the design of a prototype within the overall concept.
Collective work: with the Studio working as a team, the geography, topography and history of the Saronic Gulf will be researched, in order to develop an overall concept and to produce a Masterplan of a preliminary project; a collective exercise, in which the proposal is to be conceived as a comprehensive, self-sufficient functioning territorial network, across land and sea, in which locations for the individual interventions will be earmarked.
Individual work: each student will undertake one specific architectural part within the above, to be developed as an archetypal proposal, a part of the constellation of interventions. These will be finalized after visiting the sites; at this stage, they will be speculative concepts, for examples such as a public beach, a seaside hotel, a sports center, a cultural center, a conference center, a marina, and any other program that may be deemed to be pertinent and significant in strengthening the general strategy for the entire bay.
These will be presented for criticism by local experts on arrival in Athens, during travel week.
After the site visit, both the chosen sites and the briefs will be modified in accordance with the studio’s evaluation of the site, its potential, its shortcomings, and its standing in regard to its role within the Athens Metropolitan context. The projects that will follow may vary from sport, to leisure, to entertainment, to residential alternatives, to cultural institutions, etc., etc… Generally, these will arise from the chosen location—and needless to say, landscaping will be critical in all instances.