Athens is tethered to the port of Piraeus by an urban strip about 4 miles long. For most of its length, this strip is bound on one side by a railroad and on the other by a busy traffic thoroughfare. These two arterial lines coincide with the “Long Walls” of antiquity, which in the classical era provided protection for the link between the City State, centered on the Acropolis, and its port, the gateway to its imperial ambitions. At the end of the 30-year-long Peloponnesian War, the victorious Spartans demanded that Athens demolish the Long Walls, an event that marked the end of Athenian hegemony and its empire.
Traces of the Long Walls persist in modern Athens, even as a conurbation of nearly 5 million inhabitants has sprung up, now engulfing former hinterlands along with Piraeus. Nineteenth-century efforts to give Athens a legible center (the Triangle Plan of Kleanthis-Schaubert) can no longer hold this sprawling metropolis together. However, there is a latent order that would reconfigure Athens as a polycentric city with the Long Walls serving as a mooring to a new archipelago of interconnected centralities.
As precursor and inspiration for our studio brief, we will revisit an international competition from 1972 sponsored by Casabella magazine. The competition was called “The City as Significant Environment” and it was incredibly prescient in its diagnosis of the urban condition as a producer of “solitary masses” and its call to find viable ways to counteract that with new opportunities for communication and communal life. A number of then young avant-garde practices used the competition to reimagine the city, among them, my collaboration with Rem Koolhaas that culminated in the Exodus project. We will critically reassess the provocation that the competition provides and bring it to bear on our reading of Athens.
Using the Casabella brief as a point of departure, we will focus on the development of new centralities, new spaces for meaningful communal interaction. The studio will look closely at the Long Wall corridor, at first working as a group to decipher and reconstitute the strip’s inherent “intelligence,” determining its present identity and uncovering its latent instrumentality. The potential we collectively bring to light will be represented in a shared outline plan, in which select locations will be identified for intervention. Each of these locations will be the site of a new centrality, acting as an island that together form an archipelago. It is crucial that each centrality have a unique program or character that creates a dynamic interdependence with the other centralities, giving the archipelago a distinctive yet indivisible whole.
While the class will map out the overall confederation of centralities, individual students will undertake the detailed program and design of each centrality. These will each contain at least one urban public space along with the complex of buildings needed to support its unique character. The individual student will be responsible for elaborating the program and its architectural expression, with one quintessential part designed in detail. Presentation requirements will vary, but an effort will be made to find a harmonious language for the overall endeavor, testing it at each stage in consultation with the studio instructors.
In the final weeks of the studio, we will make a concerted effort to consolidate the individual designs into a renewed vision for the Long Walls, transformed by the new centralities and comprising a crucial configuration in the archipelago that will constitute a polycentric Athens.
1. Research & Outline Proposal (3 weeks)
2. Preliminary Design Proposals (2 weeks)
3. Travel & Preliminary Review (1 week)
4. Proposal Development (3 weeks)
5. Proposal Refinement (4 weeks)
6. Collective Design Reprise (2 weeks)