A new centrality

Architects have a critical role in shaping the future of civic space, supplying physical interventions that may set limits and shift centers of focus and activity. They also generate images that can serve as manifestoes, rallying the will to realize new forms and spaces for civic participation. Our studio will rehearse that role while turning our attention to Thessaloniki.

Thessaloniki is the second-largest city in Greece, the capital of Greek Macedonia, and designated as “co-capital” (Symprotévousa) of Greece, with a current population of over one million inhabitants. It is also Greece’s second key economic, industrial, commercial and political center, a major transportation hub and South-Eastern Europe’s most important commercial port; considered the country’s cultural capital, it hosts a variety of international events such as the annual Thessaloniki International Film Festival, the International Trade Fair, a Biennale of Contemporary Art, an annual festival of performance art, and it is the venue of the largest bi-annual meeting of the Greek diaspora.

Founded in 315 BC by the king of Macedon, it was given the name of Alexander the Great’s sister, a name that also means “Thessalian Victory”, commemorating a famous battle. Contrary to Athens, which was a village of some 4,000 inhabitants when in 1832 it was chosen as the capital of modern Greece, Thessaloniki remained a Metropolitan center throughout its 2,330-year history: In the 14th century the city’s population was close to 150,000, making it larger than London at the time. During the Ottoman period, the city’s population grew substantially. After the turn of the 16th century, nearly 20,000 Sephardic Jews immigrated to Thessaloniki from Spain, bestowing a legacy to the city that for centuries characterized and enriched its culture and that has left its indelible mark, despite its brutal annihilation by the German occupiers during WWII. On 26 October 2012 the city celebrated its centennial since its incorporation into Greece.

The studio proposes a critical intervention to a pivotal and central area in Thessaloniki’s tissue, which, as the map below demonstrates, is like the body of a butterfly’s two wings:

The area is pivotal not only in terms of its place and geometry in the city’s tissue, but also in terms of its content. This area encompasses a number of major institutions, namely:

-The “Helexpo” (DETh) site, venue of the annual Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, an event of great importance in Greece and South-Eastern Europe.
-The Museum District, with buildings such as the Museum of Byzantine Culture, the Archaeological Museum and the New City Hall with its own art gallery and auditorium.
-The Theatre District, with the athletic and cultural infrastructure of the YMCA (which includes a black box theater), the main building of the State Theater and its annex, as well as the corresponding Drama School.
-The campus of University of Macedonia, an institution granting degrees in business, finance, international and public affairs, and sociology.
-Finally, these cultural and commercial hubs are bordered by: -The campus of Aristotle University (AUTh), the largest university in Greece and the broader geographical area of the Balkans.
-The Archaeological District, which includes the overlapping historic sites of the Rotonda, the monumental Arch installed by the Roman Emperor Galerius (Kamara), and fragments of the Byzantine and Ottoman fortification walls.
-The White Tower, the very symbol of the City of Thessaloniki.
Though no building intervention is proposed within these last areas, an appropriate landscaping proposition will be required, to reinforce their instrumentality as an integral part of the area under study.

These seven constituents determine the area as the kernel of the city, albeit an insubstantial, incomplete and rather incorporeal kernel, in need of an emblematic material presence and of paradigmatic reconfiguring.

The intervention site

The intervention site (delineated in bold red outline) and adjacent areas mentioned above (delineated in fine red outline) are illustrated in the photographs below:

The studio program

In 2014 Thessaloniki’s mayor announced his plan to relocate the Helexpo activities as well as the attached former military headquarters in order to reclaim the area for the benefit of the city and its citizens. The expanded and unified site will be redesigned as an urban park incorporating selected cultural facilities and connections to the existing adjacent green areas (a park and a botanical garden) as well as the new waterfront redevelopment designed by Nikiforidis and Cuomo Architects (who will be one of our hosts during the travel week), awarded the UIA prize last year and shortlisted for the Mies van der Rohe architecture prize. The latter is a pedestrianized green strip that unfolds in several kilometers through a series of thematic urban gardens, concluding in the city’s Concert Hall and its new annex, designed by Arata Isozaki and Associates.

The design of the park should extend northwards to comprise the site of AUTh (University) campus and will consider landscaping strategies that overcome the obstacles of traffic arteries that presently partition the site.

Pursuant to the objective of containing the endless sprawl and the extension of the city’s growth (a growth that promotes private seclusion and the withdrawal from city-life) and, in order to strengthen the instrumentality of Thessaloniki’s public domain, it is to be assumed, that, in conformity with the studio’s objectives, the existing city is given strict limits, beyond which it cannot expand, and that its growth will take place within its own given limits.
To this end, we propose the introduction of an additional 20,000 inhabitants within the proposed intervention site, with attendant facilities that are not provided for by the already existing amenities presently on the site.
Through the course of the semester, we will test and calibrate the final population to respond to existing conditions and latent potential for greater density.

Through our collective research, site visit and discussions with stakeholders, we will establish a slate of additional programs that will be needed to support the new inhabitants of the site. These will likely include student housing, hotel, office, commercial, cultural and entertainment venues.

The schedule

The studio will be sequenced in four stages:

  1. Reinventing the Public Condenser
    We will begin with a conceptual exercise that analyzes seminal architectural precedents and arrives at an emblematic Image-Manifesto, representing each student’s position on reinvigorating public space (a detailed program will be issued on Week 1).

  2. Intervention Site Masterplan
    Prior to our trip, we will collectively work on a comprehensive design for the urban form, landscape and programmatic organization of the site. After feedback in Thessaloniki, this will form the basis for the work in Stage 3.

  3. Architectural Interventions
    Students working individually or in small teams will then develop focused architectural proposals for the constituent parts of the Masterplan.

  4. Reassembly and Final Presentation
    We will again work collectively to bring the proposals from Stage 3 into a coherent whole and prepare for their possible inclusion in a publication and exhibit in Thessaloniki.

Studio travel

The studio will travel to Greece from 26 September to 3 October. The plan is to spend five days in Thessaloniki and two days in Athens, in order to draw a comparison between the capital and the 2nd city, or “co-capital”. During our stay in Thessaloniki-which will coincide with the Contemporary Art Biennale and the annual performing arts festival called Dimitria–we will visit the site and explore the city; we will have lectures by scholars on the history of our site. We will also meet with the mayor of Thessaloniki, an interesting and popular public figure, in order to discuss our project, its relevance to the city’s plans as well as the nature and potential venue of an exhibition of the completed project.

All Semesters

Fall 2017
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