The question we asked ourselves at the beginning of this project was whether there can be architecture – at least as we know it – in times of economic crisis. Inspired by this reflection, we came up with an original title for our thesis that constitutes of a word play with the word κρίση (from the Ancient Greek word κρίσις, which in Greek has a double meaning, one for crisis – economic, social or political – and one for judgment.) “Crisis Question”, which is the literal translation of the title, is used to refer to critical thinking.
So, we basically asked ourselves what is the role of architecture in the current social and economic environment in Greece. What are the possible ways and tools that architecture can use in order to stand up to this situation? With this in mind, we tried to come up with alternative architectural proposals that could upgrade our city.
In the extended Athens area, we often find vacant lots among the densely built urban fabric. The challenge was to exploit these lots for public uses. Although we chose as a case study the area of Exarchia, the interventions described below could also be realized in the extended area of the city center, in spots with similar characteristics.
More specifically, we recommend three tools for the temporary utilization of the vacant land:
1.Digging, 2.Building with scaffolding, and 3.Hanging between sidewalls.
We chose as a case study one of the listed plots* of Athens, which, due to a special legal status, remains empty. The main characteristics of the chosen plot are that it is situated between two high sidewalls and there is a “vromousa”** tree standing in the middle.
For the plot in question, we designed four cheap, ephemeral and flexible proposals that are going to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood. Also, the aforementioned legal status further supports the realistic and achievable nature of our proposal, since such “listed plots” are more likely to remain empty, at least as long as the economic crisis goes on.
The first proposed structure is an amphitheater that can host performances, lectures, movie screenings and many more. The second structure is a public swimming pool open to the residents of the area but also to visitors. The third proposal consists of some volumes hanging between sidewalls structures, which could be used as galleries, recreation spaces, hostels or offices. The last proposal is a scaffold that could serve, according to the needs, as studying areas for students, workshops, a coffee shop, a hostel, a library or offices.
The primary material used for theses structures is seaweed, along with building timber, nylon and scaffolds. The choice of seaweed was based on its reproducible nature. It is a cheap and plentiful material. More importantly, in terms of structural behavior, seaweed is a durable material, non-toxic, insulating, fire-proof, light- and sound-absorbing.
In order to underline the realistic character of our proposal, we have created a price list that contains all the materials needed in order to construct each one of our structures. The price list can be found here: http://issuu.com/fresharchidot/docs/katalogos.
* Listed plot in this project means a plot that has obvious traces of an old low building, and features a special legal status. The building that used to be in such a plot had once been a listed building due to its special architectural or historical interest, and even though the building has collapsed, the legal status remains intact. The law permits only the reconstruction of the old building, which is expensive, and the relevant bureaucratic procedures may prove time-consuming, with a limited estimated profit from its use.
** Vromousa tree or vromokaridia (Ailanthus altissima) is a very common species in the city center of Athens. It is a very resistant tree, with minimum requirements for water, soil and light. Its high prevalence in the city center may be attributed to its resistance to atmospheric and chemical pollution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ailanthus_altissima).