The new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center has forever changed the city’s landscape but also aims to influence Athens. Here’s how…
Arts and Culture in Greece
While on assignment, I learned about the makings and meanings of one of the most impressive eco-minded architectural feats to be built recently – right in Athens – the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC).
Elpidoforos Pappas with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation showed me the way. One word came to mind after our meeting: impressive.
Greece should be proud.
Introducing an Impressive Cultural Center
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center is no doubt an imposing addition to the capital. From a certain angle on the busy Sygrou avenue, the center appears like a massive gleaming silver and glass paneled box was dropped onto the southern Athens skyline.
Such a project could only be possible with a sizeable investment, exactly €596 million. The grant was offered by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the largest donation in recent Greek history. It was also one the most generous single donations worldwide in the art and culture realm.
Pappas said the SNFCC was designed to “give hope” to Greece, a country struggling through an economic crisis. I was about to learn why.
A Walk Through the Stavros Niarchos Park
We first walked through the grounds, a man made 170,000 m2 lush, green park complete with performance fields, playgrounds, impressive gardens and an outdoor café. As part of the project, a public athletic park was also built with a track and swimming pool. It is open to the public for use.
The details were incredible. The air was thick with heat as a hot Mediterranean summer day should be, but filled with the freshness of the plants, herbs, flora and trees that landscaped the walking paths.
The playground also hit the senses. An unsuspecting piece of art made sounds to represent the Greek sea, for example. I stomped on some wooden planks set in the ground that chimed gleefully, so did some unsuspecting metal squares nearby.
The park is now one of the city’s largest green public spaces.
The greenery and gardens all sloped up – slowly but surely – to the shimmering main complex.
Approaching the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
The Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano, the architect behind the the Pompidou Center in Paris, is behind it all. In an interview with the Greek press, Piano said he wanted to evoke “the poetry of the Mediterranean.”
I thought of that as I transitioned from breathing in the park’s fresh country-like air to appreciating the familiar summer winds that blew about me, rich with the taste of the sea.
Under an expansive sloped covering, Pappas explained with enthusiasm just how “green” the project is which is unique for Greece. The roof we stood under held 10,000 square meters of photovoltaic cells.
He also pointed out to the manmade sea water canal that ran parallel to the building, a cool glistening oasis in the sun, was constantly filled with filtered sea water from the nearby Flisvos Marina. All the green elements improve the microclimate and help run the complex with energy.
No matter where we stood, there was a view of either the city, including Lycabettus Hill and the Acropolis, or out to the sea.
Thanks to the design of the complex, built on the artificial hill, Kallithea (a quiet residential neighborhood) has bragging rights to one of nicest views in town. Kallithea actually means good view, in Greek. However, a view like this certainly didn’t exist before.
Pappas also pointed out something from the viewing balcony that could only happen in this region of the world. In a corner, what looked like a rectangle of forgotten dug up soil was actually a mass grave dating back to the 7th century B.C.
Uncovered during excavations, it remains closed off from the public as the state continues to work with the foundation to determine how best to showcase the findings. All along, the land buried a story from ancient Athens.
SNFCC New Spaces
We walked down from the balcony to the entrance. The exterior is sleek plane of symmetrical glass heavy design. Light was clearly welcomed in.
First we toured the new home of the National Library of Greece that will house two million books and important manuscripts. Without the books on the shelves, it still felt very exciting to stand in the space, to know so many books would have such a home.
The tech and work spaces, to be free and open to the public, brought back memories of my modern university library in the states. Standing there inspired me to study something. Computer workstations were wired up and the color pops from the mobile furniture (designed by Piano as well) completed the space, seemingly empty but definitely ready for a community.
Next, we walked through the new Greek National Opera where a shock of brilliant candy apple red and the smell of a brand new car grabbed my senses. The just “unwrapped” 1,400-seat opera house, built with state-of-the-art acoustics, seemed very ready to host world-class opera and ballet performances. Next door to the opera, we peeked in on a second performance hall with 450 seats (plastic still on them), for alternative events.
Athens New Arts Center
Pappas says the Athenian reception to the SFNCC’s early summer opening events had been a great success and that the community is very “protective” of the space, meaning they respect it and are proud of it. He says there is more to offer as programming, including the opera, are set to be offered at an affordable rate. Meanwhile community events are set to open up the theatre, music and the arts to Athens in ways that were not possible before. Something, he says is necessary, especially now.
I couldn’t agree more.
Tips for Visiting the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center Now
- You can’t buy opera tickets just yet. Both the opera and the library are in moving stages and those buildings of the arts complex are set to officially open in 2017.
- You can visit the rest. The beautiful park is great for a stroll and is quite close to the Flisvos Marina, another very scenic and walkable area of southern Athens.
- While at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, also visit the Agora, an outdoor space that connects the opera and the library. In the Agora lobby, there is an impressive gallery featuring notable Greek artists (most recently Panagiotis Tetsis).
- The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center Visitors Center also hosts programming for adults and children.
- Opening hours are from Monday to Sunday from 09:00 till 22:00.
- Admission: Free
- Check the website for more information: www.snfcc.org
Have you seen the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens? What are some truly impressive art centers you have visited during your travels?
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