The Greek advocates of modernism had a vision for a better Greece –a Greece with curved buildings. The futuristic constructions of Zenetos, Ksasteros and Despotidis during the 60’s and 70’s where light years ahead of their times, so much so that it was only a few people that realized that the future had already been designed in Greece.
Takis Zenetos' Round School
Takis Zenetos was a great visionary, a Greek architect that without the slightest doubt belongs to the very limited circle of the international innovators/pioneers of modernism during the early 60’s. With his utopian vision of “Electronic City Planning” that he forms in 1962, but has already conceived in the previous years, he moves in the same trajectory and adopts the same motives with his foreign counterparts, like the Japanese Metabolists, N.Miliutin (of the linear city project), Le Corbusier, F. L. Wright and K. Tange. He progressively devises a plan of creating versatile megacities – housing complexes that reach the limits of the life-sustaining atmosphere and are organized in successive levels, suspended in wires over the already existing “historical” cities and the natural environment. These megacities, resembling an enormous spider web, are characterized by a transformable flexibility and are progressively expanded over time. Communication is ensured by electronic technology and a network of multiple connections, but also the operation of all human activities like working, schooling and transportation. The most ground-breaking aspect in Zenetos’ concept is the explicit emphasis on the element of electronics, the prophetical reference to a user-friendly technology that was going –even at that time- to change the course of human race. Takis Zenetos was a primordial representative of an international digital generation, prophet of a digital on-line architecture that like other creative expressions of the time (e.g. the electronic music of Berio, Kagel, Stockhausen, Pousser) carries a dynamic of ideas that couldn’t be fully expressed not even the latter half of the century that has gone past ever since and are still waiting for the future. Besides “Electronic City Planning” and the spatial development of the entire Attica basin, he has also created tens of industrial buildings, the Lycabettus Theater and important blocks of flats and detached houses. In 1969, with the Greek Junta still underway, he embarks on the construction of one of the most characteristic –and impressive, despite the passing of 43 years- creation: the “Round School”, a futuristic construction still employed in its intended use nowadays. Takis Zenetos was envisioning the future of the information society and the digital communications, designing “a unified space that could be able to constantly evolve and after some time to assume a new form”. After studying for six months the education systems around the world and the international relevant literature, in order to have a better idea of the global trend, he concluded in discarding the linear arrangement that breaks-up the space. “In order to achieve my objective I designed the corridor with the classrooms in the shape of a circle so by removing the partitions I could have a uniform space”, he wrote in 1977. He envisioned a school with an electronic command center at its core. Despite Greek television being still in its infancy, he has recognized its importance as a medium of education and he designs classrooms with facilities that would support educational television on a local, national and international level, but also with closed circuit television with wired terminals for broadcasting educational program, even from home. He also designs big rooms with a magnifying projector of the type Cybernox Telebeam (very high tech at the time) for screening that the entire school could watch and also terminals connected with electronic libraries and other audiovisual information material. His conception abolishes the teacher-centric structure of education and the class models of the time, because he adopts more synergistic forms, with the students being diffused in the entire building. This is the reason why the building is circular and the courts are internal. The protruding louvers at the edges of the building underline its space-age aesthetic, and allow for the correct lighting of the teaching rooms, adapting to the motion of the sun. Of course, there were only few that fully realized the breadth of his vision so his plans were never actualized.
Takis Zenetos was born in Athens in 1926. During the German occupation he becomes a member of a youth organization affiliated with the resistance. In 1945 he leaves Athens with a scholarship for Paris, where it doesn’t take long for his excellent character and talent to be discovered. In 1956 he abandons a very promising career in France to return to Greece. But because he stands for an architectural style that works to the benefit of the people, the residents and the workers, and not for the sheer profit of it, he comes to conflict with a diversity of interests at stake, which gradually push him to the margin. He keeps inspiring people with his ground-breaking nature and his charisma, but at the same time his bitterness for the futility of his fight against the destruction of his country accumulates. His finishing shot was the homicide of his nephew Diomidis Komninos in 1974. He becomes more closed in on himself ever since until 1978, when he commits suicide by jumping off his office window.
Photo: Nikos Katsaros.
The round condominiums of Kifissias Av.
One of the most characteristic and well known buildings in a very busy avenue in Athens is the complex of the three round condo’s, a work of architect Nikos Despotidis, that for the time that it was erected it is considered a feat of technology. Each building, despite giving the impression that it’s suspended in mid-air, is actually based on four gigantic round pillars and has amazing structural design. Also, despite its shape that doesn’t seem that much comfortable, it is very efficient and the useful space is maximized. It is actually a complex of three interlocked circles that are connected with a central functional core (set of stairs, elevators). Essentially it’s a multi-story clover. The work was groundbreaking at the time of its construction (1973-1974) for its structural design, if we come to think of the earthquakes that hit Athens the following years.
Photos: Manteau Stam.
The sad story of Nikos Ksasteros' Futuro-like dwellings
The dwelling with a shape resembling a flying disc, made with fiberglass, was designed by the architect Nikolaos Xasteros and was patented in September 1969 for ALTA company who he was in cooperation with, and later on in 1973 in his name. Xasteros who studied in Beaux Arts Architecture in Paris, came back to Greece and begun to design a version of prefabricated and modular houses, very light in weight, from a novel - at that time - material, that could be set anywhere in the rural, setting the grounds at the same time for an autonomous break beyond the boundaries of the city life.
Setting up a production unit on his own, Xasteros started the fiberglass house production in Komotini City, and following the widespread interest from prospective buyers, he prepared the opening of his first exhibition in 1978. The whole plan failed when, in the same morning as the opening, a law was voted that prevented the building of prefabricated houses in lots with area less than 4000 sq. m. The futurist dwellings that finally made it out of the factory were no more than ten. To this day, the Greek equivalent of Buckminster Fuller’s ‘Dymaxion House’ (USA) and Matti Suuronen’s ‘futuro’ (Finland) has its own story to tell through numerous fiberglass dwellings that are still standing in different spots in Greece.
Almost the same period when Xasteros dreamed of an autonomous lifestyle in those dwellings, another utopist Vasilis Tsironis proclaimed his flat in the area of Flisvos as an autonomous free state. On July, 11, 1978 the police broke in and destroyed the flat, thus overthrowing its autonomous character and causing Tsironis to commit suicide.
[Taken from the blog of group "errands"]
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