The site for the Astir Marina is the Vouliagmeni peninsula, a lush pine forest along the south coast of
Athens, Greece. However, since it’s a marina, the actual site is also the new engineered ground that is
being constructed in the sea. The concept for the project emerges out of the unique challenge of
designing a landscape where there is currently no land.
One way of thinking about this lack of land is that it’s a blank site – a void – a tabula rasa. But of course
this isn’t the case. The sea makes invisible the complex and dynamic ecosystems of the sea bed which is
continuous with the visible ground. We started by looking at ways of representing this sea landscape; the
nautical charts and maps that use elevation marks, contours, wind vectors, gradients of color, and
hatches to represent the territory that is both above and below the water line. We were particularly
inspired by the aesthetic of topographic contours, traces of the ground projected onto a flat 2d surface.
We looked back at the geographic history of the site, using old military aerial scans from World War II, in
order to discover the original or “natural” shape of the ground, with its beaches, and coves, and islands.
We found this prehistory really exciting and wanted to try and tell the geologic story of this site in our
design. We therefore overlayed the historic contours with the marina outline generated by the marine
engineers for the project. This marina outline shape is obviously a response to different forces – the
logistics of yacht movement, and the economies of mooring spaces, along with the need to resist the
winds and waves. We were interested in the overlap of the history of the site with the new logics, so found
the literal projection of the historic contours onto the new flat infill a compelling new image for the project.
In addition to these contours, we overlayed a new 2m local grid (oriented to the central marina basin) with
the global grid. And next we created our own green islands on the site, landscaping barriers between the
water’s edge and the cars on the site; but shaped like tiny new artificial islands.
In this way the landscape design is a giant map of the history and current pressure on the site, literally
drawn into the hardscape of the new marina. Like the map in Borges’ short story, On the Exactitude of
Science, the project is a map that is as accurate as the reality it represents. The map is the territory.
Of course there are many other motivations for the project; the history of the midcentury modern resorts
adjacent to the site, along with the ancient history, the material logics, the local flora and fauna. But the
project is also inherently global in its ambitions… to be a worldclass marina, and a shopping destination
with global brands, etc.
The Astir Marina project is conceived as an overlay of different systems – the graphic inspiration of
nautical maps, the materiality of the site, the local and the global creating a productive friction. The
primary elements of the project are therefore an orientating grid, the 1:1 drawing of the historic
topographic contours, new green islands scattered across the site, and a new inhabitable retaining wall
that reshapes the existing landscape. A bit more detail about each of those elements.
We created a 2m x 2m orienting grid aligned with the central marina basin, which is rotated 23 degrees
off of global north. As one moves around the site, to the ends of the windward and leeward piers, one can
always orient their body back to the center of the marina. Although the grid spreads across the entire site,
we created a hierarchy of materials with different costs and tactilities; a mix of honed, flamed, bush
hammered and sand blasted basalt around the primary retail and restaurant buildings, rough cut
Portuguese pavers at the pedestrian promenade along the waterfront, and two-colored asphalt at all the
roads and back-of-house areas. As much as possible we created shared surfaces for cars and
pedestrians, minimizing the use of kerbs, and instead creating pedestrian oriented spaces where cars feel
compelled to slow down.
With Pikionis in mind, we expressed the historic topographic contours of the site with off-cuts of white
marble sourced from local quarries, loosely and playfully arranged within 300mm lines. It was important
that these contours carry meaning, so we designed stainless steel elevation markers to label the
“drawing.” We liked the contrast of grid and contour, ordered and organic. More than just graphic, the
contours also host large specimen trees that create nodes of shade across the site.
When we started the project, we collected references of the state of marina design and we were struck by
how harsh of an environment they typically are, especially in the space directly behind the boats; more
infrastructural than public realm, a mostly concrete space for cars and power connections.
Instead of this, we proposed moving the primary car parking areas to the back of the site, behind a green
buffer, in the form of a slightly surreal planted mound, or island. We thentried to create a more pleasant
public realm at the waters edge; a shared space for limited car drop-off, but primarily for pedestrian
walking with benches, shade, and acoustic and visual separation from the parking areas. Each “island”
has a slightly different geometry – a unique identity – and the space between these islands become
passages to slip between the water’s edge promenade and the back of house area at the rear of the site.
The islands were detailed in a way so that they seem to be emerging from below the ground, not sitting
on top of it, as if they were bubbling up from below. In this way they have a kind of vitality and a dramatic
topography of their own. This isn’t just the neutral, flat land of a new marina pontoon. There is life here,
there is nature, however artificial.
Retaining Wall + Path
At the back of the site, the existing forest slopes down from the access road above to the water’s edge,
with a 6m elevational change. The new buildings and parking garage are partially cutting into this slope,
requiring a new system for shaping, and restraining this natural ground. Part of the brief was also to
design a path that would link the existing Four Seasons hotels adjacent to the site through the forest and
down the slope to the marina. Instead of a harsh retaining wall, we wanted to created terraces;
inhabitable spaces for new and existing plants to flourish. We looked at the historic agricultural stone
walls on the Greek islands as references. We liked the idea of using gabion walls, in order to avoid the
need for concrete or mortar, and to further echo the aesthetic language of grid and contour, now with the
grid of the gabion mesh contrasted with the roughness of the natural local stone. We proposed four
different size rocks, stratified counterintuitively from smallest at the bottom to largest at the top, which
create different sized microenvironments to support different sized local bug and animal life on the slope.
We then designed an elevated pathway that floated above the ground, touching and disturbing the ground
as little as possible.
There are two main types of furniture that we proposed. The first are moveable wooden cylinders, 2m in
diameter, designed to be moved with a mobile forklift. One is flat and the other cut with the profile of the
LC4 chaise lounge by Le Corbusier, to create a space to sunbathe. The other type of furniture are built-in,
ribbon like benches that are like creatures living on the islands around the site, each with its own
personality. They are all made from the same components, and they are all pink terrazzo, but each has a
different geometry, a different gesture.