The Athens Studio
Architectural Association – Intermediate Unit 15, Academic Year 2016-2017
Xristina Argyros + Ryan Neiheiser
Athens is a city of contradictions: A city at the center of European identity and at the edge of the “western” world; A city with massive influxes of voluntary tourists and involuntary immigrants; A new city that thinks it is old; A city defined as much by its amorphous sea of generic white buildings as by its perfect monuments of architecture. Above all Athens is in crisis.
Many are looking for an economic or political solution, but the space of the city goes overlooked and under examined. It is both a city in need of immediate work and the contemporary European city that most dramatically embodies the urgent, alarming, and intractable crises that face our cities today. There is much to be done and much to be learned.
Eighty-three years ago, while sailing to Athens, Le Corbusier and the other members of the fourth CIAM conference wrote what came to be known as the “The Athens Charter”, a manifesto for the modernist city. This year, interdisciplinary cultural events such as Documenta and Ideas City are taking place in Athens, tapping into the city’s recent emergence as the epicenter of a number of global issues. Increasingly referred to as “the new Berlin,” the city is once again becoming relevant. Intermediate 15 will participate in this conversation; documenting, questioning, analyzing, and distilling the essential conditions of Athens, attempting to render legible a city that is stubbornly difficult to grasp, and revealing new opportunities for intervention.
Against the sprawl of sameness and the lack of meaningful spaces of appearance, architecture has the power to break the monotony, to register difference, and to frame spaces of collective exchange and debate. Creating more “public space” alone isn’t enough. Intermediate 15 starts from the hypothesis that legible form must be given to the institutions of the city – its universities, museums, government buildings, health facilities, libraries, and theaters – monuments and voids which orient us in the isotropic fabric of the city. This year Intermediate 15 will specifically address the institution of the University; examining how it is currently manifested in Athens, identifying emerging models and historical precedents, and then imagining radical new propositions at both the urban and architectural scale. Only by reinventing these institutions – both their logics and their forms – can we reinvent the future of the city.