Elephant in the City
Elephant in the City
The privatised creation of Athens public space, the consumerist image of the city, and the disregard of the other
By Luke Whitaker. University of Greenwich
Abstract More and more, public space is becoming privatised. Whether through publicprivate initiatives, corporate investment or philanthropic donation, the potential impact upon the ‘publicness’ of landscape can’t be ignored. Focusing on philanthropic public space creation, this essay provides a theoretical investigation into the ambivalent nature of benevolent private investment into public space. Using the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre in Athens as a case study the paper scrutinises the true benefits of privately donated public space whilst outlining the potential contradictions of corporate involvement. The paper first outlines the successes of the landscape arguing that it serves as a source of civic pride. The scale and ambition of the project serves to represent a significant milestone in Greek modernisation. The landscape also appeals to the Greek national identity through recognisable symbology, endemic planting and the imitation of ancient geometric Greek design principles. The paper then examines the potential pitfalls finding that private-public space can neglect the true representation of the society it serves. The authenticity of real public space competes with hidden corporate motivations, the foci of economic improvement and the desire to present the ‘good city’. Often driven by trajectories of the dominant middle class, private-public spaces symbolically encode themselves to only invite the right demos and disregard the ‘other’ rendering public space exclusive and anti-democratic. The essay finally presents possible resolutions arguing that the landscape can overcome its current political contradictions. Through a symbolic ‘loosening’ of the space, underrepresented groups can begin to contest their claim, and the landscape can become a positive asset for the city of Athens.
Acknowledgements I would like to record my sincere thanks to Helli Pangalou, for taking the time out of her busy schedule to meet and discuss the project with me.
List of Figures
Chapter 1. Thanks for the Old, in with the New
Chapter 2. The White Elephant
Chapter 3. All for One and None for All
Chapter 4. Let the Games Begin
List of References
Word Count including captions: 6497
List of Figures 14 Fig 1. Athens location within Greece and Kallithea Municipality within Athens
Source: (Author, 2017)
Fig 2. The SNFCC sits on the shoreline of Kallithea
Source: (Author, 2017) 17
Fig 3. Plan of the SNFCC
Source: (Google Maps, edited by Author, 2017)
Plate 1. Design Development of the SNFCC landscape
Source: (Pangalou, 2017)
20 Fig 4. Diagrams illustrating the configuration and scale of landscape elements
Source: (Author, 2017)
Plate 2. Panoramic view of the SNFCC park, viewed from north to south. Reveals a heavily planted, geometric design
Source: (Archdaily, 2017) 28
Fig 5. The SNFCC seeks to add to Athens matrix of â€˜Spiritual Centresâ€™
Source: (Author, 2017) 29 Plate 3. Ancient Greek architectural design was underpinned by geometric proportions. Source: (Hisartarq, 2017) 30
Plate 4. The rural Greek landscape
Source: (Point of No. 23, 2017) 30
Plate 5. Flora at the Anciant Agora
Source: (Thousand Wonders, 2017)
30 Plate 6. Endemic Greek grasses at the SNFCC imitate the rural Greek landscape Source: (Author, 2017) 31
Plate 7. Olive grove at the SNFCC
Source: (Square Space, 2017) 31
Plate 8. Native Planiting at the SNFCC
Source: (Dezeen, 2017) 31
Plate 9. Native plants reinforce of Greece
Source: (Architectural Digest, 2017)
Plate 10. Co-President of the SNF, Mr. Andreas
Source: (SNFCC, 2017)
Plate 11. Construction of the ‘hill’
Source: (SNFCC, 2017) 36
Plate 12. Setting out at the ‘Agora’
Source: (SNFCC, 2017) 37
Plate 13. The SNFCC building rises above the Kallithea skyline.
Source: (Periaus, 2017)
Plate 14. The ‘Canal’ at the SNFCC.
Source: (Archdailey, 2017) 38
Plate 15. Yacht Clubs train in the canal.
Source: (SNFCC, 2017) 38
Plate 16. Crisp lines define the SNFCC.
Source: (Archdailey, 2017) 38
Plate 17. The canal and esplanade.
Source: (Dezeen, 2017) 39
Plate 18. The SNFCC’s ‘Agora’.
Source: (Yatzer, 2017) 39
Plate 19. Cafe’s spill into the Agora.
Source: (SYatzer,, 2017)
Plate 20. Planned events and entertainment activate the Agora
Source: (Yatzer, 2017)
Fig 6. Context Map
Source: (Author, 2017)
Fig 7. The SNFCC sits on the shoreline of Kallithea,
Source: (Author, 2017) 47
Fig 8. A map showing the percentage of houeshold income Source: (Yatzer, 2017)
Fig 9. Forecasted property value
Source: (Author, 2017)
Fig 10. The surrounding urban grid continues into the park
Source: (Author, 2017)
Plate 21. Analysis of the neighbouring urban character
Source: (Google Maps, edited by Author, 2017) 52
Fig 11. Unobstructed views
Source: (Author, 2017)
Fig 12. Plant Massing
Source: (Author, 2017) 58
Plate 23. Southbank Skate park
Source: (CITC, 2017) 58
Plate 24. Southbank Grafitti Artist
Source: (Youtube, 2017) 58
Plate 25. Buskers on the Southbank
Source: (dphotographer, 2017) 58
Plate 26. Buskers on the Southbank
Source: (Evening Standard, 2017) 58
Plate 27. The Southbank book market
Source: (Pinterest, 2017) 58
Plate 28. The Southbank book market
Source: (Irene Maduka, 2017) 57
Plate 29. Grafitti by local anti-fascist group Antifa Kallithea
Source: (Antifa Kallithea, 2017)
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre
Stavros Niarchos Foundation
SNFCC-SA Non-for-profit Company set up to run the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre RPBW
Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Deborah Nevins Associates
Helli Pangalou & Associates
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
Introduction In a temperate landscape of sea and mountains, several miles inland from one of many bays and inlets exists a broad, fertile valley; a valley punctuated by several rocky outcrops emerging like islands from the lowland below. One of these limestone plateaus, inhabited since 5000 BC, serves not only to disclose the geological phenomenology of landscape, but that of the entangled phenomena of the anthropological processes of the people who inhabit it. According to mythology, it was upon this hill that two gods engaged in a contest; a contest where the winner would be rewarded with the ultimate grand prize; the patronage of the city that now engulfed the outcrop’s footing. In return the two gods must provide the city with a gift. The first god, Poseidon, struck the earth with his trident, creating a salt water spring, now called Erekhtheis. After tasting the salty water the people’s euphoria turned to dismay; salt water is of little use to a city. The second deity, the Goddess Athena, offered a branch, a branch which grew into a scared olive tree (Bartolini and Petruccelli, 2002). This was deemed far more valuable to the people of the city, providing not only olives, but oil, shade, timber and fuel; a consumable, nourishing landscape. The contest was decided and the city bore the name of the winning goddess; Athens. The metropolis of present day Athens is much transformed from the image of the locus amoenus fantasised by the Hellenic Golden Age of Greek mythology (Mackridge, 2008). One of the antecedents of democratic public space, Athens is now a sprawling urban centre that serves as Greece’s economic, cultural and administrative nexus, only now it lacks the characteristic that once propelled the cities metamorphosis; prosperity. Athens is now a city in crises (Knuij, 2013). A victim of neo-liberal capitalism, the 2008 financial crises heralded Greece’s descent into the landscape of national austerity and financial crises. A symptom inflamed by that austerity, is the accelerated degradation of an already declining public space
Kallithea Municipality Greater Athens
Fig 1. Athens location within Greece and Kallithea Municipality within Athens Source: (Author, 2017)
Fig 2. The SNFCC sits on the shoreline of Kallithea, 4 km south of central Athens Source: (Author, 2017)
(Knuij, 2013, Crisis-scape, 2014). Akin to the gift from the goddess Athena, the people of modern Athens have been bestowed another gift in the form of landscape, and as Athena before bore her name to the city, the new landscape bears the name of its philanthropic benefactor; The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre and Park (SNFCC). The €600 million SNFCC will be home the Greek National Opera and Greek national Library whilst the 40 acre park and adjoining public realm will be ‘a vital green space’ for the city of Athens (Snfcc.org, 2017a). The Architecture was designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) whilst Deborah Nevins Associates (DNA) and Helli Pangalou and Associates (HPA) designed and delivered the landscape (Pangalou, 2016). The public realm is designed to be a landscape of hope (Piano, 2016; Pangalou, 2016). Outward and extroverted, the public space seeks to point towards the future of Greek culture whilst celebrating its ancient past. Helli Pangalou, the local landscape architect of HPA claims that through a combination of job creation, sourcing local materials and improving the image of the city, the park will act as a catalyst for cultural and economic reinvention. Intended to restore the sea view, the parks topography climaxes at 35m above sea level providing a panoramic view stretching from central Athens to the surrounding suburb Kallithea, meaning beautiful view in Greek (Pangalou, 2016). The landscape is intended to create a new topos for Athens and is comprised of several succinct areas including a tree lined esplanade and canal, a Mediterranean garden, a civic square titled ‘The Agora’, and a central ‘Great Lawn’ (Pangalou, 2016). This essay provides a two teared theoretical interrogation into the ambivalent nature of private philanthropic investment into public space. On the one hand the park serves as an emblem of civic pride and as an image of hope. On the other hand, through title, image, and program the park is symbolically encoded by the dominant
and powerful to only invite the right demos and disregard the poorly educated, the ethnic minorities, the badly behaved and the homeless; to ignore what Michel Foucault terms the ‘other’ (Minton, 2006). The essay will begin by outlining the success of the park as an instrument of civic hope claiming that through imprinting recognisable and familiar symbology upon the landscape the park engages with the Athenian and Greek collective imagination. It will go on to ask if a public space can be truly representative of existing Athenian and Greek public trajectories when the authenticity of cultural image and symbology is competing with the foci of economic improvement, the landscape of power, and the projections of non-accountable private interests (Zukin, 1995; Minton, 2006). Finding that the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Park currently presents problems synonymous with the interests of private and public capital accumulation the essay suggests the park is not so much the elephant in the room but the elephant in the city. It does, however, suggest a possible positive outcome arguing that through a symbolic, aesthetic, and programmatic ‘loosening’ the landscape can overcome the contradictions held within the capitalist-democratic dichotomy and, in the long run, become a positive asset for the city of Athens.
6 7 8
Fig 3. Plan of the SNFCC Source: (Google Maps, edited by Author, 2017)
Plate 1. Design Development of the SNFCC landscape centred around plant massing and the encompassing urban grid Source: (Pangalou, 2017) 1.
Running and Fitness Zone
Fig 4. Diagrams illustrating the configuration and scale of landscape elements Source: (Author, 2017)
Plate 2. Panoramic view of the SNFCC park, viewed from north to south, reveals a heavily planted, geometric design Source: (Archdaily, 2017)
Thanks for the Old, in with the New Greeks see themselves as the modern day spokespeople of their Ancient ancestors (Mackridge, 2008). To first understand how this national landscape successfully resonates with the Greek collective imagination it is important that we look at Greek national identity as a whole. In his essay ‘Cultural Difference as National Identity in Modern Greece’ Peter Mackridge (2008) places a lens over modern Greek national nuances and suggests that it is the nourishment of cultural difference as a nation, that defines a nation. As a people that draw from antiquity, classical Greece’s contribution to European and World civilisation provides a source of both national pride and uniqueness (Mackridge, 2008; Holdsworth, 2014). The universality of ancient Greek civilisation has, however, threatened Greece’s sense of place within the modern world. Mackridge (2008) highlights the appropriation of ancient Greek civilisation by western discourses as a source of anxiety for Modern Greek national identities. Holdsworth (2014), however, claims this isn’t a recent phenomenon, citing the idealisation of ancient Greece by European intellectuals during the enlightenment as the beginning of this national identity theft. Fetishising Greek antiquity as an abstract ideology, European thinkers shaped and transplanted an image of ‘Greekness’ that trapped Modern Greek national identity formation in a tension between past and present. Coupling this with more recent European attempts to homogenize culture through the European Union, modern Greece has suffered somewhat of a national identity crises (Mackridge, 2008; Featherstone, 2006). Mackridge (2008) proposes a two-tiered reaction to the threat of homogenisation by cultural appropriation; to firstly reclaim the cultural contribution of the Ancient Greeks as the property of Greece, and secondly to begin a national re-branding to establish a new modernised global identity. Citing the 2004 Greek Olympic games (which took place in Kallithea) as a global event that placed images of Greek
antiquity within the frame of state of the art, purpose built stadia, Mackridge (2008) claims that Greece wants to gain the world’s attention not only through the relics of its past, but the possibilities of its future. It is now important to contextualise this arc of national identity development within the frame of landscape. In Kenneth Olwig’s essay ‘Representation and alienation in the political land-scape’ he performs an etymological investigation into the word landscape within which he explicitly links the land with the people who exist upon it. Olwig (2005) identifies the suffix scape as the distinguishing dynamic between land in its simplest, material form and its more metaphysical abstraction landscape. Suggesting scape as the equivalent of the more common English suffix ship, Olwig (2005) draws upon more abstract themes such as ‘friendship, comradeship, or fellowship’ to point out how the suffix ship provides a non-physical concept that can symbiotically bind concrete individuals into fellows, communities or nations. Transferring this abstraction to the suffix scape it can then be assumed that a people inhabiting a land have deep rooted abstract ties and an intrinsic sense of belonging to it; villagers belong to their common lands, a polis to the limits of its city, and a citizens to the land of a nation. Therefore the relationship between the land and its people is greater than the sum of its physical parts and landscape is fundamental to a people’s phenomenological sense of belonging. Tim Edensor, in his examination of national identity, continues to develop this explicit link between national identity and the landscape. Edensor (2002) claims that meaning is effectively found within the rural landscape which in turn forms a ‘national landscape ideology’; England has its rolling green hills and Greece has its mountains and blue coastal enclaves. Through the rural landscape’s perceived state of timeless continuity, Edensor (2002) claims that the genius loci of a nation is encapsulated and an ideological image born. Drawing on the contrasting themes between Ferdinand Tönnies’s gesellschaft of the city and the romanticised gemeinschaft of the rural, Edensor (2002) asserts that to dwell in this landscape ideology if only
for a brief time is to return from the inauthenticity of the city to the nourishing bosom of the rural, thus reifying ones sense of belonging and achieving the experience of ‘national self-realisation’. This notion of nation identity isn’t, however, a product of only the rural. Edensor (2002) continues to highlight ‘iconic sites’ which provide a moral and cultural compass of a nation’s evolved cultural trajectories; the Eiffel Tower anchors French identities as the Acropolis is an emblem of ‘Greekness’. Objects, then, often steeped in spiritual and historic symbolism serve to reveal a nations unique quality which, through the connotation of past cultures and historic events, project evidence of a glorious past (Edensor, 2002). This is reinforced by Anthony Smith who, in his book ‘National Identity’, claims that these iconic sites serve as ‘spiritual centres’ which locate a nation in both time and space (Smith, 1991). Continuing to highlight both external and internal functions of these national iconic features Smith (1991) suggests that they both serve as signifiers of nation to outsiders and act as moral indicators of nationhood to insiders. Therefore, it is possible to understand how the Stavros Niarchos Park successfully resonates with the Greek national imagination. Firstly, in its scale, ambition, and proclamation of national significance (Snfcc.org, 2017a), the landscape provides a modern cog in the wider matrix of iconic sites that map the cultural compass of Greece. Remembering Greece’s ambition to ‘re-brand’ its identity (Mackridge, 2008; Featherstone, 2006), its quite possible that a project that is expected to achieve Platinum or Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification (Snfcc.org, 2017a), the first of its kind in Greece and scale in Europe, would appeal to the national imagination and provide a much desired icon of Greek modernisation. Secondly, through its geometric form, strict use of flora endemic to Greece, and restoration of the sea view (Pangalou, 2016), it can be argued that the project
National Gardens Temple of Zeus Acopolis Ancient Agora
Athens Cemetary Panathenaic Stadium
Fig 5. The SNFCC seeks to add to Athens matrix of ‘Spiritual Centres’ Source: (Author, 2017)
Plate 3. Ancient Greek architectural design was underpinned by geometric proportions. Source: (Hisartarq, 2017)
provides an urban portrait of Edensor’s ‘national ideological landscape’ of Greece. Briefly exploring Hellenistic landscape and architectural design, it is geometry that emerges as the definitive design philosophy which literally underpins the era. A Greek word, geometry translates to ‘taking measurement of the earth’ and was not only an Ancient Greek pragmatic solution for calculating areas, but a Hellenistic mathematical tool for religious and sacred reasoning and architectural construction (Skinner, 2006; Leonardis, 2016). The landscape, then, provides an unambiguous and explicit modern representation of Classical Greek geometric landscape and architectural design. Coupling this with the endemic Lavender, and Thyme under-planting of the nationally sacred Olive tree avenues (Bartolini and Petruccelli, 2002), and further remembering the successes associated with LEED certification (Snfcc.org, 2017a), the landscape paints an inextricably Greek image which both celebrates the nation’s ancient past, holds hope for the nation’s present, and elicits possible trajectories of the nation’s future. The landscape, then, engages with the imagination of the Greek polis and successfully exists as a metaphysical, representative construct within the national mind’s eye.
Plate 4. The rural Greek landscape Source: (Point of No. 23, 2017)
Plate 5. Flora at the Anciant Agora Source: (Thousand Wonders, 2017)
Plate 6. Endemic Greek grasses at the SNFCC imitate the rural Greek landscape Source: (Author, 2017)
Plate 7. Olive grove at the SNFCC
Plate 8. Native Planiting at the SNFCC
Source: (Square Space, 2017)
Source: (Dezeen, 2017)
Plate 9. Native plants reinforce the National ideological landscape of Greece Source: (Architectural Digest, 2017)
The White Elephant Whilst the landscape of the SNFCC can be seen as explicitly Greek, this also could be argued to the contrary. In an interview with Helli Pangalou, the local landscape architect of the SNFCC, she alluded to the intention of not just delivering Athens a new topos, but a new kind of topos, claiming that the inclusion of a public park provided ‘a new way for the people of Athens to engage with landscape’ (Pangalou, 2016). As Roman Gerodimos (2014) points out in his essay centred on community and public space in Athens, Greeks do not enjoy the same relationship and associations with urban public parks as their Northern European neighbours. Gerodimis (2014) continues to identify the plateia, or Public Square, as the Greek ideal of public space, a tradition stretching right back to the market place and democratic sparring ground of the Ancient Agora. So whilst the Greek people have been bestowed this award winning public park, it is quite evident that they are not entirely sure what to do with it. The problems don’t, however, stop at unfamiliarity. Considering the Ancient Agora, one of the direct antecedents of the SNFCC, it fair to hope a subsequent public Athenian landscape would exhibit, if not enhance, the very public ideals and principles that emerged from the city’s original public space. Principles which nurture the ideas of spontaneity, democracy and openness; principles widely accepted as the cornerstone of publicness (Gehl, 2011; Zukin, 1995; Ruppert, 2005). A more considered inspection of the landscape reveals possible shortcomings when considering these ideals and it is probable that these shortcomings are a result of the private-public nature of the projects inception. To understand the political shortcomings of the project and consequent effects on the ‘publicness’ of the landscape it is important that we explore both the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF)as an organisation, and the nature of the donation of the SNFCC to the Greek State. Bearing the name of its founder, the SNF is the
legacy of the late Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos and centres it activity around improving ‘the arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare’ (snf.org, 2017a). As the sole financier of the €600 million project, the SNF, a private albeit philanthropic organisation under the scrutiny of the Special Advisory Committee of the Greek State, was a private client of a public project (Snfcc.org, 2017b). Upon completion, the building and its associated landscape will be ‘gifted’ to the Greek people and the State will undertake full operational control of its facilities (snf.org, 2017b). It would appear, then, that the SNFCC is the generous product of a benevolent private organisation. Further investigation into the nature of the gift, however, paints a more complex and less altruistic picture, exposing the possible pitfalls of large scale private initiatives upon public space. Firstly, and most obviously, the SNFCC serves as a valuable marketing tool which promotes the interests of the Foundation before the interests of the state. In accordance with the contract between the two parties, all materials associated with the SNFCC must bear the name of its benefactor whilst the contract also ratifies the SNF’s right to use the SNFCC facilities to organise and present their own private events at its own cost but without compensation to the Greek State (Snf.org, 2017b). More concisely, the SNFCC and its supporting amenities, including the public park, is a ‘public’ resource for a private organisation. Perhaps more significant, however, is an interview with George Agouridis, an SNF employee and the President of the SNFCC-SA, the non-for-profit company created to firstly coordinate the design, construction and delivery of the SNFCC, and secondly to uphold the maintenance, security and operations of the project (Snfcc.org, 2017c). During the interview with the newspaper Tovima, Agouridis cited various particulars of the contract held between the SNF and the Greek State. Particulars which not only outline contractual obligations of the Greek State but elicit enforceable safeguards written by the SNF with the intention of protecting the organisations interests and vision of the project (Tovima, 2017). The
first requirement of the Greek State is to respect all operational and key staffing agreements made by the SNFCC-SA whilst under the control of the Foundation and any change to these agreements, including rules, program and landscape uses, requires approval of the SNF (Tovima, 2017). More ominously still, the SNF has the legal right to exert political pressure upon the Greek State to ensure that the standards set by the Foundation are adhered two whilst under Public control. When speaking on the safeguards in place, Agouridis stated that the Foundation has ‘the right to resort to justice and call back the full amount spent on the construction and equipment - nearly €600 million - on condition that the money collected will be channelled to charitable actions in Greece’ (Tovima, 2017). Considering these conditions, it is quite possible to conclude that the SNFCC is not so much a philanthropic act of benevolence but more a €600 million bargaining chip, an appropriation of public space by stealth, which reverses the political-private status quo and allows a private organisation to hold the State accountable to its own definition of public space. The precarious position of ‘publicness’ that the SNFCC now balances could not only threaten the representation of the diverse Athenian and Greek polis, but propose a direct violation on the abstract will of the people. In order to establish how this takeover of public space can impact upon a people’s rights to the land it is imperative that we return to Olwig’s essay ‘Representation and alienation in the political land-scape’. In its substantive sense, Olwig (2005) identifies alienation as the transferral, and subsequent loss, of rights of a person to property or land with which they have developed a sense of belonging through allegiance, residence or birth. Stepping away from alienation, Olwig (2005) then condenses the previously articulated proposal for the suffix ship, which determined the abstract notions of friendship, fellowship or membership, into the sequence of ‘nature’, ‘state’ or ‘constitution’. Acknowledging that ‘the nature, the state or the constitution of something’ is an abstract idea Olwig (2005) suggests that physical or written
Plate 10. Co-President of the SNF, Mr. Andreas, oversees construction. Dracopoulos. Source: (SNFCC, 2017)
Plate 11. Construction of the ‘hill’
Plate 12. Setting out at the ‘Agora’
Source: (SNFCC, 2017)
Source: (SNFCC, 2017)
representation can objectively concretise something abstract, thus ‘the constitution’, becomes ‘a constitution’. Olwig (2005) suggests the United States Constitution as a written representation of a land’s or people’s abstract constitution, so by the same rationale, it is evident that the Greek State, an elected representative body, is not only the physical representation of a lands abstract constitution, but the mandated instrument to execute, through verbal discourse, the abstract will of its people. It is then apparent that by manoeuvring into a position of power against the Greek State the Foundation has a manoeuvred against the very citizens it claims to be helping; the Greek People. Thus, a dialectical opposition exists between the potential trajectories of the private foundation and the responsibilities of the elected representative body of the land and its people.
Plate 13. The SNFCC building rises above the Kallithea skyline. Source: (Periaus, 2017)
Plate 14. The ‘Canal’ at the SNFCC. Source: (Archdailey, 2017)
Plate 15. Yacht Clubs use the canal. Source: (SNFCC, 2017)
Plate 16. Crisp lines define the SNFCC. Source: (Archdailey, 2017)
Plate 17. The canal and esplanade. Source: (Dezeen, 2017)
Plate 18. The SNFCC’s ‘Agora’. Source: (Yatzer, 2017)
Plate 19. Cafe’s spill into the Agora. Source: (Yatzer, 2017)
Plate 20. Planned events and entertainment activate the Agora at the SNFCC. Source: (Yatzer, 2017)
ns th e lA tra en C Po
Train Station Tram Station Bus Station
Fig 6. Athens location within Greece and Kallithea Municipality within Athens Source: (Author, 2017)
Residential Commercial/Offices Civic Amenities Restaurant/Hotel
Fig 7. The SNFCC sits on the shoreline of Kallithea, 4 km south of central Athens Source: (Author, 2017)
All for One and None for All To return to Olwig’s theme of alienation, and to understand how the dichotomy held between SNF and Greek State can estrange the Greek people from the SNFCC’s landscape, we must explore two themes of public exclusion; the symbolic economy and the aesthetic of fear. Beginning with the symbolic economy we must turn to the writing of Sharon Zukin who develops the theory in her book ‘The Culture of Cities’. Zukin’s (1995) symbolic economy addresses a city’s ability to produce a distinctive aesthetic of both symbol and space. Zukin (1995) continues to align the symbolic economy with the interests of public officials, private developers and investors whose ability to return tangible economic results (jobs, real estate value, increased business) when constructing the symbolic image of the city has led to the increase in private corporations involvement in the imagination and creation of public space. Whilst Zukin (1995) states that entrepreneurial or philanthropic initiatives to project a symbolic image of a city can establish a competitive advantage over competing cities, it is important to ask, particularly in the case of the SNFCC, who is the symbolic economy is representing? Zukin (1995) asserts that the product of the modern city is culture, identifying intermittent economic crises’ and the disappearance of local manufacturing industries as the catalyst for the modern city’s transition from industrial goods manufacture to producing consumable cultural. The recent growth of cultural consumption has accelerated corporate efforts to gain a competitive edge to draw capital from tourists and cultural consumers by packaging and presenting a visually seductive image of the city (Zukin, 1995; Minton, 2006). Considering the ambitions of the SNF to use the SNFCC as a promotional instrument of private interests, and the current crises plaguing the Greek economy (Crisis-scape, 2014), it is then apparent that the SNFCC is an idealised image designed to represent the interests of capital accumulation and pseudo-cultural progress, and not the immediate abstract essence of Olwig’s nature, state and constitution of the Greek people.
Evelyn Ruppert continues the interrogation of aesthetic strategies within public place making stating that dominant and economically motivated groups claim space to present a consumable image of the ‘good city’ (Ruppert, 2005). Establishing the shift of urban images and symbols from authentic projections of place, to marketable cultural products, Ruppert (2005) proposes an explicit three-layered link between the monumental aestheticisation of place, capital accumulation and the symbolic appropriation of space through the projection of the dominant. Considering this, a comparison between the immediate context and the SNFCC suggests that the scheme has succumbed to the temptation of economic aestheticisation. Through prioritising the presentation of a consumable and seductive image of culture, the project has neglected the true representation of its local environment. The SNFCC landscape, whilst successfully integrating the local street pattern (Pangalou, 2016), is unsympathetic to the fine grained residential texture of the surrounding neighbourhood both in scale and materiality. Furthermore, it’s foci of economic stimulus threatens, not benefits, the residents of the area. Citing the financial benefits to the municipality of Kallithea, one of Athens poorer districts, the SNFCC impact study (The Boston Consulting Group, 2016) highlighted the exact area where it expected property values to increase and in doing so, outlined the projects plans for gentrification and potential displacement (Zukin, 2010; Minton, 2006) (see fig 8 and 9). The symbolic economy is also an instrument of civic control. Through projecting a catalogue of symbols, culture can be a way finding strategy denoting who belongs where; a poorer, working-class citizen is more comfortable at a gritty street market where as a middle-class, well-educated citizen is more at ease sipping a cappuccino in a trendy cafe (Zukin, 1995). Understanding Athens as multicultural, and socially disparate (Crisis-scape, 2014), and more immediately, Kallithea as visibly economically deprived, it can be assumed that this private, aestheticisation of culture, cannot be representative of the city’s citizens. The projects stratagem
to spatialise culture, then, is inclusive to the privileged, yet exclusionary to the other which renders the project absent of rich human diversity (Zukin, 1995; Moeckli, 2016; Parkinson, 2012). Questions, then, must be asked of the Foundation’s claim on public space in order to defend the production of democratic and accountable public realm from the threat of corporate imaginings of cultural exclusivity. Recognising the SNFCC landscape’s aestheticisation of culture, it is too apparent that the SNFCC landscape has aestheticised fear. Zukin (1995) claims that this privatisation promotes polarisation of citizens on two aesthetic fronts; firstly, visual delectation of middle class cultural nexuses within public spaces serve to discourage poorer, ethnic minorities, and secondly, a more sinister image is employed to bolster that symbolic threshold; an image of fear. This is supported my Anna Minton (2006) who introduces the term ‘private-public’ space. Establishing private-public space as the transfer of space from elected officials to private organisations, Minton (2006) cautions against the privatisation of the public spaces, arguing that inclusivity is threatened by private interests which are safeguarded by visible images of fear. This fear is made manifest at the SNFCC through fences and gates which enclose the park, a de-cluttering of the space for maximum visibility, large amounts of low planted, yet unusable space, and cameras and eyes that maintain a heightened level of surveillance. Rules are also made explicit upon entry to the park. Rules which claim to promote “civility”. Bikes, scooters, skateboards and any other recreational, wheeled mode of personal transport are prohibited. Private events such as birthday parties are allowed at the discretion of the SNFCC-SA. Users must respect the park and keep to the paths to “ensure it remains beautiful for everybody” (and to presumably protect the SNF’s idealised image of public space). The rule list finishes with a polite elicitation of fear, reminding users to “be aware of your personal belongs” noting that the people in the park are protected by constant CCTV surveillance. It is easy to conclude hereafter, that this symbolic language is divisive; reassuring to the emboldened middle class yet marginalising to the under-educated,
the poor and the underprivileged (Zukin, 1995; Moeckli, 2016). Therefore, it is evident that by designing public spaces to present a seductive consumable image of cultural prosperity the SNFCC landscape discards and conceals the less desired trajectories of the underprivileged. This rhetoric of exclusive private-public spaces doesn’t only propose a contradiction to the democratic value of public space, but presents a longer term threat to social unity. By repelling certain user groups large urban enclaves and communities can become polarised, social problems become displaced, and the perceived chasm between us, we, them and the other, will grow (Minton, 2006). And it is the role of public space to break down these barriers, not build them up. Lens Wiesemann (2011), when presenting his Paper to the International RC21 conference asserts that public space is the platform for which regular encounters between the unfamiliar and unknown, encounters which reduce prejudice, should take place. This argument isn’t a recent one either. In 1954 Gordon Allport, a social psychologist, introduced the ‘contact-hypothesis’ that asserts exposure to people of differing race, colour and creed can ‘destroy stereotypes and develop friendly attitudes’ (Allport, 1954). Furthermore, remembering the identification of the plateia as the preferred public space typology of the Greek people, Gerodimos (2014) asserts that this choice is because of, and not in spite of, the coercion to coexist with the unknown, the unfamiliar and the strange. So the Greek people embrace encounters with the unknown and public space should be an advocate of such occurrences. It is concerning, then, that the SNFCC landscape, through a glossy corporate aesthetic and culturally symbolic language, appears to not promote such encounters with the other.
30 - 50% Households 20 - 30% Households 10 - 20% Households 5 - 10% Households 0 - 5% Households
Fig 8. A map showing the percentage of households per Municipality earning above the national average. Sources show Kallithea as one of the lowest earning municipalities in Athens Source: (Yatzer, 2017)
Projected Increase in property value
Fig 9. Forecasted property values outline the area of potential gentrification. Source: (Author, 2017)
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0.5k Fig 10. The surrounding urban grid continues into the park Source: (Author, 2017)
North, East - South, West Streets
North, West - South, East Streets
Plate 21. Analysis of the neighbouring urban character reveals a small grained built fabric which openly reveals its societal environment. Source: (Google Maps, edited by Author, 2017)
Fig 11. The field of unobstructed views and positioning of security cameras ensure full surveillance across the site. Source: (Author, 2017) 54
Fig 12. The massing of plants and water drastically reduces usable and claimable space. Source: (Author, 2017)
Let the Games Begin Considering the political shortcomings cultivated from the privatly projected symbolic economy and aestheticisation of fear, it is quite possible that a nonauthentic representation of public space is fostered. Current discourse on authentic public space is again led by Sharon Zukin, who’s more recent work ‘Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places’ (Zukin, 2010) discusses the authenticity of public places. Zukin (2010) argues that forces of globalisation, supremacy of capital and the cultural power of media and image have driven cities to exchange their gritty working-class pasts for a glossy consumable image of the future. Zukin (2010) continues to recognize authenticity as an emerging commodity of public space claiming that authenticity has been fetishised, thus migrating away from ‘the quality of people to the quality of experience’. The global marketing of experience and pressures of consumer culture have removed the process of experience away from interactions with people, and placed a heightened emphasis on aesthetic; experience is increasingly now judged by material appearance (Zukin, 2010). Zukin (2010) however, proposes a different, people focussed portrayal of authenticity. Highlighting the discard of ‘origins’ by city officials, Zukin (2010) elicits that the layers of repeated individual interaction and memories forged between people and place care being shed from the city’s image. Zukin’s origins don’t refer to the ‘who was here first’ but to the moral right to put roots down in a place yielded only through a continued ritual of work, play and engagement; the right to not just consume an experience but inhabit it as a continued dialogue between person and place (Zukin, 2010). Jacobs and Appleyard (2007) further the discussion, asserting that the authentic city is one where the “origin of things” is clear. Displaying its significant meanings, the authentic city should not be dominated by the powerful but be openly representative of the moral issues of its society (Jacobs and Appleyard, 2007). An authentic city,
then, is a didactic cartography of its society. It is evident that the private interests influencing the design, implementation and operation of the SNFCC landscape poses contradictions to both the discourse of the authentic city and the previously discussed notion of democratic public space. There is, however, hope for its future. By holding up Zukin’s (2010) assertion that authentic space is the product of repeated human interaction with space alongside the optimistic writing of Ruth Fincher and Jane Jacobs, it is possible to ascertain that the current unrepresented trajectories of the other can contest their claim upon the landscape. In their book ‘Cities of Difference’ Fincher and Jacobs (1998) propose a contrasting theory to the aesthetics of space claiming that whilst dominant groups stamp their image upon public space the potential for marginalised groups to appropriate this aesthetic for their own competing agendas a is de-emphasised (Fincher, and Jacobs, 1998). Fincher and Jacobs (1998) suggest the complex contest between authentic democratic space and consumable cultural space can’t be reduced to a binary battle between capital accumulation and real cultural image. Asserting that the politics of difference are played out in a multitude a different ways Fincher and Jacobs (1998) suggest that through repeated contestation of space through both occupancy and visible expressions of self, marginalised groups can foster a concretised claim to a space. Remembering Allport’s (1954) ‘contact-hypothesis’, marginalised groups can stake a claim to the SNFCC landscape in spite of the contradictions held within its visual symbolic language. As a landscape now under the stewardship of the Greek State, the representative constitution of the people, it is the Greek parliament’s duty to recognise this misrepresentation and adjust the current symbolic language to reinforce and not rebuke the trajectories of the other. To understand how this reversal of symbol language may be made manifest we must look Nisha Fernando’s proposal for ‘open-ended’ or loose space Fernando
(2007). Defining open-ended space as adaptable places which support a multitude of diverse activities, Fernando (2007) establishes that open-endedness can be achieved without wholesale changes to the existing built fabric. Claiming that overly controlled public spaces often don’t fulfil their potential, Fernando (2007) calls for a relaxing of regulatory governance of public spaces in favour of a more fluid, personalised and flexible use of space. In doing so it is possible that the multitude of diverse public trajectories can be simultaneously or alternately played out. Flexible furnishings such as tables and chairs, temporary street stalls, moveable ornamental items, and space afforded to buskers all serve to temporarily transform a corporate space with the foci of consumerism into a place of festive and open activity (Fernando, 2007). An example of open-ended, private-public space that affords room for both the dominant and the other can be found on London’s South Bank. Minton (2006) closes her investigation into the privatisation of public space by illustrating the political successes of London’s South Bank. This is reinforced by Alasdair Jones who, in his book ‘On South Bank: The Production of Public Space’ applauds the landscape’s successes in balancing loose space with private public realm (Jones, 2012). Dividing the South Bank into three succinct sections, Minton (2006) identifies a public landscape which, at one end, exhibits a consumable homogeny typical of privatepublic space whilst a short walk away, at the other end, the feel changes to an unrestricted open atmosphere, an atmosphere heralded by the sound of the graffiti drenched skate park. A monumental franchised touristic landscape to the south effortlessly transforms into a landscape of second hand book sellers, buskers and riverfront drinking venues. It is possible, then, that the SNFCC landscape can overcome its current political contradictions. Through a combination of democratic contesting of space from the people (Fincher, and Jacobs, 1998) and a regulatory loosening from the SNFCC (Fernando, 2007) a negotiation can begin which accommodates all public
Plate 23. Southbank Skate park Source: (CITC, 2017)
Plate 24. Southbank Graffiti Artist Source: (Youtube, 2017)
Plate 25. Buskers on the Southbank Source: (dphotographer, 2017)
Plate 26. Buskers on the Southbank Source: (Evening Standard, 2017)
Plate 27. The Southbank book market Source: (Pinterest, 2017)
Plate 28. The Southbank book market Source: (Irene Maduka, 2017)
trajectories and not just the moot interests of dominant groups. In allowing the underrepresented to claim and aestheticise a foothold within the landscape, temporarily or permanently, it is possible that meaningful roots will be put down, and a dialogue between all people and the landscape opened up (Zukin, 2010). More concisely, if the SNFCC wishes to produce real authentic public space it should turn its attention away from preserving the aestheticised, visually seductive image of landscape and direct its gaze to a pre-existing Athenian quality, a quality that isn’t found on a drawing board, procurement list, or boardroom discussion, and a quality that currently enriches Athens’ streets and public spaces; the nature, state and constitution of its people.
Plate 29. Graffiti by local anti-fascist group Antifa Kallithea whose tag-line is strikingly poignant; ‘The City Belongs to Us’ Source: (Antifa Kallithea, 2017)
Greece is a nation which has suffered somewhat of a national identity crises. Caught between idealised intellectual notions of Classical Greek civilisation, national economic difficulties, and a desire to re-brand and modernise the country’s image, Greece is undergoing a social, economic and political transformation. The SNFCC landscape appeals to this notion of ‘national re-branding’ whilst simultaneously sympathising with the country’s affection for its past. Representing the countries ancient architectural philosophies through geometric design, and appealing to its idealised rural landscape with endemic planting the project harbours appealing notions of nationhood. Its technical and environmental successes in achieving platinum or gold LEED certification align the project alongside the top architectural and landscape achievements of Europe which nurtures the nation’s desire for modernisation. The project does, however, present political contradictions. A project funded and delivered by a private philanthropic organisation, inconsistencies exist between the proposed and the actual publicness of the space. Whilst the project will be officially handed over to the Greek State, private interests promoted during the imagining of the project have limited the production of a true democratic public realm. Through a desire to project a consumable and visually seductive image of the city, the landscape has not only ignored the scale and materiality of its context, but neglected to represent the undesirable, the under privileged, and the poor. The landscape therefore, is inscribed with a symbolic language that is designed to appeal to and welcome the right demographic and ignore the trajectories of the other. Though an amalgamation of symbolic language and the aestheticisation of fear, the landscape seeks to control the activities performed upon it whilst denoting who should and shouldn’t occupy the space. Visual images of fear such as security guards, CCTV cameras, fences, a strict code of conduct, and warnings of illegal activity elicit a required level of civil etiquette which reassure the dominant but repel underprivileged, polarising and displacing communities.
The landscape at the SNFCC currently ignores its obligation to present meaningful representations of Athenian and Greek society. Through projecting an image of the good city, the landscape compromises its production as an authentic public space. It is possible, however, that the project can overcome its political contradictions. Through a regulatory and symbolic loosening the SNFCC can allow underrepresented user groups to contest their claim upon the space. By affording marginalised user groups the right to temporarily or permanently aestheticise a portion of the landscape in their image, a meaningful dialogue between the other and the landscape can begin.
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The privatised creation of Athens public space, the consumerist image of the city, and the disregard of the other. The Elephant in the City...
Published on Jul 30, 2017
The privatised creation of Athens public space, the consumerist image of the city, and the disregard of the other. The Elephant in the City...