Posts Tagged 'architecture'

A design for life

Athens Walkthrough-01

By Harry van Versendaal

She grew up in the foothills of Mt Parnitha and went on to study in the well-ordered, if somewhat predictable Netherlands. Now back in Greece, in her late 20s, graphic designer Natassa Pappa has found a way to import some of that order into the grit and chaos of downtown Athens.

Her project “Into Stoas” maps the largely neglected and overlooked commercial arcades in the center of the capital. For about two years, Pappa researched and photographed dozens of these covered walkways (usually referred to in Greek as “stoas” or “stoae”) – an undertaking that ultimately resulted in an interactive, and purposefully minimalist, guide with a fold-out map and a rather ambitious goal: “I wanted to come up with a fresh narrative for the city,” she says.

“Into Stoas” is an interdisciplinary project that borrows from graphic design, architecture, town planning and the urban experience. “Moving between those boundaries means that I may sometimes make, let’s say, arbitrary decisions: The map, for example, may not sit well with an architect,” she says. “As a designer, however, my goal is to create a product for the average person and offer a fresh experience.”

Pappa, whose postgraduate work at St. Joost school of fine art and design in Breda drew from the Situationist International concept of psychogeography in exploring more playful ways of drifting around urban environments, would love to see people use her guide as a tool to navigate Athens’s interior passages on their own.

“The city is a terrain to be explored. I only give away where stoas lie. This is about losing yourself in the city, moving about in a spontaneous fashion,” says Pappa, who is disdainful of the more mainstream understanding of tourism.

“Tourism is usually understood as a routine that you wish to follow. You travel to Paris and you visit the Eiffel Tower. Your photograph of the monument is your trophy from a faraway destination,” she says.

For those who prefer someone else to lead the way, Pappa also organizes walks, for English speakers as well as Greeks. If you decide to join one of her “Athens Walkthrough” sessions you will be taken around 11 stoas, from the refurbished Western-style atrium-covered Stoa Arsakeiou, which serves as a thoroughfare for foot traffic between Panepistimiou and Stadiou streets, to the surreal (make sure you climb the staircase to the rooftop to catch a rather dystopian spectacle) Stoa Anatolis (meaning Stoa of the East, which was allegedly inspired by a design seen by the architect in Alexandria, Egypt), off Aristeidou Street, once a hub for printing presses.

During the walk you will get a chance to chat with neighborhood businesspeople and taste some local delicacies. Don’t expect to get too much in terms of urban history or architectural analysis. The experience is rather driven by interesting anecdotes and the beauty of unexpected encounters.

Back to the future

The bulk of Athens’s arcades were built in the interwar and postwar periods – a utilitarian concept aimed at maximizing buildings’ commercial use as they grew in size to occupy entire blocks. Built along the lines of the Western European archetype, they were a prologue to the commercial centers that mushroomed in Athenian suburbia in the 1980s and 90s, and to their latest – and more commercially successful – reincarnation: shopping malls.

Unable to catch up with the economic change, these early arcades began to decline after 1970. More than 40 arcades of about 65,000 square meter surface can be found within the contours of Athens’s commercial center delineated by Panepistimiou Avenue, Ermou St and Athinas St.

According to recent data, the average occupancy rate of non-renovated arcades is about 54 percent but it rises to 83 percent for their renovated counterparts such as Stoa Spyromiliou – City Link or Stoa Korai. In some arcades the occupancy rate has dropped as low as 10 percent.

The aesthetic implications of Greece’s brutal financial crisis have somewhat paradoxically been coupled with a rise in urban activism and rekindled interest in the city. Pappa does not treat the arcades as an architectural legacy to be mourned or admired in doses of Instagram-filtered nostalgia. Rather, what she sees in that particular building type is a model to build on.

“We should make use of the arcades’ unique character: shopowners are here in close proximity; it is inevitable that they will exchange ideas and get feedback,” says Pappa, who has seen a similar pro-synergy micro-environment at play at her downtown Athens workspace at Romantso, a former printing house-turned-incubator designed to help get arty individuals and start-ups off the ground.

In an initiative last year, two local architects teamed up with the City of Athens in a bid to bring business back to the Stoa ton Emboron, or Merchants’ Arcade, which links Voulis and Lekka streets just off Syntagma Square. Creative people of every stripe were invited to put the unleased properties to use as production facilities and laboratories to explore new ideas and promote their work.

Pappa, who ran a workshop at the venue, says initiatives like this make her optimistic about the city’s future. Plagued for decades by the indifference and contempt of a population that arrived en masse from the rest of the country, Athens, she believes, stands a much better chance in the hands of the newer generation of creative individuals that were born and raised here.

“Athens is worn down and dysfunctional. But we can definitely solve many of its problems,” she says.

Pappa, for one, is doing her share.

For bookings and more information visit, call 6972.937.037 or send an e-mail to


A monument of beauty and beatitude

By Harry van Versendaal

It will be dwarfed by the Manhattan skyline, but it will hardly go unnoticed – particularly at night.

Construction of the National Shrine, a Greek Orthodox church and nondenominational bereavement center at Ground Zero, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, began in December last year. When the long-stalled project is completed two years from now, it will feature a dome-shaped structure clad in a hi-tech translucent skin of white Vermont marble that will glow softly in the dark.

Calatrava has said that the 35-million-dollar design, which was picked from over a dozen proposals, was inspired by Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior – both in Istanbul. Evidence of those influences can be traced at a new exhibition at the Benaki Museum, in central Athens, showcasing sketches, drawings, plans, photographs and audiovisual material from the ongoing project.


Looking at the 3-D renderings, architect Magda Sgouridi sees the Spanish architect diverging from his trademark compositions.

“His architectural vocabulary is significantly different here. The slim and refined mechanical structures that look upward toward the sky have here given way to a substantial bulk pushing down in the direction of the surface,” she said.

It is a gleaming, modern design that will, of course, be better evaluated once the monument – and, very crucially, the interior – is completed. But in the case of Saint Nicholas, concept comes before form.

“It will be a beacon of faith, of all faiths. A beacon that will serve as a New York landmark and, at the same time, as a New York boundary with the open sea,” Sgouridi said.

Dark chapter

Heavy in symbolism, the only non-secular structure at the site will replace the nondescript 19th-century church – a former tavern – that was destroyed as World Trade Center’s South Tower came down in the 9/11 terrorist blitz. No one was inside the building at the time.

The new monument will overlook the 9/11 Memorial, sitting at the intersection of Liberty and Greenwich streets, on land once occupied by the Deutsche Bank Building.

Construction was stalled by marathon negotiations between the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, until in 2011 an agreement between the two sides broke the deadlock.

For Eric Sessions, a Greek-American doctor who was one of the first responders on 9/11, the rebuilding of St Nicholas Church brings to a close a dark chapter in New York history while offering a great deal of hope.

“For Saint Nicholas, the protector of sailors and those who work with the sea which made New York what it is today, this has particular symbolism. For the Greek community of New York, and for all the Greeks who toiled on the waterfront through the years and whose faith sustained the church, this is a great tribute,” Sessions said.

“As a member of the parish which has hosted the Saint Nicholas church since it’s building’s destruction in 2001, this is a great victory and a hope for a future of understanding among all nations,” he said.


Calatrava, now 64, is also the architect behind Manhattan’s World Trade Center Transportation Hub, an awe-inspiring bird-like structure that has been hit by budget overruns and time delays. Calatrava, who is no stranger to controversy, became a household name in Greece ahead of the Athens 2004 Olympics for the design of the much-hyped roof structure over the Olympic Stadium.

In an interview about the project with The New York Times earlier this month, Archbishop Demetrios, leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, said that although Calatrava had “done a lot to assist in keeping the budget down,” some overshooting was to be expected.

“We have to have a masterpiece of architecture. It has to be the best,” he said.

The exhibition “Santiago Calatrava: The Renaissance of the Church of St Nicholas at Ground Zero” will be on display at the Benaki Museum’s ( main building in central Athens from September 24 to October 25.

Re-evaluating the urban legacy of the 1960s

By Harry van Versendaal

Much of the controversy that has arisen over contemporary Athens’s urban landscape stems from the changes wrought on it during the 1960s. Any reference to the architectural legacy of that period usually provokes a knee-jerk condemnation as the time is associated with the brutal transformation of the capital’s appearance.

It’s an unfair judgment, in the eyes of Kathimerini journalist and urban culture aficionado Nikos Vatopoulos. As the curator of “Athens: The Spirit of the 60s – A Changing Capital,” an ongoing exhibition at the Hellenic American Union’s Kennedy Gallery in the downtown Kolonaki district, he tries to challenge mainstream perceptions about the formative period.

“It was a controversial period because it was full of powerful contradictions. It was a time of transition and transformation for Greek society – a process that had many positive aspects, such as a faith in progress, the rise of cosmopolitanism, and economic growth,” Vatopoulos says.

Indeed, the rate of economic growth was heady: On average, gross domestic product was growing at an annual 7.6 percent while industrial output was increasing 10 percent each year. Growth was driven by a surge in foreign direct investment, mainly from the United States and Germany, coupled with a wave of internal migration to urban centers, which spurred construction. The cement and home appliances industries were flourishing. The apartment building, or “polykatoikia,” embodied the values and ambitions of the postwar urbanite generation, who turned their backs on the memories of deprivation in the countryside and the nasty hangover from the civil war.

Original photographs and postcards from the period, many from Vatopoulos’s own archive, document the burgeoning metropolis and the arrival of modern architectural landmarks such as the Athens Hilton. Built between 1958 and 1963 according to plans by architects Emmanouil Vourekas, Prokopios Vassiliadis, Spyros Staikos and Antonis Georgiades, the emblematic structure reflected the economic and social zeitgeist as Greece became a global player in the tourism and luxury market.

The evolution of lifestyles, fashion and social habits during the 1960s is also documented at the HAU exhibition. Magazine covers, ads, stamps and playbills capture the advent of cosmopolitanism and female consumerism (with classic 60s sexist cliches). Most of that came to an abrupt halt with the onset of the military dictatorship in 1967.

To be sure, Vatopoulos, who was born in Athens in 1960, acknowledges the decade’s negative consequences on the city’s physical and social environment.

“There was no foresight regarding the city’s expansion while dogmatic belief in ‘the new civilization’ left no room for historical sensibilities,” he says.

Many historical structures were knocked down at the time to make way for new buildings in the name of a tradition- and culture-insensitive modernism – also assisted by a wave of “antiparochi” deals between landowners and contractors (whereby the latter would replace low-story homes with apartment blocks whose units would then be divided between the two), a now deeply controversial measure introduced by Costantine Karamanlis as minister of public works.

The HAU exhibition takes place against the backdrop of a brutal financial crisis that has naturally left scars on the Greek capital. Interestingly, the social and aesthetic implications of poverty, homelessness and Greece’s six-year recession have been coupled with a rise in urban activism and rekindled interest in the city.

Vatopoulos, who currently lives in the southern seaside suburb of Glyfada, has been surprised at the response to the Facebook group “Saturdays in Athens” he formed three years ago as a platform for organizing weekly cultural activities such as guided tours, lectures and seminars. It currently numbers more than 19,000 members.

“The public has a desire to turn to something steady, familiar and safe. This is compounded by a feeling of nostalgia for a city with a recognizable etiquette,” he says.

But this is not the only reason behind the renewed interest, he says. “All this is also a reaction to the city’s degradation, a more energetic reaction that seeks to comprehend the various stages of Athens’s development,” he says.

Vatopoulos, for one, appears to be motivated by both. On top of his online community and extensive writings on the city, he has released a number of publications over the years and staged a well-received photo exhibition with cozy, nighttime shots of some of his favorite Athens buildings. As Instagram user @16thcentury, he uploads the pictures he takes all over the city.

He loves Athens, with all its contradictions.

“I was born and raised in Athens at a time when the city was changing at a rapid rate. Certainly, I was influenced by my family environment, but the emotional, awe-filled response I had witnessing a building’s demolition is a very strong childhood memory,” he says.

“I consider that I grew up observing the transformation of the city on the inside, I changed as the city changed. It’s something very personal to me.”

“Athens: The Spirit of the 60s,” at the HAU (22 Massalias) to Dec 13. Vatopoulos will speak on Athens during the 1960s at 7 p.m. on Nov 21 at the HAU Theater. There will be a guided tour of the exhibition on Dec 5, starting at 7.30 p.m.

Modernist giant wakes up from deep slumber

By Harry van Versendaal & Elis Kiss

Like a decadent, ailing giant that failed to awe, the Doxiadis Office Building for years sat neglected on the foot of Lycabettus Hill, discreetly overlooking the capital’s upmarket, albeit idiosyncratic, Kolonaki neighborhood.

Originally erected between 1958 and 1972 by pioneer architect and town-planner Constantinos A. Doxiadis to house the headquarters of his consulting engineers’ firm and namesake school, the building fell into neglect and disuse after Doxiadis’s death in 1975.

Now, after several setbacks and delays, the emblematic, postwar, modernist structure seems to have finally acquired a new skin without losing too much of its soul. Along the way it also picked up a new name and is now known as One Athens.

Acquired by Cyclamino SA, a partnership between entrepreneurs Christos Joannou and Miltos Kambourides, in 2007, the 12,500 square meter property has been reincarnated into a sleek, cement-and-glass residential complex that is currently re-defining the capital’s niche market for ultra-luxurious real estate in the city center. The redesign of the open-plan workspaces into 26 residences was masterminded by award-winning Athens and London-based Divercity architects, while construction work was undertaken by Greek builder J&P-Avax.

The transformation was not without obstacles. In 2010, renovation work was interrupted after protests by urban activist group Monumenta, which claimed that architects had tampered with Doxiadis’s trademark design. Opposition was soon joined by the Architecture School of the National Technical University of Athens, the Greek Architects’ Association (SADAS) and the Technical Chamber of Greece (TEE).

In a compromise decision, the Culture Ministry’s Central Council of Modern Monuments only granted listed status to certain elements of the building: the load-bearing structure, the facade along Stratiotikou Syndesmou Street, the spiral staircases and the central atrium – a low-energy, bioclimatic concept designed to provide ventilation and natural light at a time when building design in Athens almost exclusively catered to maximizing use of available space. Keeping with the Doxiadis legacy are the cellular concrete ceilings and the herringbone timber flooring.

Additions by the Divercity team are not out of proportion or character. The original modular grid has been transformed into a matrix made up of crystal, Aliveri marble, and translucent concrete panels – a functional, as well as playful, building material that allows light to penetrate its dense surface.

Living space at One Athens ranges from a 77 sq. m. studio to a 721 sq. m. penthouse and considerable choice in between. This includes four townhouses (ranging from 245 to 517 sq.m.), all enjoying direct access onto the Lycabettus Hill ring road as well as Stratiotikou Syndesmou Street. The building’s five penthouses (ranging from 260 sq.m. to 721 sq.m.) boast rooftop terraces, swimming pools or spas and views over the Acropolis and the Lycabettus Hill. Out of the 26 flats, so far seven have been picked up by a savvy, globe-trotting Greek clientele.

The building’s new residents, who are expected to start moving in early next year, will benefit from security and porter services as well as full concierge services for their entertainment and travel. The new neighbors will also be able to meet on the shared rooftop terrace (with views over the Acropolis and the Lycabettus), the ground floor’s indoor swimming pool as well as the adjacent jacuzzi, steam bath and sauna facilities. Also available for residents is a playroom and a conference area – close to the room that once hosted Greece’s first mainframe computer, a Univac 1107, acquired by Doxiadis Associates in 1969.

All residences are equipped with a state-of-the-art smart home management system through a wall-mounded iPad control center. Flats also feature natural gas heating, a fully equipped kitchen and designer fixtures for bathrooms.

By all means an exclusive project, One Athens survived the country’s financial meltdown and the paralysis of the local real estate sector. Price tags at the former Doxiadis headquarters currently reflect the project’s 70-million-euro private investment.

In a city that has often been disrespectful to its architectural legacy, One Athens introduces a new urban vernacular.

Bluish, modernist charm celebrates 80th birthday

By Harry van Versendaal

Apart from its trademark color, the so-called “Blue apartment block” (Ble polykatoikia) in Exarchia has lost a great deal of its original glamour over the years. But if there was ever a need to testify to the importance of this modern architectural gem, it would most probably come in the form of Le Corbusier’s now-vanished inscription next to the entrance: “C’est tres beau”: this is very beautiful.

Designed by architect Kyriakoulis Panayiotakos, one of the first graduates of the Architecture School of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), the building was constructed on the intersection of Arachovis and Themistocleous streets in 1933 at the heart of the middle-class neighborhood of Exarchia, with its narrow unpaved roads, small shops and two-story neoclassical houses.

To be sure, a lot has changed in this downtown district since the interwar years, but Floral, the legendary cafe located on the ground floor of the building on the edge of the busy, ideologically charged square, is still in its place. A watering hole for the city’s intelligentsia since it first opened its doors in 1936, Floral is now organizing a tribute to celebrate the edifice’s 80th birthday.

The two-day event on December 20-21 will feature talks with architects, historians, authors and tenants moderated by Maro Kardamitsi-Adami, a professor of architecture who in 2006 penned the best-known guide to the history of the building designed by her uncle. Visitors will also have an opportunity to see footage and pictures and examine the original building designs. Smaller groups will be treated to a tour inside the apartment block which currently stands amid an ocean of nondescript flats built during the 1970s.

“I often wonder what happened to the ‘1930s generation’ [a group of Greek intellectuals, poets, writers, artists and architects]. We have to ask ourselves why its high-quality output did not continue after the war. It was like a geyser that was sucked back into the earth,” Kardamitsi-Adami told Kathimerini journalist Nikos Vatopoulos when her book was first published.

It was during that time that Panayiotakos, who was born in Athens, joined the Greek Ministry of Education’s extremely prolific school building construction program to produce some of his best works – including the elementary school on Liosion Street, a design that also won the praise of Le Corbusier, the Swiss prophet of modernism, when he visited Athens for the 4th International Congress for Modern Architecture (CIAM) in 1933. But the Blue apartment block remains his most important work.

Made up of two separate units with interior courtyards which are connected to each other through the basement and the loft, the building consisted of 33 flats (another seven were later added to the top) of different sizes on six floors. The loft housed a laundry room and, more ambitiously, a 500-square meter common room overlooking Lycabettus and Strefi hills that was designed to bolster interaction among its residents. That pioneering idea was no less than a live experiment in social engineering and one seemingly animated by a belief in the power of architecture to protect and shape people’s identity: The way a building is designed says a lot about the way the architect fantasizes about life inside and around that building. (Plans for a rooftop swimming pool did not materialize.)

Testimony to the block’s social character is the number of artists and actors who chose to live in it. Among its most famous tenants were theater power couple Alexis Minotis and Katina Paxinou, journalist and author Freddy Germanos, and leftist politician Leonidas Kyrkos, who, according to some accounts, talked fighters of ELAS, the Greek People’s Liberation Army, out of blowing up the building during the events of December 1944 (better known here as “Dekemvriana”).

Panayiotakos, who was just 28 when he signed up to the project commissioned by the Antonopoulos family, famously designed the high-quality interiors down to the smallest detail, including built-in closets, drawers and inside doors. The facade’s original ultramarine blue color was applied by artist Spyros Papaloukas, an expert in post-Byzantine icon painting, whom the architect met together with teacher and friend Dimitris Pikionis, a lover of folk architecture, during a study trip on the island of Aegina in 1921. The blue paint was over the years replaced with a light gray tone. Some people say its occupants complained the paint was a magnet for the hot Attic sun. Form was to follow function, but so, eventually, did color.


“Greece: Modern Architectures in History,” by Alexander Tzonis and Alcestis P. Rodi (Reaktion Books – Modern Architectures in History), 2013

“I Ble Polykatoikia,” by Maro Kardamitsi-Adami (Libro), 2006

Floral | 80 Themostokleous Street, Exarchia, Athens

A bridge from the future that never was


By Harry van Versendaal

“We would romance the night away, watching the cars rush under the bridge. ‘Mesogeion River,’ we would call it. Later, when I moved into the neighborhood, I would cross it on my walks with the dog. If I was in a hurry though, I’d go to the street crossings.”

Gina became a mother and moved back to the northern suburbs of Athens, but the pedestrian suspension bridge designed by Spanish “starchitect” Santiago Calatrava spanning Mesogeion Avenue at Katehaki, like other monumental legacies of the 2004 pre-Olympic period, remains a symbol of dashed hopes for a new Greece, for a tidier, more modern and more European Greece.

The structure stands out for its metal pylon, arcing upward to a height of 50 meters. A row of 14 metal cables hold up the suspended – and now somewhat beleaguered – 94-meter footbridge over Mesogeion Avenue.

The architect’s design for the Mesogeion footbridge is said to have been inspired by the form of the chair depicted on the ancient funerary stele of Hegeso, found at the Ancient Cemetery of Kerameikos in central Athens.

It also recalls the bow of a futuristic trireme standing anchored in the past century. The beautiful contours of the structure continue to fascinate amateur photographers.

But instead of upgrading the ungainly architectural legacy of the 1970s, the Calatrava bridge is merely a reminder of that era. The western end of the bridge, for example, abuts the wall of an adjacent apartment block. Herein lies the first problem: The bridge has no breathing space, giving the sense that it was designed on a flat screen in a modern Zurich office, before a location was selected for it.

The bridge has never really been loved. In part this is because it is of limited use. It is longer than the distance of the pedestrian crossings it was meant to replace and, in combination with the time it takes to climb the staircases or ride the elevators to the top, crossing it is something of a lengthy process. Coming out of the nearby metro station, most pedestrians would rather take their chances with the street traffic.

The bridge has also seen little love because Calatrava, who reportedly conducted the study for its design free of charge, has been inevitably linked to the budget overruns of the 2004 Olympic Games and the nation’s post-Olympic decline.

Calatrava himself is not faring much better than his bridge. Recently, Italian judicial authorities notified the architect of citation for damages in the exchequer for 3.8 million euros for alleged errors on his glass bridge spanning Venice’s Grand Canal that have resulted in the need for constant repairs and interventions. News of the ruling met with snide comments by the Greek media.

Today, the white footbridge over Mesogeion Avenue has become a symbol of what could have been. In a twist of irony, the jet-black symbol of the new era has emerged just a few meters down the road, where the imposing office building of Golden Dawn confirms the penetration by the neo-Nazi party of the Greek middle class.

The Calatrava bridge is separated from the Golden Dawn offices by a few meters of asphalt – all downhill.

Skyscrapers in suburbia


By Harry van Versendaal

Mr Leonidas didn’t go looking for his apartment. It was more like the other way around.

It was the early 1970s and Mr Leonidas was teaching high school math in an impoverished suburb of Athens. During his lunch break one day, he came across a leaflet printed by the teachers’ association, advertising a new kind of neighborhood for educators. A few years later, with the help of a low-interest bank loan, he, his wife and their three children headed uptown, to the far wealthier suburb of Neo Psychico.

Today, the Teachers’ House, as it is known, provides an intriguing contrast to the modest, low-rise architecture of Athenians’ prized suburbia. Hardly beautiful as a structure, the unimpeded sea view from the tallest tower’s 15th floor, standing 56 meters above street level, is enough to send Greece’s skyscraper lovers, who have few such buildings to admire, into paroxysms of joy – or, at least, touch those who are moved by the qualities imbued in a massive concrete edifice.

If every home has a story to tell, then these modernist high rises use a language rarely observed in Greek abodes.

A decorative motif of rose, peach and tan tiles – possibly a failed effort at whimsy – and a series of gray ellipses girdle the apartment block from its flat roof to its base, emphasizing its horizontal axis almost as if embarrassed by its towering size. At least it can take pride in its generously wide balconies, a rare sight in the high rises of the West.

Sitting in his beige easy chair, Mr Leonidas, a pensioner and for years Block C’s superintendent, yarns about his home’s beginnings, back when they were just a spark in one dreamy literature teacher’s eyes. In the late 60s, Nikolaos Stamatopoulos, who taught at the private Leontios School, traveled to Italy. “He was so impressed by the rows of apartment blocks designed for workers that he decided to get together with some of his colleagues to build a similar apartment building, just for teachers,” says Mr Leonidas. It remains a mystery whether his desire was also fueled by the ideals of a modern academic utopia.

The Teachers’ House was designed by architects Stavros and Angelos Vaseiliou under the junta-era development statute “Law ΑΝ 395/68 on the Heights of Buildings and Free Construction,” which allowed for the construction of tall buildings with up to 28 inhabitable levels. After myriad technical challenges and one bankruptcy, the block was completed in 1973, albeit without the roof garden and ground-level shops foreseen in the original plans.

Along with the “Twin Towers” at its northern end, the Teachers’ House is still considered a landmark, a recognizable anomaly, by commuters who drive along the otherwise monotonous Mesogeion Avenue.

As the years passed, however, the block’s academic character was diluted. “There were fewer teachers per se and more of their spouses, and cousins and children,” says Mr Leonidas. However, the buildings retain the triumvirate of superintendents, a residents’ council and the porter.

The cracks that appeared after the 1981 earthquake were covered over by an outer shell of concrete and the whole exterior was spruced up with a generous Olympic Games-era grant, but inside the shabby hallways, the passage of time cannot be disguised.

Forty years after he first moved in, photographs of Mr Leonidas’s six grandchildren adorn his walls. His three children have all become doctors and two them live here, on the 8th and 10th floors. His own apartment is much closer to the ground.

“Not everybody likes living up high,” he says, smiling. “A lot of people complain they get dizzy.”


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