MAA - Economic Sustainability -school thessaloniki pikionis

Greece: a cultural-architectural-economic crisis

Greece has passed through many economic crisis which affected not only the political scene of the time period but also the society and the image of the cities. The word “crisis” has a double meaning: it indicates a radical change in a condition and also a personal judgment from a specific point of view towards a subject/idea/situation. I believe that we should consider both meanings at the same time as they are strictly connected: while we are through an emergent condition we always criticise it in order to make the most convenient and right decisions. The absence or presence of architecture is a dominant issue that it has been studying through years in order to understand how economic situation has an impact on the cultural aspect of the country.  Architecture however, doesn’t include only the construction of buildings but also a formal academic framework, education and theoretical texts. It is quite interesting to understand the system of economics producing or not architecture and how or where this balance could be found.

In general, those economic changes caused new architectural conditions, either through their creation, their destruction or their evolution. As architecture is a product of time, it transforms and adapts to new situations, providing or reminding identities, meanings and needs. It reflects the spirit of the era and reproduces the character of its people. Antonio Gramsci in his study approaches economics as a series of incidents and as a combination of activities and events that influence the every-day life of people.  As a result, the society changes, because the habits and the needs of the people are changing.

“We could prelude that economic crisis don’t cause important historic events but they create the necessary conditions and environment so new ideologies, philosophies and behaviors can take place in order to reconsider the questions and the answers for the continuity of evolution of our future national life” -Gramsci A, Gefangnishefte, no7, Berlin, 1996

During the early 19th century, the period of the foundation of the Greek state (1827) which coincides with the consolidation of neoclassicism in Greece, a discussion on architecture in the form of a public criticism was initiated on an immediate, practical level.

Ioannis Kapodistrias (governor of the new Greek State) tried to reshape Greece and to create facilities for people that just came out of war: this move included the construction of public buildings (schools, hospitals and institutions), organisation of the road network having in mind an intention to form a modern Greek architecture and identity. He created a law according to which constructions were possible only if there was an assigned architect. There was set a criticism which had to do with a question of whose buildings had to be demolished or expropriated and why, or whose house was legal or illegal. On the other hand there was a question of which buildings were ‘beautiful’ and which were not. There were questions about who was legitimized to own or occupy the public space and what exactly comprised this new aesthetic form.

While the political scene was changing constantly, Governments stated themselves also with public service buildings and activities. Architecture in this historical period is used to create a society, a nationality and an identity. As Greece still hurt from the results of the war, it was absolutely necessary to consider its image and meaning. After taking care of its people, the need is to shape a character which will create the environment for the country to be developed. Even if this evolution was promising, the following years, until the end of the century, constructions stopped: the big national loans which had to be paid didn’t permit expenses for architecture. However, some rich Greek residents of other countries gave money to the State in order to help and reinforce this movement. Those beneficences were also transformed in neoclassicistic public buildings offered to the Greek people. Big changes happened also to urban planning because of political and social changes: after the war of 1922, a huge amount of people came to Athens; at the same time there was a social movement towards the big cities. As a result, it occurred a problem of dwelling in certain geographical areas which was solved by the genesis of new urban forms of housing (polykatoikia).

Looking through the history, from the foundation of the Greek state until today, Greece has been through five economic crisis. The economic crisis were always affected by and towards the politics and marked changes in history of Greece. Architecture was present all the time in order to form and shape physically new ideas and evolutions. It kept alive the good memories while it tried to erase the images of the environment that reminded pain and slump to Greek people. More, architecture had also a major role to create perspectives, hope and optimism for the future. There wasn’t a constant and continuous evolution, neither development of the architecture but there was always a step forward: to society and architectural form. However,  it is noticeable that all governments had visions and made a lot of research as far architecture and planning is concerned. The image of the city and the needs of its people was a huge topic which they were taking into serious consideration. This vision was becoming reality only into parts, as the big amount of loans didn’t permit massive constructions and regenerations. They invested most of the money in public crucial construstions which have been destroyed and they were necessary for the utility of the country.

As a conclusion, in the case of Greece through history we notice that economics and architecture are more than relevant. Economic crisis gave birth to architecture but at the same time they couldn’t support it. That’s because economics are so relevant with society and political conditions, architecture had a major role to visualise conditions and states. Because of this power, architecture illustrates the history; it shaped a country and created a stronger identity. When people needed hope, architecture was able to provide it (with public schools and hospitals) and at the same time show the future and the perspectives of a new, organised and shaped environment where new ideas and culture could evolve. As far as there is a vision and meanings that are needed to be formed and expressed, I believe even economic crisis could give rise to interesting architecture elements.

“the difference between art and architecture is that in architecture we have employers” –lecture of Prof. Panagiotis Tournikiotis, 5th triennale, April 2013, Chania, Crete, Greece

Economics of sustainability| Greece: a cultural-architectural-economic crisis is a project of IaaC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia

developed at MAA01 in 2016 by:

Student: Maria-Klairi Chartsia

Faculty: Gonzalo Delacámara