Architects innovate in Athens

On April 25, guest lecturer Konstantinos Pantazis discussed his architectural practice, Point Supreme, and his award-winning project that aims to reimagine the Greek city of Athens./ Courtesy of Vassar College via Flickr

Finding inspiration from urban planning might be an uncommon concept to the everyday citizen. However, the Greek architects of Point Supreme, an architectural practice that imagines and builds projects from houses to public spaces, are changing the traditional design of Athens. On April 25 in Taylor Hall, Associate Professor of Art and Director of Urban Studies Tobias Armborst introduced guest lecturer Konstantinos Pantazis, one of the two founders of Point Supreme Architects. Pantazis and his partner, Marianna Rentzou, won international acclaim for designing the Faliro Pier in Athens. Their work blends traditional aesthetics with innovative design.

To begin his presentation, Pantazis showed an aerial photo of the capital city of Greece. The bird’s-eye view gave perspective to an otherwise confusing multitude of roads and conglomeration of buildings, complete with the urban environment surrounded by a verdant landscape. Pantazis noted the famous ancient Greek citadel that overlooks the metropolis: “The Acropolis is what Athens is known for. Besides that, people have no mental image of the city.” However, he qualified this statement by saying,“The hills are what make the city of Athens.”
Many of Point Supreme’s projects have focused on the slopes of Athens. Pantazis projects images of the 2010 project “Athens by Hills,” which is a series of graphic images highlighting the untouched mountains that surround the city. One image depicts a steep mountainous landscape filled with hot air balloons, ferris wheels and ancient architectural remains.

The architects’ goal was to highlight the overlooked aspects of the city that ironically define it. Speaking to this effort, Pantazis said, “We weren’t addressing architects, we were addressing the people.” Here, Point Supreme sought to exemplify the city of Athens in a new light, one diverging from the iconic Acropolis that marks the public’s stereotypical mental image of Athens. Overall, the architects aim to redefine Athenians’ experience of their city.

The lecturers explained that the city is framed by three mountains and the sea. Analyzing the serene beauty offered by the Greek landscape, Pantazis reveals the importance of exterior spaces in people’s minds and emphasized how they are more important than the interior ones, commenting, “People just want to be outside.” He discussed the balcony, an architectural element that is intrinsic to most of Athens’ residential design.
Pantasiz points out the irony that although everyone wants to be outside in Athens, very rarely does the typical Athenian venture to the coast. This is because Athens is surrounded by islands where many residents go on vacation. After he and Rentzou spent eight years working abroad, primarily in the Netherlands, they fell in love with the Athenian coast upon their return to Greece. In reference to the coast, he says, “Once I got back to Athens, I began to appreciate it more.”

However, Pantasiz also said, “We’re a bit obsessed with the islands.” He elaborated from an architectural perspective: “People who do architecture on the islands are not architects. The buildings are functional before anything else.” He showed a picture of an island home built by a local couple, displaying a black-and-white, off-kilter, checkered floor with a red entryway complete with asymmetrical artwork flanking the sides. Speaking on this image, Pantasiz commented, “They just used what they had and the result is very powerful.” Here, it became clear that religious symbols and memory are abundant in this homespun architecture.
Many of the materials used were free, such as the floor, which is made up of different checkered tiles. The exterior is partially covered in blue tile, complete with a red metal fence and a dark purple door. A tree bisects the house’s center, merging the organic with modern architecture. Their entire home is an artistic collage. Enhancing the innovative quality, one can see the Acropolis in the far distance.

Annie Duncan ’19, who attended the lecture, speaks about her fascination with this particular project: “I loved hearing about Point Supreme’s projects, especially the Petralona House. It’s beautifully designed but also uses recycled and found materials, like the tiles and balcony they scavenged from junkyards around Athens.”
Duncan elaborated,“I really loved the way they combined modern designs with cheap [and] found materials to make a totally custom house that’s unique, funky and unpretentious. They just seemed to have a completely unique approach to design—much more spontaneous and artistic than other contemporary designers.”

After the lecture, Pantasiz discussed his personal connection with Athens. “We went back to Greece because we were very inspired by the city and thought that [the design] was not very [contrived.].”

He elucidated, “For example, the way that the hills work into its fabric or the way that the sea is surrounding it on three sides. We found that as architects, or as trained designers, we have a certain list of tools to bring out the certain realities of the city that were otherwise not present.” Starting from a blank slate, or “tabula rasa,” is not usually how Point Supreme operates.

On the couple’s teamwork on Point Supreme, Pantazis said, “We are very different in the way we work and the way we think and design. So the projects we do, they’re the most successful when we collaborate.” Pantazis attributes the firm’s success to his and Rentzou’s ability to think outside the box as a flexible duo.

Overall, Point Supreme seeks to reimagine Athens with the power of innovative design. Pantazis ended his talk by saying, “Sometimes you know a problem exists, but you don’t realize it until you visualize it.” Their architecture and design projects recreate the mental image of the city that the people of Athens call home. For Point Supreme, design is most successful when they pick a point or place of focus and pay attention to what’s already there, using spatial or economic constraints as a backbone for the project. From there, designs can reach their highest peak.

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