Reporting from Athens

Originally published in Frame Issue 134

The legacy of the 2009 economic crisis continues to play a significant role in shaping the built environment of Athens. While the state has played a minimal role in the planning and form of the city for much of its modern history, the crisis has exacerbated this absence. Over the last decade, large-scale projects for public use in Athens have tended to arise from philanthropic sources – such as the Onassis or Stavros Niarchos foundations – with the jobs falling to international architects – Paris-based Architecture-Studio and Renzo Piano respectively. For smaller local practices, private apartment renovations are the predominant source of new work. The city’s sprawling landscape of mid-twentieth century apartment buildings (known as polykatoikia) are a rich resource of housing stock which are well-suited to modern adaptation and reinvention and young practices such as Hiboux and MoY are adept at maximising the free plans of their apartment projects, balancing original details with new flourishes and traditional craftsmanship.

Yet the proliferation of these projects across the portfolios of contemporary studios is indicative of a broader, more sinister trend. In these bright and breezy renovations, we might identify an architecture of the ‘Golden Visa’: the government initiative which allows wealthy individuals from outside Greece and the European Union to purchase a residence permit via a €250,000 investment in the property market. Predominantly taken up by Chinese citizens, the Golden Visa programme has turbo-charged the increase in AirBnb and other short-term rental properties across the city, with particular saturation in the neighbourhoods of Koukaki and Exarchia. This hugely successful programme is feeding back into the design scene of the city, with some architects and interior designers hawking their Airbnb-ready services while contributing to the proliferation of international Airbnb interior monotony…

Originally published in Frame Issue 134

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