The negation of a city and a claim to avoid or reverse the condition of its density is usually organised according to a perspective that leads towards the creation of large urban gardens. A generous empty urban surface is considered to be the necessary condition to avoid the disadvantages of a dense city. This approach (with its emblematic examples in New York, London and Paris) prioritises designed pauses in the urban experience as rhythmical voids that characterise the modern urbs. A framed landscape within the city offers its opposite as a necessary part of the whole, therefore a city includes parks and a percentage of green.
This “negation of the city within the city” also indirectly describes the specific character that is negated with this urban emptying strategy. The question concerning an Athenian negation of the city’s urban fabric would be: what exactly would be negated in the rejection of density in Athens today? In which way would emptiness be contrary to an abandoned centre? Or put differently: what is the meaning of an urban void if it is surrounded by empty buildings? The modern centre of Athens today operates “itself” as the city’s invisible void.
In this framework, the perfect negation of today’s Athens would not be a void but a city. Not a pause in the urban experience but a performance, whereas the current urban surface of the centre resembles more the residue after fire.
A “negation of the city” then is not what is missing from Athens. Its centre already seems to be a negation of the city and Athenians are currently seeking to understand and interpret its existing emptiness. The city is unable to institutionalise contents for its vacuum.
The Persian and Hebrew versions of the word “paradise” carry the meaning of “garden”. In some contexts the word refers more specifically to enclosed and secluded gardens, places where the concept of time becomes that of a pause.
Referring briefly to Christian tradition, paradise is a place that is either lost or promised. In an analogous way the city park represents a different kind of idealised promise made from the vacuum. It participates in a vision of a temporary cessation of history and is organised as an exit from the community.
Athens seeks a new, open, experimental relationship between its existing free space and the various communities that could visit it or inhabit it. A new, different kind of urban culture could begin in these empty spaces of the city centre. The transformation of these empty spaces would then take place as a re-elaboration and redistribution of space or their metamorphosis could serve as mere counterpoint for urbanity. The city has inherited certain facilities that continue to function without conscious relationships towards any common commitment. But Athens now has the chance to examine the possibility of a new civic character arising from the modern ruin that the city centre has become.
Aristide Antonas is an architect and writer, currently based in Athens and Berlin. His literature is published at Agra Publications (Athens), JRP-Ringier (Zurich) and Crap is Good Press (Berlin). His theoretical texts are mostly published on the internet. Aristide is principal in the Antonas Office (nominee for a Mies Van der Rohe award, 2009 and for a Iakov Chernikov Prize, 2011). He has been active as a tutor in Greece (NTUA, Athens and UTH, Volos) and as a member of the visiting staff at the Architectural Association, the University of Cyprus, FU Berlin and the Bartlett UCL.
Our proposal is to facilitate a different idiosyncratic function, determined through the web. We named this new congregation of empty spaces the Sleeping Area, but it is much more than a simple proposal for housing facilities in the midst of a deserted city district.
Instead it is a scheme for an alternative, inhabited, civic garden created through the abolition of walls and the unification of bigger ensembles of spaces, in which the idea of a “garden” is expressed through its influence upon scenography rather than through “natural” elements. The intended result is an “interior park”, open to new forms of functionality for the private and the common sphere in the post internet, Airbnb era; it offers not a pause from urban life, but seeks new urban rules, functioning as a curated elaboration of urban protocols.
The Sleeping Area project could be a realistic proposal if only the state could rethink its legislative powers. It is also a comment on the rationale behind most master plans. The city of Athens is already a reflection of the impotence of master plans when it comes to grasping the dynamics of a changing social sphere. Large-scale projects undertaken in the city since its decline have dealt with the past as if a revitalisation procedure would be possible by stepping back. Another of our proposals (published as the Athenian Trench) for the Onassis Foundation’s Re-think Athens competition in 2013 was not selected by the jury since we proposed implementing changes concerning the function of the city rather than offering a simple street reorganisation and the restoration of facades. At the same time we tried to organise new settings for undetermined spaces, such as the agglomeration of empty shops, or new trenches that would transform parts of important Athenian streets into excavation spaces and ruin gardens.
This organisation of urban empty spaces is not a target in itself. A more flexible civic legislation is a possible tool to allow new urban practices to arise in these newly legislated spaces, in parallel to the existing civic code. We would wish this different legislation to have the character of an alternative public democratic use of the web. This use of legislation would then be an architectural tool for an emancipation of the infrastructure. This would offer Athens the possibility of elaborating upon its urban multiple, fragmented interior garden. A new civic content to fill both a material and conceptual blank. I