OMONIA & VICTORIA NEIGHBOURHOOD, ATHENS
The Creative Industries Fund NL gave me the opportunity to work on a research and design project in Athens. The Greek capital has the lowest percentage of green and public space per person compared to other European cities. This is the result of the modern development of the city between 1950 and 1990 that fostered private development and home ownership but lacked a ‘public value component’ that would ensure the preservation of public space. Today, the few public spaces left in the city are often
appropriated by newcomers who have no other place to stay, resulting in tensions and conflicts between different inhabitants.
The project particularly focuses on the area between Omonia square and Victoria square. This is one of the most dense neighbourhoods in the city, housing a lot of migrants. The work is divided in two parts. In the first part I investigate the spatial implications and experiences of migration in the city centre of Athens. I interviewed 25 people and walked with them
through a particular area. Based on these interviews, I wrote ‘biographies of space’. In the second part, I propose design interventions to better organise migration in Victoria and Omonia neighborhood. It focuses on the role of common space as a site for encounters between newcomers, temporary inhabitants and permanent citizens. The two parts are iteratively supported and informed by each other.
The area between Omonia and Victoria square is characterized by urban decline, which is not only the result of the economic crisis that exacerbated it, but also that of a decades’ long procedure of degradation due to the overbuilding of urban space. While decay and vacancy may have a negative impact on the quality of life of inhabitants, they offer at the same time apossibility to rethink the existing urban structure. The main idea of the proposal is reconstruct a sequence of diverse open spaces to bring more air, greenery and collective space in the dense area. Appropriating empty plots or demolishing ruined buildings, could establish public access to residual spaces inside
the blocks of apartment buildings. While these enclosed urban spaces are not accessible or visible from the streets, they are at the same time the only available open outdoor areas in the city, constituting a deviation from the density of the urban grid. Since the typology of the apartment buildings is based on a basic column structure with non-load bearing infill walls, these walls could be removed on the vacant ground floors of buildings. The result would be the opening up of a continuous ground plane, which could again give access to the internal courtyards. The public streets and more private courtyard spaces could thus be connected in a new continuity. By collecting rain
water and removing paved surfaces, space is created for the planting of trees. Issues regarding pollution or water drainage can thus be solved. The connected spaces will be marked by rows of blossom trees. Depending on the available space, the trees create narrow ‘corridors’ or larger spaces. With the tool of an iron fence, it is possible to create community-managed spaces that can be opened or closed at different times a day. In this way, new kinds of urban spaces could be developed that are outside the dichotomy of public and private, where newcomers and more permanent inhabitants can together and actively become part of urban space
Through a process of appropriation of space the dense city will be eroded