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March 16, 2004

Greek Elections

Dear Friedrich --

It hasn't been widely noticed in the States, but 2Blowhards visitors may be interested to learn that on March 7th, Greek voters voted their center-Left government out of office, and voted into office a center-Right government.

Architecture-wise, the leftist PASOK government had initiated an Olympics-related, build-lots-now program that leaned heavily on chic establishment architects. How much of a role did public dislike of this program play in the government's downfall? Hard to tell; discontent with inefficiency and corruption in a general sense were in any case far more important factors. Still, how fascinating to see that one of the first actions of the New Democracy government has been to stop work on the New Acropolis Museum, designed by Bernard Tschumi.

Nikos Salingaros' Guest Posting for 2Blowhards about Tschumi's awful design can be read here. I was pleased to see that Nikos's essay was linked to by several Greek blogs, a Spanish blog, and was even translated into Italian. Emailing back and forth, Nikos and I decided that the time has come to start referring to the "Athens Effect" in honor of recent events. As we propose it, the "Athens Effect" describes the downfall of an institution (corporation, university, government, or nation) that embraces alien architecture. In short, it's the opposite of the "Bilbao Effect," which describes the magic transformation Frank Gehry's museum is said to have wrought on the city of Bilbao.

Here's the news as reported by Kathimerini, an English-language Greek newspaper. I've stitched this together from two different news stories.

Supreme Court deputy prosecutor Anastassios Kapollas has instructed an Athens prosecutor to press criminal charges for breach of duty against the state-appointed committee that awarded the museum contract to architects Bernard Tschumi and Michael Photiades ... court sources revealed on Thursday that nearly all the officials involved in the 94-million-euro museum project would face criminal charges for breach of duty in awarding the contract and approving the museum plans.

Will this prove to be the first time that the academic-avant-garde-celebritecht establishment (designers as well as the people who award them contracts and give them prizes) has been called to serious public account? Beats me. Perhaps visitors who are more knowledgeable can help out here?

Here's a brief report from INTBAU, the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism. What fun to see that INTBAU cites Nikos' 2Blowhards piece, and includes a fresh quote from Nikos as well. Let me encourage everyone to explore the entire site, by the way, which is full of terrific information, images and articles: hey, there really is a high-class alternative to the anti-human, ego-driven crap the media and most of the schools are peddling.

Ah, the web. I'm thrilled that anyone exploring INTBAU's site and links can get up to speed about these crucial if a little esoteric matters in a matter of a few hours. Still, I can't help feeling a little rueful that in the pre-web era accumulating that very same knowledge took me several years. Oh, well: perhaps I'm a better person for having made the effort. Though, come to think of it, probably not. INTBAU's home page is here.

Here's an informative and comprehensive report by Alasdair Palmer for the Telegraph about the new government stopping construction on the Museum.

By the way, those of a romantic temperament who feel tempted to go to battle for the artist -- or who feel dreamy about the nobility of socialist goals -- might want to consider first that the Museum's opponents include residents who were forcibly evicted from their apartments to make space for the project, archaeologists, Communists, and even (gasp) artists. The PASOK approach to realizing their Museum seems to have put everyone's back up. Here's a passage from the Palmer article:

The Greek socialists, who were in power for more than a decade, were determined to go ahead with the project although the country's Supreme Court ruled that the building was illegal last year. The government passed a law making the museum "legal" again.

Fun to note that work on the Museum was running 20 months behind schedule.

We're looking forward to running more Guest Postings from Nikos. Be sure to treat yourself to a visit to his website, here, where you'll find loads of fascinating essays and articles.



UPDATE: David Sucher takes note here. Chris Davis doesn't like the idea of "The Athens Effect," here.

posted by Michael at March 16, 2004


The article in The Telegraph seems to say that the issue is not at all about the design of the structure per se but about its siting in a manner to destroy unearther archeological treasures.

The whole thing is fascinating as the museum's location was approved by the Greek Central Archaeological Council! There is quite a story here and I wonder if Tshumi's design is just a sideshow.

Posted by: David Sucher on March 17, 2004 10:49 AM

What do I know, but there seems to be a lot of resentment about general high-handed and insensitive carrying-on where the museum's concerned. I'd argue (or at least suggest) that the kind of designs that Tschumi makes represent high-handedness and insensitivity in design terms, and that that may be part of the package. But you may disagree, and like I say what do I really know in this case?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 17, 2004 11:36 AM

All I am saying is that the article in The Telegraph didn't explain what is happening with any subtlety.

For example, the article was silent on whether Tschumi was involved in siting the museum or was simply given a spot and told to "go design a building." It could have happened either way but it makes a huge difference in ascribing responsibility to Tschumi. Based on reading the story for a third time it seems to me the dispute has very, very little to do with architecture but is about archaeology.

To come to much of a conclusion based on that Telegraph story seems a bit difficult.

Posted by: David Sucher on March 17, 2004 12:01 PM

"The Greek socialists, who were in power for more than a decade, were determined to go ahead with the project although the country's Supreme Court ruled that the building was illegal last year. The government passed a law making the museum "legal" again."

My goodness---this sounds like a highschool student council or something!! Maybe they left the same impression on the voters, which is why they voted them out! Isn't Greece where the Olympics are this summer. Oh dear!

Posted by: annette on March 17, 2004 12:43 PM

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