As distinctive examples of Modern architecture, the former refugee houses in Athens can be described as the prelude to the city’s contemporary urban development. Although they have earned a place in Modern Greek history, nowadays these buildings struggle to maintain their existence.
The 1920's forced displacement of the Greek population from Asia Minor to Greece created an influx of almost two million immigrants. In order to accommodate these people, State apartments were built at various locations in Athens, and other cities. As a result, it was the Greek immigrants’ heritage that transformed Athens from a village to a cosmopolitan city, thus setting the foundation for the Greek metropolis.
Descendant from architectural functionalism and heavily influenced by Bauhaus style; the former refugee houses are unique representatives of their era. At the time that Ludwig Mies Van de Rohe was closing the Bauhaus School in Berlin, Germany (under pressure of the Nazi Regime), the construction of refugee houses was commencing at Ampelokipoi neighborhood in Athens, Greece; the year was 1933. Two hundred and twenty-eight apartments were made available to the refugee families two years later.
The demolition of these landmark buildings and construction of an underground parking station has been an infamous design proposal that met huge opposition by the locals, never seeing realization. In proximity with the Greek Police Headquarters, the Houses of Justice, Panathinaikos Stadium and two hospitals, their premium location is what complicates the situation.
Visiting the former refugee houses gives you the feeling that you are outside the city. It is the only location so close to the center of Athens that still has dirt roads. Though damaged by the years of neglect, the buildings continue to fulfil their original purpose, providing shelter to those in need, no matter who or why. Abandoned, decaying, but not empty, inside the small apartments you can find dozens of people living. Immigrants, homeless and other marginalized groups of people are keeping company with the ageing structures.
It looks like the actual buildings have souls that are in despair; conveying a sadness that is stronger than the real image of their poor condition.
With only fifty-one private owners, the former refugee houses belong to the Public Properties Company. In 2008 they were declared as preservable; a year later the Technical Chamber of Greece proposed to exchange some of their properties for the former refugee houses, so as to restore them and create a museum. The proposal was denied by the State officials. In March 2014, one hundred and thirty seven apartments were transferred to Assets Development Fund in order to be sold. Even though they are protected by law, many concerns about their survival have been expressed by locals and Athens municipality.
Last of their kind, if properly renovated the former refugee houses could give a different twist, enriching the grey urban canvas with their individuality and historical supremacy.
Do you consider the privatization of historical sites or buildings to be positive or negative?
Credits: Images by Valia Stavrianidi or linked to sources. Data linked to sources.