“I can already imagine the faces of my family and friends in North Dakota when I tell them that I work in Athens. You don’t know what the word “Athens” means to an American person and how many magical things we recall. It’s incredible.”
I listen to Charles Anderson while he speaks about Athens and I feel jealous of his enthusiasm. It’s not the first time he has visited Greece and he has worked all over the world. “But Athens is something else,” he stresses. Charles Anderson is a landscape architect and head of the landscape architecture, planning and urban design firm called “Melendrez” that will cooperate with Lamda Development to create the urban park in the Elliniko area.
Despite his limited experience in Athens, everything he says demonstrates that he is a person who learns very quickly. “What’s about to happen in Elliniko will be a triggering event for the whole of Athens. The exciting part of this city is the combination of the mountains and the sea. Elliniko is near Ymittos and has a waterfront, whereas the space of the old airport is seamless and flat. What we desire to change through our approach, is to create more variety in the landscape of the new park.
But beware, and this is when Charles Anderson gets serious. “We didn’t come from the other side of the world to turn Elliniko upside down. Apparently there will be new plantings and new points of particular interest that will be created, but at the same time we will draw inspiration from what we already observe on the site. For instance, there is a specific type of “archaeology” there that is connected with the vestiges of the former use, the airport. There are several modern “ruins” that we aim to utilize. The east airport terminal has a unique architectural identity (i.e. the listed building of Eero Saarinen) and there is a flight lane that could be transformed into a pedestrian zone. It’s important to get the message through that we are not here to raze everything.
The landscape architect Thomas Doxiadis, who is going to cooperate in the park's design, is in complete agreement with what Charles Anderson proposes. “The airport is not an empty space. Its memories can’t be compared with the ones of Athens’ centre, but they are still of interest. Several parts of the landscape have survived until today, or could be reconstituted, such as the 'Trachonon stream,' the history of the old airport and the spectacular building of Saarinen, the vestiges of runways and the airplanes that are still on the field. All these offer the opportunity to create a new and fresh park while remaining sensitive to the memories of the past.”
I asked Thomas Doxiadis whether he wants to share with us information about other large urban parks that could be models for the new park in Elliniko. “The urban park in Elliniko is so large that it could, and should, combine some qualities of other successful parks, and this is the baseline in our design. At the same time, this is a chance to create something very “Greek,” to designate the value of our landscape to the visitors and also to the Greek people. Charles has shown great sensitivity to this specific issue.”
Are there any important urban parks in the city in which you live? Do these parks designate the landscape of your country?
Original article, originally published in Greek, here.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.