01/17 SNFCC


Georgios A. Panetsos

In the nodal, but discreetly understated, reception area of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, which links the ‘Agora’ with the car park and the Library with the ‘Beacon’, there is a small plaque of neutral plexiglass with the following inscription:

“Τhe Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) is a gift from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) to Greece and its people.
The SNFCC manifests SNF’s continuous commitment to Greece and its future,
is an embodiment of excellence, vision, hope, collaboration and determination,
and fulfills the wishes of the SNF’s founder, Stavros Niarchos, to support his motherland.”

This is followed by the impressive chronicle of the realisation of this magnificent project, with its four stages: the announcement of the benefaction in 2006, the design period, 2007 – 2011, the construction period, 2012 – 2016, and the commencement of operations in 2017, together with the “special thanks” to the architects of the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, and Betaplan, the landscape architects of the Deborah Nevins and Elli Pangalou practices, the Salini Impregilo and TERNA construction companies, and its project managers, Faithful+Gould – those principally responsible for bringing the project to fruition.

This is the moment when you take on board the ethos which permeates the areas which you have passed through, and those which you will visit as a

flâneur, as one passing through, or as a favoured visitor. The premises are spacious and tall, without being overbearing. They are grand, without exciting awe. They appear relaxed, without seeming inessential. They exude munificence without this reaching the point of extravagance, and this impression is reinforced by the complete appropriateness of the building materials and techniques – stabilised ceramic flooring in the Park, non-slip mortar throughout the length of the channel, Dionyssos marble in the Agora and the interiors succeeding it, faultless smooth concrete on the walls, state-of-the-art multi-storey plate glass on the main public rooms. These scarcely perceptibly form a bridge with the scale of adjacent infrastructure and residential neighbourhoods. Even if we do not take into account the channel, the Park, the Beacon, and the canopy, the comparison with what we have been used to in Athens up till now is striking.

The architectural ‘dramaturgy’ is restrained throughout the height of the functional architectural masses. Plain unadorned articulations of successively repeated features make up the plot and define the scale, enclosing multi-storeyed areas. It is set free only above the elevated level of the Park as a literal and metaphorical culmination. The solid canopy, at an easily appreciated height of more than 40 m., on the slenderest of widely-spaced support, of a height of 16 m., serves as an unexpected feature on the boundary of Athens with the sea, which transforms a location perceived as obscure, though geographically easily discerned, into a point of reference, and at the same time organises the observation, perception, and understanding of the city. From the ‘Beacon’, the panoramic reading-room, in the place where our habituation as consumers leads us to expect the cafeteria, enables us to see the hills of the basin and to realise that the artificial hill of the SNFCC is a modified reflection of the Acropolis, and the pillared canopy of the Parthenon.

On the other side of the projecting angle on which the diaphanous plaque with the epigrammatic dedication is located, and opposite the lifts for the descent from the ‘Beacon’, are inscribed, in the smooth concrete of the wall, some hundreds of names, which bear witness to a variety of, often distant, origins. These are the names of all who have contributed to the project, in alphabetical order, without distinction as to specialisation or duties, in equal recognition of their toil and in confirmation of what is stated in the concise inscription, of the principles of “excellence, vision, hope, collaboration and determination”. Among them can be seen the names of Renzo Piano, Giorgio Bianchi, and others, among them those who have authored the texts in this issue.

Such a project brings to light, not so much through discourse as through spatial relationships, the political and moral character of great public architecture.  It is not only the functions, such as the development of research and the dissemination of learning by a well-organised National Library, or the cultivation of music and dance by the National Opera, of which the SNFCC with a completeness ensures the achievement. The co-existence of people, in isolation, in smaller or larger groups and in totalities, engaged in happenings which are not necessarily homogeneous, and in a large space, planned with assurance, constitutes a unifying public function. It constitutes an experience of a spiritual order which gives a shot in the arm to hope in the middle of the crisis. The combination of intellectual and artistic activities with exploration and physical exercise, cycling and rowing eliminates conflict and polarisation, relieves the location of worldliness, and injects diversity, pluralism, and a substantive democratic character. The Funeral Oration of Pericles resonates in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre.