Learning from Athens: The rise of bottom-up initiatives in the time of crisis
Medianeras, had an interesting discussion with the architect Marialena Kasimidi regarding the building of Panepistimiou 64, new habitation models in the center of Athens and the ways bottom-up initiatives are re-shaping the city, in the context of an article for the online magazine of the Architectural Association of Boznia and Herzegovina.
“When in 2012 the temporary art exhibition “Rooms to Art” opened its doors on the 7th floor of the building in “Panepistimiou 64”, all the offices were empty. The building became a source of inspiration for a group of artists who were invited to create and showcase their work inside the vacant rooms. What they found and what followed is now part of the story of Athens.
Lawyers, accountants and insurance advisors were once busy talking on their phones and flipping through their books, situated just minutes away from Omonoia square. The initial residents of the 7th floor are long gone, but the traces of their occupancy are still very much visible: hardcover law books, leather couches, wooden office furniture, and old fax devices. The architecture of “Panepistimiou 64” meticulously confirms those past stories. Built in 1957, this 8-storey building is an outstanding example of its time. Marble floors, large corridors and detailed mosaics on the walls compose the communal areas, while a back yard gives access to the inner heart of the block. This is a building that for many generations seems to have always been there, even if there were less phones ringing for the past decade.
Today, 90% of the offices on the 7th floor are full. Young creative entrepreneurs have moved in since 2012 and the place has been slowly becoming a hub for cultural businesses, artists, journalists and designers. The plan was simple: the new tenants are free to use and maintain the space as long as they pay the energy bills and property taxes. With so many vacant buildings in central Athens owners feel overwhelmed by the steady increase of property taxes and the inevitable decrease of real estate values due to the economic policies. Young people, on the other hand, have no support when starting up. So this new type of tenancy didn’t happen overnight; it wasn’t organized; there was not a squat, nor were there clear intentions from the initiators to turn this into a business incubator. All this happened as a response to the needs of the time, exclusively initiated by private people and communicated through the word of mouth. “Panepistimiou 64” has grown to be a unique ongoing experiment of bottom-up activation of empty office spaces in central Athens. A new restaurant on the first floor is already the next step.”
Click here to read the full article.