In the 20th century, Greek architecture vacillated between the desire to closely follow the international avant-garde and an effort to emerge autonomously from its own soil and traditions. This divided quest, which intersects the international with the Greek, as if they were two separate systems, is, of course, a feature shared with other countries and periods. Nevertheless, the very constitution of the new Greek state in the early 19th century went hand in hand with a revival of antiquity, which had a double significance: it ensured, through the architectural forms themselves, the continuation of the autochthonous classical tradition and a place in the vanguard of international Neoclassicism. This was, in any event, the chief reason why Greek Neoclassicism, transmuted by the historical influences of the late 19th century, continued into the 20th century as both official and vernacular architecture until the interwar years. Evidence of this is supplied by the works of Ernst Ziller (1837-1923), Anastasios Metaxas (1862-1937), and other architects that still adorn Athens, as well as the great variety of ornamental and typological features of Neoclassicism that have been imprinted on anonymous buildings throughout Greece. Under the weight of this long duration, there was very little room left for quests for renewal, which in other places developed into Art Nouveau buildings.
For Greece, World War effectively began in 1912 with the great Balkan conflict and ended in 1922 with the Asia Minor disaster. The wide-ranging restructuring of the country at the end of a decade of war was accompanied by social and ideological changes, all of which had a direct effect on architecture. Modernization was in the air, and this did not confine itself to morphological explorations with models borrowed from the European avant-garde or to the mechanical equivalent of innovation in construction. Beyond or alongside these, there was an almost programmatic wish for public architecture that would faithfully reflect the organization of a social state oriented toward education, health, and welfare. There was a parallel quest in the middle and upper strata of society for a metropolitan and, therefore, modern way of life. This pursuit found expression in the mechanization of everyday routines and the vocabulary of modern architecture. However, at the very time that this turn toward the more glittering centers of Western culture was taking place, another domestic avant-garde identified the absolutely modern with an undefiled Greekness that had existed before the classical era and had continued without interruption until the third and fourth decades of the 20th century in the work of anonymous builders, painters, and unlettered writers and composers.
In the early years of the 1930s, some 3,000 schools were built all over Greece. For the design and execution of this large project, the Ministry of Education recruited the younger generation, living within the vibrancy of the Modern movement. By the end of the decade, a large number of hospital and social welfare buildings were constructed; these generally followed a strict rationalism that was both functional, constructional, and aesthetic. The systematic spread of these buildings throughout Greek territory did not merely implement the intentions of a modern social state; it also disseminated its image condensed into simple rectangular prisms with a simple geometric layout, large apertures, and more rarely curves and free-standing columns, into the tradition-bound environment of small towns or the peripheral quarters of Athens, Piraeus, and Thessaloniki.
The primary school (1932) on the pine-covered slope of Lycabettus, in the center of Athens, was designed by Dimitris Pikionis (1887-1968). Its clean-cut prismatic masses, with their large rectangular plate-glass windows, follow the incline of the terrain and draw attention to the natural landscape through the paved pathways and the fact that the classrooms extend to the flat roofs. This diffused rationalism nevertheless has grafted onto it typological features from ancient Greek tradition, such as the colonnade on the southeastern side, and eloquent references to the art of building of anonymous Greek architecture. Two primary schools (1933) in Athens by Kyriakoulis Panayorakos (1902-82), both built with imposing geometry and austere masses with selected features on cantilevers or pilotis with large plate-glass windows and a rational organization of the spaces, were a striking intervention in simple working-class neighborhoods of limited development that gave the measure of the modernization aimed at with the strictest character of Greek interwar architecture. A large number of important schools were also built by Patroklos Karantinos (1903-1976) and Nikos Mitsakis (1899-1941).
The sanatoriums and hospitals of Joannis Despotopoulos (1903-1992), who spent some of his time as a student at the Bauhaus, are developed with flexible articulations and an elaboration of the syntax that is reminiscent of Alvar Aalto. In the case of the "Sotiria" Sanatorium (1932) in Athens, he gave particular emphasis to the simultaneously aesthetic and functional layout of the various needs and demands in a composition that had all the basic characteristics of the Modern movement. The central kitchen and laundry building of the same "Sotiria" hospital complex (1939) in Athens by the architect Periklis Georgakopoulos (1903-1958) manifests the richest elaboration of design up to that point in Greece, on the basis of the principles of the Modern movement, in a state of total liberation from any morphological and typological memories of the past. Also of importance were the social welfare buildings of Panos Tzelepis (1894-1978). Similar features are recognizable in a number of residences and, above all, in apartment blocks in the center and suburbs of Athens, most built by Samos Papadakis (1906-1991), Patroklos Karantinos, Panos Tzelepis, Thoukididis Valentis (1908-1982), and other lesser-known architects. Many of these architects acted as channels of communication with the European avant-garde, and some of them had studied in Paris. It is no accident that the fourth congress of CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne) in 1933 chose Athens as its symbolic point of reference. Many of the modern buildings of Athens attracted the attention of the delegates and were published in the better-known German, French, British, and Italian architectural periodicals, and Le Corbusier left his compliments on the walls of at least two of these. The reverse is also important: that the attraction and influence of the radical ideas and the physical presence of the distinguished delegates exerted on students and the youngest architects—for example, Georges Candilis (1913-1995) and Constantinos Doxiadis (1913-1975)—was considerable.
The parallel interest in Greekness and the unsullied anonymous architecture of the islands or the mountain regions of Greece, and in the effectively modern revival of the ancient, found fertile ground at precisely the same period and often through the work of the same people, including Dimitris Pikionis and Panos Tzelepis. They saw no contradiction in the double dimension of their quest. Nor was this, of course, exclusively a question of architecture, as similar cross-fertilization can be seen in the dance of Isadora Duncan and the critical work of
Christian Zervos and in contemporary painters, writers, and musicians.
World War I was a determining event for the Greeks: they had fought from the very first moment and had endured harsh occupation. The end of the war marked the starting point for a civil war that lasted until 1949 and gave an altered meaning to the 1950s and 1960s. Greek identity, as a field for architectural explorations and constructs, lost a great part of the aesthetic dimension of the prewar period and gave expression to a will for self-determination in comparative isolation from the ideas of international modernism. Pikionis emerged as the ideological leader of the young architects who recognized in the landscaping of the hills of the Acropolis and of Philopappus in Athens (1957) the best version of the modern Greek vision. Genuine fragments from the passage through time of Greek architecture are poetically composed into a network of pathways that culminate in little chapels and pavilions with views of the Parthenon. At the same period, but on a different wavelength, Aris Konstantinidis (1913-1993) cultivated a structural and, above all, rational interpretation of the Greek earth and the simple buildings that had sprung up on it, which he transcribed into an architectural idiom with extensive influence down to the end of the century. Under the notion of genuine modern architecture, he gave a new interpretation to the aesthetic and moral truth of materials and architectural forms, combining in a creative manner international reinforced concrete and hewn stone from the site of the building itself. The holiday homes and the series of Xenia state hotels that he designed in the period 1958-67, the leading examples being the Xenia of Mykonos (1960) and the houses at Anavyssos (1962) and Spetses (1967), are model constructions of an architecture of the summer sun and the sea.
However, the Greek attention to a regional tradition represented only one direction. The gaze of many architects was turned to the West or sought a forward vista liberated from the burden of tradition. In the 1950s and early 1960s, optimism returned with a new prosperity. The houses of California met with utopian quests of Central Europe and brought forth daring villas and similar experimentations. For example, the designs of Nikos Valsamakis (1924--) and Takis Zenetos (1926-1977) show their interest in new materials and forms. Valsamakis designed two typical weekend villas (1963), both in Anavyssos, that virtually take off from the rocks at the sea's edge; three apartment blocks (1953, 1954, 1955) that gave new meaning to the commonest type of housing in Athens; and a hotel (1963) in Delphi that treated in a rational manner a very sensitive relationship with history and site. Zenetos designed villas (1967) that were technologically, functionally, and aesthetically weightless in the best suburbs of Athens, Kavouri, and Glyfada; a striking circular school of raw reinforced concrete that incorporates the logic of the ancient theater (1976) in Athens; factories in which their industrial aesthetic was emphasized; and a series of unexecuted or utopian proposals, the most outstanding of which was the constantly evolving project "Town Planning and Electronics: City of the Future" (1952-74).
In the 1960s, another generation collectively looked at modern architecture with admiration and doubt; showed interest in rugged architectural forms, vital functions, and simple elaborations of materials; and cultivated a relationship with the country's cultural and building values. In Greek history, these were difficult years, as the seven-year dictatorship (1967-74) changed the direction of society. At the same time, however, these problems served as the catalyst that turned the eyes of many from the international avant-garde to the social aims of architecture. Greece of the 1970s and 1980s did not experience the essence of postmodernist architecture, but it did incorporate a large part of the postmodernist critique into simple and almost understated but solid revisions. The most important presence of Greek architecture in the examples of the 20th century, after the interwar years, was built in these two decades under the heading of "critical regionalism," as formulated by Alexander Tzonis and Kenneth Frampton.
The most important expression of this critical spirit is bound up with the work of Dimitris (1933-) and Suzana Antonakakis (1935-) within the context of Atelier 66. What is effectively a reinterpretation of Greek traditional architecture in their work passed through the filters of Le Corbusier of the 1950s and of Dutch revisionist architects of the 1960s. Simple materials and the art of the anonymous craftsman served to hold together the visible concrete. The three-dimensional and clearly expressed function and geometry defined by light retain the feeling of the modern on a scale and with an atmosphere that is entirely Greek in identity. The residence (1981) near the Acropolis, the apartment block (1975) in the center of Athens, and the painter's studio (1993) on Aegina are among their most characteristic works.
Another person in this era is Kyriakos Krokos (1941-1998), an architect and a painter who took delight in the Greek Neoclassicism of the 19th century, especially in its simplest, almost anonymous forms of expression. Nevertheless, his cultural poetics bear the marks of modern logic. The structure of his buildings is a skeleton of entirely visible reinforced concrete, but the most important feature is the plastic elaboration of their surface. The composition is enhanced with typological or stylistic memories from centuries of architectural tradition in Greece. The result is an architecture of place, more as form and a message than as a structure and an essence. The Museum of Byzantine Civilization (1993) in Thessaloniki and a series of residences in the suburbs of Athens (1991, Philotheian, and 1996, Ekali) bring out the logic and the truth of the contemporary construction, on the edge of a mannerism, while they forget nothing of the diachronic presence of the past.
In the late 20th century, the conscious participation of Greek architects in the global community represents just a small reflection of broader quests that emphasize localism as a point of intersection between Greece and the rest of the world. These two poles define the contemporary identity of a country defined proudly by its difference from and its identification with the most characteristic meanings of Western civilization.
Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture, Vol.2 (G-O). Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.
The greater part of the bibliography dealing with the Greek architecture
of the 20th century is written in Greek; however, the most important
architects and exhibition catalogues have been published in English.
The most important of these exhibitions was held in 1999 by the
Hellenic Institute of Architecture and the Deutsches Architekrur-
Museum. In the international and Greek bibliographies, many articles
have appeared, but the most important sources are the two bilingual
annual reviews-Archisksenteathemata; Architecture in Greece and The-
Art in Greece- and the older bi-
Aesopos, Yannis, and Yorgos Simeoforidis (editors), Landscapes of
Modernisation: Greek Architecture, 1960 and 1990s. Athens:
Metapolis Press, 1999
Archiektonika ahemata; Archisecture in Greece (1967 -)
Architektonike Architecture (1957-67) (with summaries in English)
Atelier 66: The Architecture of Dimitris and Suzana Ansonakakis, New
York: Rizzoli, 1985
Condaratos, Savas, and Wilfried Wang (editors), Greece, Munich
and New York: Prestel, 1999
Constantopoulos, Elindf (editor), Nice Valumakk, 1950-83,
London: 9H. 1984
Ferlenga, Alberto, Pikionis, 1887- 1968, Milan: Electa. 1999
Konstantinidis, Aris, Meleter katashrues. Projects + Building
(bilingual Greek-English edition), Achene: Agra Editions, 1981
Philippides, Demetres, Newellenikt architektonike. Architektowike
theoria hai praxe. 1830-1980. tan antanaklase wn idrologikon
cilegon ses nevellenikes koultowras (Modern Greek Architecture:
Theory and Practice, 1830-1980, as Reflexion of Ideological
Currents in Greek culture|, Athens: Melissa, 198
Philippides, Demetres (editor),. Spitia pou 30: Monternat
architektonike Athena. Urban Hewing of the 30 (bilingual
Greek-English edition), Athens: Nereas, 1998
Pikionis, Dimitris, Dimitris Picionis, Architect, 1887-1968: A
Sentimental Topography, London: Architectural Association, 1989
Takis Ch. Zeneros, 1926-1977. Athens: Architecture in Greece Press.
Themata choron + technon: Design + Art in Greece (1972-)