By Aggelos Skordas
Some 10 years before the first signs of crisis were even visible in Athens, during a period when the Greek capital was steadily transforming to an endless construction site due to the upcoming 2004 Olympic Games and the forthcoming Eurozone enlargement that would put the country in the closed club of the single currency, the idea of the construction of a new cultural hub was born.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation had already expressed its willingness to support the construction of new facilities for the National Library of Greece, while at the same time and independent of this initiative, the Foundation was considering a proposal to support the Greek National Opera. The plan for the creation of a unique cultural park of international stature would take shape in 2006, when the Stavros Niarchos Foundation announced its intention to proceed with its largest individual grant to date, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC).
The project included the construction and outfitting of both the new National Library of Greece and Greek National Opera along with the creation of a 170,000-square-meters park on the edge of Faliro Bay (in the district of Kallithea where the former hippodrome was located) bequeathing to the Greek people a great civic, cultural, environmental and educational landmark. The project’s total budget was set to 854 million US dollars and the SNFCC would become the first private-public partnership of this type in Greece as after its completion the Foundation will gradually transfer the Center’s full operation and management to the Greek state, starting from 2017.
In selecting renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano, the Foundation chose an architect at the forefront of the architectural profession who would through his work place Athens’ Riviera among Europe’s architectural pioneers for the 21st century. The so called ”flying carpet” roof, the rows of gracious columns, the colossal glass panels allowing the natural light to enter the Center’s main buildings and lobbies along with the rectangular lake located in the surrounding environmental park (including playgrounds, running tracks, a labyrinth etc.) has brought revolution to Athens, a city with limited public space and in desperate need of vital green spots. ”From our first observations, there emerged the idea that by raising the ground -with a slight slope and a progressive course- we could restore the ‘beautiful view’ of Kallithea…. In that way, without realising it, visitors strolling through the park would find themselves at a height of 30 meters”, Piano explained.
Millions have already visited the site for free public events, concerts and the first guided tours.
Today, only a few months after it opened to the public there is no doubt that the SNFCC is a project that looks into the future and anticipates a tomorrow, brighter than the crisis stricken country’s present. The SNFCC’s buildings and open spaces can accommodate up to 32,000 visitors. Of these 4,000 visitors can be hosted inside the buildings of the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera, including performance halls, lobby areas and the so called Lighthouse.
”The SNFCC can be a global landmark for Greece and its people, a monument of modernity and sustainability for the city of Athens. Not only can it improve Greece’s image internationally, SNFCC’s visibility is likely to boost tourism to Greece at a critical time. The SNFCC is expected to be a landmark of inclusion, providing access for those of all backgrounds, and those with special needs, to the rich offering of Greece’s cultural and educational legacy. The local community will have an improved quality of life with clean air, exercise facilities and twice as much green space,” Boston Consulting Group (BCG) highlighted in a 2010 impact assessment for the newly planned project.
The SFNCC came to life on June 23rd 2016 transforming itself into an open and accessible space for everyone as the four-day event embraced performances and other programs by internationally acclaimed Greek and foreign artists. This was a living space of ideas, exploration and interaction through an innovative program of cultural, athletic and educational actions for all age groups, significant of what is to follow during the Center’s operation. In tandem, visitors had the opportunity for the first time, to enter the new premises of the Greek National Opera and the National Library of Greece, as well as to enjoy the surrounding green space in its entirety.
Since then a number of significant events have taken place in the premises of SFNCC, namely the SNF Run ”Running into Future” from Panathenaic Stadium to the Stavros Niarchos Park, the exhibition of the first Marathon Winner’s Cup presented to Spyros Louis at the inaugural Modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, as well as the US President Barack Obama’s speech in conclusion to his two-day visit in Athens.
Furthermore, the SNFCC earned, among others, the prestigious Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification and it has been named the Best International Project of the Year in the internationally acclaimed 2016 UK Building Awards.
The unique Cultural Center’s full time operation has granted Athens a growing stature as a destination for all seasons.
Winter opening hours of the SNFCC are →
Stavros Niarchos Park 06.00-20.00, Agora, Lighthouse, Running Track 06.00-00.00, Visitors Center 09.00-22.00.
From December 22nd to January 6th, the Stavros Niarchos Park will be open from 06.00-00.00.
*For more information regarding the upcoming public events and December program visit www.snf.org