Athens is a funny place, architecturally speaking. In the U.S., the boom in funding of development projects, particularly in the area of public works, in the 1960s and 1970s in such places as Massachusetts, led to the blooming of Brutalist Modernism in government buildings and educational facilities (see: the University of Massachusetts, especially UMass Amherst and UMass Dartmouth).
Athens had a similar boom in the 60s, but it didn’t result in the now-passé futurism of daringly uninterrupted planes of concrete (the béton brut, of Brutalism), it just resulted in empty spots of nothing where then-new multistory apartment buildings (πολυκατοικίες) randomly abut the empty air of empty lots and parking lots and the undeveloped airspace above older buildings.
Athens is a place of layered history, each year accumulates dirt and dust and the bottoms of the buildings become lower and lower, so that the late 19th century sits a little below the modern era, the Byzantine structures sit a foot or two below the current ground level, the classical period some five to ten feet below the surface. And looking upwards, the same thing is mirrored into space, with the buildings getting taller, and filling in what space they can, where physics and building permits allow.
It’s like the city got so excited about the opportunity to grow and develop that it overtook itself, tripping and flailing as it expanded. But the walls mirror the streets in meandering and intersecting one another until they give life to new, exciting shapes and experiences.
Having grown up familiar with the New England cities whose roads were laid down on cowpaths, summers in Athens still felt like home, with streets that run in parallel, except where they intersect. It’s got none of New York City’s careful, methodical approach to wayfinding and orientation.
When the opportunity arises to see Athens from above, such as from the Acropolis or some other height (after all, it has seven hills, as all proper cities should), little concrete blocks fill your vision in all directions like a rolling, constructed, pillared ocean, frozen for a split second in its heaving.
Now Athens is displaying more modern tendencies, able to reflect current trends in architecture, all glass and polished stone, reflecting itself and its surrounding back and back until passers by are dizzied by the sun hitting back into their eyes.
But even here, the overwhelming intersection of planes is retained, though more restrained and deliberate, the sudden shock of intersecting lines is still given life here.