13 April 2009

Kifissia’s Boutique Urbanism



Above Kifissia, Athens

Kifissia is a northern suburb of Athens nestling beneath the Penteli mountains. Named for the currently dried-up crag of a river which runs through it, the Cephissus, Kifissia had been a half Christian, and half Muslim village during Ottoman rule. Following independence and the later construction of a railway line in the late 1800s, it became a popular place for wealthy Athenians to build second homes away from the heat of the inner city (Kifissia is a couple of degrees centigrade cooler than downtown Athens). They built large villas amongst the farm houses which had dominated the landscape for hundreds of years.

Social ebb and flow

The area retained much of its village-like character until the 1970s. During the military junta, rampant building was allowed to transform the area into the current rabbit warren of boulevards and twisting alleyways lined with ostensibly charmless boxes. But even with the arrival of so much concrete, some of Kifissia’s heterogenic mix of richer and poorer has remained, a situation partly explained by long standing land ownership. So it’s not uncommon to walk down a street lined with exclusive designer boutiques and hotels, then turn a corner and come across what looks like a tiny hundred-year-old farm house.

Boutique urbanism

Whilst much of what has gone up in recent times might be deemed architecturally without merrit, it’s not uncommon to find some interesting examples of modernism and brutalism; or abandoned mansions; or a large, freshly built complex, possibly a health farm, weathering away in a state of deep sleep, waiting for some financial Prince Charming to kiss is back to life.

Brutalism: straight out of Fahrenheit 451

Modernist pile

And then there is the kind of all-out weirdness only attainable when large amounts of money collide with fantastic bad taste:

Post modern futurist hangover: straight out of Star Trek