Thomas Doxiadis: Saving Greece

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At this years Landscape Australia Conference keynote speaker Thomas Doxiadis was heralded as a “Renaissance man” with a rich education in art history, architecture and landscape design from Harvard University. He lived up to his impressive credentials but Doxiadis struck his Australian audience as, first and foremost, a Greek, with a passion to preserve its Mediterranean landscape and its culture. In this compatriot spirit he respectfully made time to present to the Greek community while he was in Melbourne.

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His award-winning firm Doxiadis+ describe their designs as…

…scaffoldings for living organisms, human and others, to develop their own meaningful existence.

This elegant metaphor takes design into the realm of philosophy, if not poetry, and it resonates in the diverse projects undertaken by his firm in Greece over the past fifteen years.

Thomas Doxiadis_waterFrom environmental policy development, luxury tourism resorts and private residences, restoration of archaic, agricultural and mining sites, spontaneous community urban parks and contemporary art installations, Doxiadis+ has distinguished itself as a flexible practice devoted to the celebration and preservation of Greece.

As an art history scholar Doxiadis brings a nuanced sensibility to the layers of ancient myth and cultural rubble. There is a sculptural element of ‘land art’ in all his designs. As a designer he taps into the naturalness of the Greek landscape; its ruins, textures, rocks, plants, trees, villages, goats and bucolic sounds. He is also finely attuned to an exotic and dynamic vitality in multicultural urban settings. As an architect there is a seamless quality to his work. The detailed research, drawings, planting, texturing and re-shaping that underpin each aspect of the rural or urban transformation remain concealed. The result is timeless: restoration of an ancient landscape as a place where people and culture can flourish.

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In 2006 Doxiadis was engaged by the Greek Ministry for Tourism to work on a major study that recognized the growing degradation of the landscape. It resulted in the framework for preservation and restoration of all Greek landscapes. Subsequently, the Doxiadis+ practice sets the standard. There is a deep respect for the layers of history, a conscious revival of native species, intricate interpretations of legal and historic demarcations around archaeological and ancient sites, a healthy respect for traditional agricultural and herding practices and a strong empathy for Greek cultural traditions.

The public park at Dimosio Sima, located in the centre of Athens and delicately positioned between the Acropolis, the Kerameikos Cemetery and Plato’s Academy has long been earmarked for archaeological excavation. When a group of community volunteers took over the junked-filled, decrepit space with a view to converting it into a park, Doxiadis+ played a generous supportive role and provided conservation expertise.

Doxiadis and project architect Aggeliki Mathioudaki joined the pro-action, assisting the group to make the most of the space, to make it their own, while adhering to the conservation standards on a highly sensitive archaeological site.

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With little or no budget they removed the junk and recycled the existing materials to create a temporary park within six days. Stone rubble was used to create an elevated platform enabling the temporary planting of trees with roots that would not interfere with the antiquities beneath. Larger stones were re-positioned as seating benches. Graffiti was left intact and the site was set “to create its own meaningful existence.” The result is a junction between antiquity and contemporary culture where diverse multi-cultured groups successfully congregate, sit, play, and relax under the shade of trees.

At the other end of the market Doxiadis+ is well equipped to steer international developers towards subtle design solutions that sit discreetly into the Mediterranean landscape.

Hotel in Tinos

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The Greek Archipelago Hotel Resort in Tinos in the Cycladic islands takes its form from the unique dovecotes nested into a system of terraces. It captures the rhythm and character of the traditional pigeon farming on this island. The villas and amenities are discretely tucked into the terraces like dovecotes and are graduated sideways down the slope allowing for viewing the Mediterranean Sea from an unusual sideways perspective.

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The palette of colours merges with the olive trees, stones and native wild grasses. The overall impact is exclusive and natural. It provides guests with a connection to the gently terraced landscape and the unique culture of Tinos Island.

Doxiadis_AMANZOE 67Likewise at the opulent Amman Hotel on the Peloponnese, Doxiadis+ averts what could be a resort cliché by integrating the pine forests, the aromatic Phrygana shrub vegetation, the old olive and carob trees, the vineyards and wheat-fields.

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The ancient stone agricultural walls inspire the foundations for nestling the architecture into the terraces and native planting on roof gardens sink the potentially pretentious villas into the slope making them part of the natural Mediterranean landscape setting.

Thomas_Doxiadis_3Perhaps the most prestigious and patriotic achievement of Doxiadis+ is the controversial re-design of the urban space in front of the Acropolis Museum, the result of winning an international competition.

The Doxiadis+ solution is sculptural and monumental. It draws on ‘the rock’ itself, the very foundation of the Acropolis. On the rear façade of the buildings in front of the museum a rock face unfolds that resembles the vertical slabs of “the rock” which then rolls it out horizontally as a public viewing platform. It ties the museum to the Acropolis, creates a spectacular archaeological vista and it successfully integrates the museum into the main archaeological walk of Athens and the city. It’s a bold solution that wraps around complex architectural layers without disturbing existing buildings. It is a triumph of sculptural and architectural ingenuity that respects the most treasured remnants of Athenian antiquity.

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It seems odd that in a country that relies heavily for its tourism revenue on ancient Minoan and Classical Greek ruins that the volcanic Island of Milos would propose to transform its mining history into a tourism attraction. It’s a challenge made for Doxiadis. His team has developed a highly creative strategy that converts the historical and geological artefacts into inspirational ‘land art’.

Thomas Doxiadis_2Working within the natural terraces and drawing on the contrast between the red rock and the bright white kaolin and an existing hand-made tunnel dug into the white substance, he locates a museum. White kaolin ore stores are formed into distinctive geometric cones and elevations are planted out with native trees to integrate them into the surrounding landscape. Red rock cuts are left only as “markers” of the mine and the site links to the adjacent medieval monastery via a trench that seasonally fills and empties of water. The design taps into a rich story of geology, history, mining, hydrology, climate, the artificial and natural processes. It creates an archaeological museum site that brings the terrain back to life and links it into the seasonal and daily life of the inhabitants of the neighbouring monastery.

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Both practical and creative the design aims for a subtle outcome that over-rides reputation and demonstrates a scholarly devotion to cultural history, restoration of the landscape and a reconnection with contemporary life at the monastery allowing for the site to “develop its own meaningful existence.”

The Doxiadis+ team are collaborators. They are willingly entangled in a melting pot of change and shifting social reality. There is a consciousness and openness to change and waves of immigrants and asylum seekers. There is alliance with passionate artists, adeptness with international developers, communication with ‘new breed’ politicians, a capacity to shift from the preservation of antique ruins to the spontaneous creation of funky urban spaces and contemporary art installations. This flexibility is underpinned by a strong sense of Greek identity, one that is constantly filtering, focusing, distilling and steeling itself to withstand the political and economic stresses that plague Greece. Doxiadis+ is poised to play a significant role in the preservation and resurgence of its Mediterranean landscape and its ancient cultural heritage in the 21st century.

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Jo Moulton from JOMO Steel is compiling a profile collection of leading sculptors and designers for the architectural, interior and landscape design market. Jo’s interest in sculpture and design stems from her past work in leading Australian museums and art galleries. She has her own design practice specialising in exterior design.