Few professions have shown a greater commitment to our collective futures than architecture. History is abound with examples that pushed society forward: Hagia Sophia, the Pantheon, the Empire State Building, for instance. Perhaps that is why, since its inception in 2011, The Ellinikon in Athens, Greece, has been turning heads—in seemingly sunny defiance of the country’s 2009 economic collapse and geopolitical woes.
On paper, the sprawling 1,532-acre Ellinikon promises to be Europe’s largest urban regeneration project. By 2025, when phase one of three is scheduled for completion, it will stitch an all-new public park (dubbed The Ellinikon Park) the size of Monaco into a new business district, residential community, and coastal attraction.
Visual is by Foster + Partners
And all of it will be done with the implementation of the most advanced smart infrastructure available for a sustainable future. If this seems like a daunting task, it is. That’s why the developers brought to the table masterminds Kengo Kuma, Fosters + Partners, Aedas, and Sasaki, whose collective experience radiates throughout the project.
Much of the project is being built on the massive plot of land that was once Athen’s former international airport. Opened in 1938, the Ellinikon International Airport was in many ways the embodiment of 20th-century Europe. During World War II, the Germans and Italians occupied Greece, turning the air site into a place to house Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe.
Later, in the decade following the mid-1950s, Greece enjoyed its golden period of modern travel. This allowed visitors from all corners to experience the country’s glistening beaches and historic archaeological sites for the first time. A new East Terminal building, designed by the renowned Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, soon arrived.
By the late 20th century, cracks in the Greek economy began to show, and by 2001 the airport officially closed. This led the space to be converted into stadiums and other facilities for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Then the 2007 global financial crisis exposed the country’s serious economic strife. Locals yearned for brighter days and a reason to be optimistic.
If architecture has a defining creed, it’s that we build because in the end we believe in what’s to come. “Our team truly believes this moment is similar to New York City before Central Park, or London before Hyde Park,” says Odisseas Athanasiou, CEO of LAMDA Development, the company overseeing the massive urban renewal project. “The Ellinikon is one of those distinctly unique projects that will completely remake the face of a city.”
Since the founding of Athens in the fifth century BC, the city has held a strict code that no building could exceed the Acropolis’s height of 512 feet, which is why Athens has become a sprawling city full of concrete and little public green space. Situated some 7.5 miles away, The Ellinikon falls outside of that jurisdiction, allowing the tallest tower in Greece to be erected.
“My family lived in the adjacent suburbs of the former airport,” says Antoinette Nassopoulos-Erickson, an architect, urban designer, and senior partner at Fosters + Partners. “When the airport closed down, everybody had eyes on it for a long time to see what might become of it. The possibilities seemed endless.” Nassopoulos-Erickson’s team was instrumental in designing a defining anchor for the project: the 656-foot-tall Riviera Tower.
Visual is by DBOX for Foster + Partners
Set to be Greece’s tallest building, the residential tower will feature a striking verdant facade. Located along the coastline and providing tenants uninterrupted views of the sea, the slim structure is set to achieve a LEED Gold rating, as it will save 35% more energy than a conventional building of a similar size.
When completed, The Ellinikon will not only feature new residential units (including plans for more affordable housing), but also a university, hospital, and a school for children with disabilities, among other additions. “We truly believe this will be a city within a city,” says LAMDA’s Athanasiou, who makes it possible to get to any point of The Ellinikon in 15 minutes or less.
Visual is by DBOX for Foster + Partners
To truly be a city within a city, The Ellinikon required a retail aspect. The team brought on architect Kengo Kuma to design one of the two major retail spaces within the project. Kuma, a native of Japan, is a master when it comes to designing spaces near the water. Kuma’s design for the series of commercial spaces along the coastline features a sinuous, cantilevering roofline that both reflects the abundant sunlight while also following the curves of a calm sea.
Ultimate success would mean that The Ellinikon does to Athens what Marina Bay did to Singapore, or the Guggenheim to Bilbao. Locals estimate the project will create 75,000 more jobs as well as see a staggering 1–1.5 million additional tourists flock to the new space, writes architecturaldigest.com.