Advanced Design Studio: Zenghelis

Zenghelis: Athens



Design and Visualization


Greater Athens Area & the former international airport of Athens today
The largest, publicly owned, urban, coastal, open area in Attica

Introduction and History

The Hellenic Ministry of the Environment, Planning and Public Works launched an open international ideas competition in 2004, for the design and urban development of the Hellenikon Park in Athens.

The competition conformed with UNESCO-UIA regulations for international competitions and was sponsored by UIA (International Union of Architects) the Greek Ministry of Environment and the Organization for the Planning and Environmental Protection of Athens (ORSA).

More than 300 architectural teams participated.

A number of sport facilities had already been built on the site for the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics and these had to be integrated within the proposed design for the park. These are still there (as shown on the site plan to be issued at the start of the studio) but to this day they remain unused and their condition is rapidly deteriorating.

In 2005 the winner was announced: an international team led by architects David Sereno, Elena Fernandez and landscape architect Philippe Coignet.

The project was developed further by this team in 2006 and 2007 through two development phases with the planning organizations of Athens.

The winning projects concept was centered on the dialectical juxtaposition of existing features of the site, categorized as “Softscapes” and “Hardspaces”.

On the traces of natural irrigation patterns the “Softscapes”, were meant to link the city and the park, as well as combine soft programming and water management strategy. Instead of projecting an artificial landscape on the site, this system was proposed, in order to use existing conditions and to establish the root of a natural ecosystem, which would channel and distribute natural resources to the park vegetation and reduce the park’s maintenance.

The “Hardspaces” consisted primarily of the runways of the airport and their huge scale were conceived as “objets trouvés” to define the main visual and circulation axis of the park, with an ambition equal to the one of the “great perspective” of Le Nôtre. The large concrete decks were preserved, to create internal pedestrian boulevards.

(It is hoped that Mr. Serero, or a representative of the winning team, will be able to participate and advise at a crucial stage during studio, as a critic).

During the economic crisis of 2008, the Serero plan was shelved. However, in 2010, the new Greek Government commissioned the Barcelona Strategic Urban System office (BcnSus), under the aegis of Josep Acebillo, the eminent Catalan Architect-Planner and teacher, to make a new proposal. Acebillo had, as Chief Architect for the city of Barcelona, been responsible for the Urban Development of the city of Barcelona for the 1992 Summer Olympics and, it was under his leadership that Barcelona has received worldwide recognition for the positioning of the city in the international architecture plane.

(It is equally hoped that, in the course of the studio and at a critical stage, Josep Acebillo will be brought in as advisor and critic).

Acebillo presented his masterplan for the Hellenikon park, as a Strategic Urban Model, in Athens, in the summer of 2011. The project, consisting of an acupuncture program of public spaces, was aimed as a socio-economic catalyst for the city-region of Athens; it proposed a reduced park of 260 hectares (642 acres, or 20647sq.ft.), conceived as a public space, connecting the sea to the neighboring districts. But, importantly, it consisted of a mosaic of urban clusters. These included primarily a high diversity of housing typologies, but also  offices, retail and services to foster a Mediterranean way of life; roads and parking facilities. Accommodation was thus provided for up to 6,500 dwelling units, for a new population of 15,000 residents. As neo-tertiary provision, the project encompassed proposals for a financial and governmental district near the old Saarinen terminal, an international Center for education and business, and a research and development center, related to new media technologies. Finally, it proposed an underpass connection to the sea, with public waterfront facilities,  around a renewed marina.

These will be typologies that the studio will re-examine.

The economic crisis, and the ensuing demise of the government sponsoring it, saw the demise of Acebillo´s strategic plan and finally that of the idea of the Park, as a public resource.

The current administration is now considering other uses for the space, and, neglectful of its appeal as a public resource and its potential as a fitting site for valuable social amenities, it is planning to surrender it to the exploitative prospective of the private sector and to the realm of financial speculation. Plans have been put forward and a preliminary agreement has been signed to sell the most valuable parts of the land to Qatari investors for development.

This plan runs counter to the original idealism of the park and to the aspirations of both the local communities and the general public. There is a public outcry, demanding the creation of a profitable but public resource, with housing, social, educational, commercial, business and other communal facilities, set within a Public Park.

The studio program

The studio will intend to pick up the gauntlet and develop a project that returns to the original idea and offers new, inspired and sustainable proposals for this prime, but luckless and mishandled site. The challenge is worthy of acknowledgment and of consideration by the advanced studio. Given a considered response and, assuming permission being granted by the School and by the participants in the studio, the results of the project will be presented for public debate and submission to the recalcitrant Greek authorities and other interested institutions in Greece.

(See Semester´s program and briefs below).


As already stated, the transfer of Athens airport from Hellenikon to its new site in Mesogeia in 2001, made available a large piece of prime land close to Athens, ten kilometers from the Acropolis and lying on the Saronic Gulf (see images). The planning and management of this extensive area, 530 hectares (1309 acres, 28685sq.ft.) remains as unique an opportunity as it was before the economic crisis, for Athens to reclaim an inhabited and public green area  badly needed to improve the quality of the city's environmental problems.

The original aim of the competition, which was the realization of a XXI century urban park of exceptional scale and remarkable design is still valid today.

The program (to be issued stage by stage in the course of the Semester – see below) will include housing, offices and social services on approximately 100 hectares of the site (247 acres, or 4590sq.ft.) as well as a vast park to include housing, offices, as well as retail, cultural, sports and leisure facilities, hotels, as well as an International Conference Center, along with the infrastructures associated with these different sectors. The restoration of some existing buildings, amongst which 1930's modernist villas and the air terminal designed by Eero Saarinen in 1960, are also to be taken into account as well as the integration of a number of existing or planned facilities or infrastructures.

Out of this set of parameters, there will ensue at least 10-11 separate design projects, the briefs of which will be issued in the course of the program (see Semester´s program and briefs below).

It is to be assumed that (as in the case of the original competition), the economic feasibility of the whole operation, subject to the careful selection and negotiations with investors, will be ensured in relation to the income accrued from the urban development of the site, and permit the regeneration of the Athenian metropolis.

The park will be approx. 400 hectares (or approx. 1000 acres, 18360sq.ft.), while another 100 hectares (247 acres, or 4590sq.ft.) will be used for housing and office facilities. When  finished, it will surpass London´s Hyde Park (617 acres) as well as New York´s Central Park (865 acres).

The creation of unique high-quality spaces for tourism, research, and health and business is intended to enhance economic competitiveness and integrate Athens into the “sunbelt” network of Mediterranean cities.

In this context, the site of the former airport in Hellenikon has the potential to operate as an urban project of international scope and at the same time be an influential measure for upgrading Athens as a renewed economic, environmental, and innovative developmental center.

The projects will be focus on the design of building proposals (i.e.: housing –throug​h   a large number of scales and typologies-, retail and office facilities, conference center, waterfront development, hotel and marina, etc., etc., etc., as will evolve in the first few weeks) rather on an extensive landscape study for the park (see Semester´s program and briefs below).

Strategy for the park:

The design of the park, which will be a collective effort, will consist of a basic, outline organization, to be carried out in the first 1.5 weeks, and consolidated at the end, after the individual building interventions (see Semester´s program and briefs below).

The main goal of the development is the creation of a sustainable green space, safe, accessible, and open, which will be a key advantage in raising the quality of life in the wider region.

Taking into consideration the physical characteristics of the site was the official requirement and it was based on the principle of “reviving” three existing streams by creating three green corridors that connect Mount Hymettus with the sea, thus restoring part of the local ecosystem (see Figs.3.2 and 3.3 below).Furthermore, the principle of free access to the coastline area was introduced.

General layout & primary land uses


The Semester´s program and briefs:

The Semester will be divided into 6 distinct periods:

1)     Outline Park Proposal, (1.5 weeks),

2)     Sketch Design Proposals (2 weeks),

3)     Field Trip (1 week),

4)     Developed Design Proposals (4 weeks),

5)     Final Design Proposals (5 weeks),

6)     Final Park Proposal (1.5 weeks).

Period 1: Outline Park Proposal - Group project

The first two weeks will consist of developing a collective general plan for the entire park. (During this period, and kick-start the project, I shall be available in the studio –or on call outside fixed lecture periods- all days of the week)

This plan would

a)     Aim at maximizing the edges and city frontage of the park, in order to increase the interaction between the park and the surrounding urban fabric: the surface of contact between the urban and the (artificial) ¨natural¨.

b)     Enable a direct connection to as well as the development of the coastline, at present disconnected from the site, due to Possidonos Avenue, the main vehicular thoroughfare that runs parallel to the coast.

c)     Develop and locate the building program (housing, commercial and business development, sports facilities, conference center etc., relationship to the old Terminal by Eero Saarinen) etc.

Period 2: Sketch Design: Individual Design

Following from the above, specific sites, building programs and briefs will be chosen by individual students, from which to evolve a concept and produce a preliminary design (an internal review for which will be scheduled at the end of week 4).

Period 3: Field Trip

During this week, there will be a guided tour of the site, lectures and tours of the city of Athens, its monuments, as well as participation in the local and typical life of the city.

Period 4: Developed Design Proposals

This is the all-important period, when the concepts will be consolidated (and visually made explicit) and the designs will be developed for discussion at the Mid-Term reviews.

Individual presentation requirements will be assigned, according to the nature and location of each project.

Period 5: Final Design Proposals:

Following the critical evaluation at the Mid-Term reviews and after setting individual requirements per project, this period will be reserved for the final presentation of all projects – and the potential dialogue they engender with one another, the surrounding urban fabric and the park as a whole. Drawings and all other material to be presented, (requirements will be

listed, in accordance with individual needs) should be prepared for possible exhibition and/or publication purposes, as this is part of the agenda of this program.

Period 6: Final Park Proposal:

With exhibition/publication purposes still in mind, this stage will consist of placing the individual projects within a final drawing of the entire park.


Elia Zenghelis




1)     Site and other documentation, together with a brief and relevant presentation requirements will be issued at the start of every period.

2)     Introductory lectures and presentations will be detailed at the start of the program.

3)     The competition project of the winning entry for the original competition by architects David Sereno, Elena Fernandez and landscape architect Philippe Coignet, as well as the entry by Pier Vittorio Aureli, Martino Tattara and Elia Zenghelis, the entry by Eleni Gigantes (of Gigantes, Zenghelis Architects) as well as the Strategic Urban Model by Josep Acebillo will be withheld, until after the design of the park has been fixed by the studio; they will be shown at appropriate moments, in the course of the studio.


(1 hectare = 2 acres, 20519sq.ft.)