INTERVIEW: Greek architect Tilemachos Andrianopoulos unfolds the aesthetics of architecture

Eman Youssef, Friday 4 Mar 2022

Internationally celebrated architect Tilemachos Andrianopoulos is preparing to work on the regeneration of Ermou Street in the centre of Athens. He believes "green" is the key trend in today's world of architecture.


Internationally celebrated architect Tilemachos Andrianopoulos is preparing to work on the regeneration of Ermou Street in the centre of Athens. He believes "green" is the key trend in today's world of architecture. 

Andrianopoulos is an associate professor, School of Architecture, at the National Technical University of Athens, who has received numerous awards and nominations for his extraordinary projects.

The Greek architect tells Ahram Online he admires the work of famous Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy and is attracted to urban planning and design.

Ahram Online (AO): When did you realise your passion for architecture? 

Tilemachos Andrianopoulos (TA): I joined the School of Architecture in 1992. It was two years earlier that I decided to become an architect. The reason was a particular building. I used to pass by it on my way to high school, it attracted me in an unprecedented way; it made me realise that architecture matters, and that it is indeed capable of changing our interaction with space: our home, the city, and cosmos. This building was designed by Atelier66, Dimitris and Suzanna Antonakakis.  

I started working as an architect shortly after my graduation in 2000, even before my postgraduate studies in Barcelona. The first building -- whose working model and initial sketch is surprisingly close to the real thing -- was built in 2002. Our Tense Architecture Network (TAN) was officially set up in 2004 as a group of collaborators and works of architecture.

AO: Your portfolio includes many unique projects. Which is your favourite?

TA: Since 2004, TAN has divided its time between private commissions and public competition projects. Though it is the private ones -- mainly houses -- that were initially realised, it is their constant interplay with public space and larger buildings (piazzas, town halls, terminal stations, museums, etc) that characterises our work.
If I were to choose one of each category, it would be the residence in Megara and our proposal for the regeneration of the Athens City Centre. 

The first one was widely published and multiply awarded, and its unique relation to the mountainous landscape is what makes me cherish it, together with my memories of working closely with the owners. How a house owner supports and understands a project makes a difference, indeed.

The second project is on its way to be realised with the regeneration of an important part of Ermou Street, the most vibrant and famous street in Athens; a main axis of the Athens City Centre. We are currently working on it, and it was awarded the first prize at the International Ideas Competition.

AO: How do you prepare for a new project?

TA: Every project has different stages in terms of the elaboration of its details; the usual ones are schematic design, followed by its development, and finally the construction documents. All are equally creative and this is not at all inaccurate. 

There is no more demand for imaginative creativity in the first conceptual phase than there is on the latter. Perhaps, the favourite part is when the work is finally over and you stand before it as it breathes.

AO: What are the main features of your work?

TA: One may see our work as an orchestration of concrete forces. Now, in terms of its material reality, this is incarnated in many projects by the tension between reinforced concrete and transparency. 

There is a certain choreographic quality in the way that the structural elements are disposed; the created space is highly related to a vigorous elevation of matter. 

I believe each work remains a shelter that is at the same time open to cosmos.

AO: What is your advice to young architects?

TA: I can only give the same advice a sculptor I admire gave: work incessantly, you have to exhaust yourselves at work.

AO: What is the effect of technological advancements on your work?

TA: Technology affects the way we work, the rhythm of the designed work, the way we construct, and the rhythm of the constructed work. I see all technology as natural, and at the same time as a means to define our relation to nature. 

We cannot oppose the use of technology, it comes with humanity, and it is as natural as humans. That does not mean that it cannot be destructive; the game seems dangerous and difficult. That is why it remains seductive.

AO: How can we make the best use of small spaces? 

TA: This is a very interesting question. I believe that a part of our work has to do exactly with that. 

How to make a space that is rather small seem rather big is indeed possible, with the proper use of layout, lines, and light. Your sight and presence are then directed by the design, the space is liberated by its size or proportions; it is either heightened or elongated, it does not just seem bigger or longer: it suddenly becomes so.

AO: What are the awards and nominations you have received? 

TA: A series of our private residences and proposals for public space have been awarded. I believe distinctions are good, they strengthen your insistence. 

They are more important when they come from architectural competitions because they bring us closer to a project of a greater scale.

We have 11 distinctions in national and international competitions (among which four won the first prize) and several nominations and awards for most of our residences, such as the residence in Sikamino that was shortlisted for the European Union award for contemporary architecture in 2013. 

The residence in Megara won the Hauser award (third prize) for best house in Europe in 2016 and the residence in Crete was nominated for the Mies Van Der Rohe award in 2017. 

A five-star resort in Mykonos, Cyclades received the first prize in a competition and is currently under design development. 

The rehabilitation of the concert hall of the Athens Conservatory was awarded the first prize by the Hellenic Architecture Awards, DOMa in 2020, and the regeneration of the Athens City Centre has also won the first prize in an international competition.

AO: What are the main trends in the present world of architecture? 

TA: There is only one trend, or even craze -- that seems lately so correct and even obligatory for everyone -- which is "green." I remain positive towards any bioclimatic way of practising architecture. 

Throughout the ages architecture has been cleverly and sensitively adapted to its environment.

AO: What is the importance of making use of the natural sources of energy, environmentally friendly houses, and green economy?

TA: The only thing I insist on is how exactly we are making use of the natural sources of energy, how exactly we are getting practical, how exactly we design environmental-friendly houses, and how exactly we are pursuing a green economy. 

Civilisation was always not just a matter of "what" but equally of "how." Unfortunately, just the "what" does not make our efforts legitimate. I have seen many environmentally friendly houses that are desperately ugly.

AO: Who are your favourite architects?

TA: There are many, thankfully. A short list would be incidental, not exhaustive: Oscar Niemeyer, Hippodamus, Erich Mendelsohn, and Mies Van Der Rohe. 

The list could go on, and it does not include those whose works still struck us, but whose names remain unknown; especially from the Roman or Byzantine eras. 


AO: What is the project you would like to work on?
TA: I have never thought about that, I do not think I have dreamt of a project. I would never turn down a proposal to design a city though. 

Urban planning and urban design attract me even more than architecture itself; though everything is architecture at the end.

Both Egypt and Greece have rich histories and great cultures and architecture. Did you think of working on a project that is inspired by the culture of the two countries?

Egypt gave us a material invention that points to the sun in the most intense way, as George Bataille, the French philosopher, has accurately put it. I cannot think of a more symbolic, and at the same time more pragmatic, way to vigorously raise the matter than the Pyramids.

World architecture has been the historically insistent imprint of the elevation of matter in a splendid way; architecture that makes the condition of miracle obvious, material, and tactile. 

Egyptian and Greek architecture has offered masterpieces under this persistent human desire. Even more humble, massively-produced traditional or modern architecture -- not designed by architects -- as the one I witnessed in small villages of Aswan, struck me by its inventiveness, its unpretentious use of materiality, its explosive tonal quality, and finally, its vigour.

I would come back to Egypt whenever an opportunity would present itself, let alone for a project that would involve our common wealth.

AO: Which architectural project do you like in Egypt and who is your favourite Egyptian architect?

TA: I visited the new Gourna village by Hassan Fathy. Apart from its purely architectural merits this ensemble made me realise that what we miss in modern times is coherent, dense settlements, not just fragmented, isolated architecture. 

It was really a unique experience that revealed the inevitable coexistence of architecture and community. 

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