2015 | Dec
During the first forty post-war years, the centre of Athens flourished, became denser, changed both aesthetically and functionally, always acting as the hub of the economic and cultural life of the metropolis. A period of decline followed, with an increasing intensity over the last thirty years. The high density of the centre in conjunction with the increasing number of vehicles and the lack of an efficient public transport network, especially before the construction of the underground, as well as the increasing environmental degradation, motivated the centre’s population to leave and ousted many activities from it. Also, economic prosperity and the adoption of new lifestyles and consumption patterns led a part of the population of Athens to search for new locations in the city’s surroundings, where daily life would now better reflect the new social valuesand standards. The inevitable, yet excessive and unplanned, expansion of the metropolitan complex, was accompanied by the creation of local retail markets and shopping centres, thus weakening the traditional commercial centre of Athens. The recently urbanised population of the city lacked collective memory, urban culture values and consciousness and was probably unwilling to maintain an active interaction with the city’s past. Of course, there never was a serious social demand for action by the state to reverse the deterioration of Athens’ centre.
The building rights attributed to land ownership during the growth period of the city centre promoted intensive exploitation of land and resulted in high profits for the land development circuit. The shortage of housing for the rapidly increasing population and the lack of space for the flourishing economic activities was given some sort of solution, mainly by using the flats-for-land exchange system. In place of the old, low height buildings new ultra-modern multi-storey buildings gradually appeared, which utilised private space as much as possible, both vertically and horizontally. State-of-the-art apartment buildings and luxury offices and shops were erected, able to accommodate much more population and activities than in the past. This is how a building stock of crowded cells was created, often connected by charming arcades that lead to public spaces. Often elegant, but usually imposing, some of these buildings are now part of the city’s architectural heritage, even when they are not listed, as some older buildings are: they had every right to be listed, since they survived the flats-for-land period.
The conditions of the building stock in central Athens are now very problematic, at least for a significant proportion of the centre including 1650 buildings presented below, as recent studies by the Planning and Regional Development Engineering Department of the University of Thessaly show.
High densities and devalued building stock
The building stock in Athens city centre is largely devalued today. More than half of the buildings (55%), over a wide study area, were built fifty years ago, while about 20% of them are quite older than that. 15% of the buildings were built during the twenty-year period from 1970 to 1990, while very few buildings (representing approximately 7% of the total stock) were built from 1990 until today (Map 1). However, the age of the building stock would not be such a problem, if the buildings were well maintained and met the requirements of their current users and if some of them adhered to high architectural standards. Almost all buildings today require costly interventions to be restored, modernised and become energy efficient (Map 2). The cost of restoration and modernisation for over 60% of the buildings exceeds their current (2015) market value.
Map 1: Estimated construction period of buildings
Source: Author’s field research, Q3 2013
Map 2: Building Coefficient Use
Sources: Author’s field research and data processing Q3 2013; property data from the Land Registry SA, General Urban Plan of the Municipality of Athens
|The map shows the buildings whose built surface exceeds or falls short of the limits allowed under current building coefficients, after their reduction over the last few decades.
Red colour shows properties where existing development exceeds the currently applicable building coefficient. Green shows properties which can be developed further.
Almost all of the plots have been built under a high building coefficient regime. The reduction of coefficients over the last three decades had rather limited results (Map 3, in conjunction with Map 1). Given that the built surface of many buildings exceeds the surface that could be built under current building coefficients, it would be very difficult or even utopian to implement proposals that foresee the demolition of buildings, to rebuild them or to generate free public spaces. This happens because property compensation requirements have not been sufficiently thought through, given the circumstances of the crisis, or the ineffectiveness of instruments like the Building Coefficient Transfer. High plot coverage ratios and high building densities make it rather difficult to apply the principles of bioclimatic design to the restoration and modernisation of old buildings. However, high density could be one of the city’s advantages, at least when it comes to energy saving, under certain conditions.
Map 3: Building Stock Restoration and Modernisation Cost (€/m2)
Data source: Author’s research, Q3 2013.
|The map shows the cost of restoring the building stock, with an extra cost for energy upgrading and with no further internal or external interventions.
Data on the maintenance condition of each building were collected through on-site inspections. The data were processed using an advanced algorithm.
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