2015 | Dec
The construction of the new facilities of the National Opera and the National Library, started in October 2012 at the site of the old horse racing track. The iconic building complex, which offers direct views to the sea and attractive landscaping, has been designed by Renzo Piano and is financed by the “Stavros Niarchos Foundation”. It aims to revive two major historic cultural institutions of the city of Athens, while creating a city-wide attraction at Faliro Bay. The project site is directly connected to the coast of Faliro through the Olympic esplanade and will be a focal point in the leisure area along the coast, upon its completion at the end of 2015. That area was reclaimed from the sea in the early 70s, hosted part of the 2004 Olympic facilities and is currently redesigned.
It is planned to host conference and shopping centres, sports and entertainment venues, port and tourist facilities that are either under construction or have already been built as part of past interventions. The redesign process aims to link unbuilt sites so that the coast can function as a single promenade, to restore the landscape and the environment after a long period of degradation, to address flood risks which have risen due to the construction of the coastal avenue thirty years ago and to improve accessibility from neighbouring residential areas in order to reconnect the city with the seafront. The proposal for a park with Mediterranean flora would also serve that purpose. It has been developed by Renzo Piano and sponsored by the “Stavros Niarchos Foundation”. However, funding for the construction of the park has not been secured yet, the park’s management status has not been clarified and the total buildable area has not been specified. These uncertainties create tensions between residents from the surrounding neighbourhoods and the promoters of the project.
The redesign of Faliro Bay has been under discussion since the 60s. At that point the authorities took the strategic decision to create a leisure and cultural centre of city-wide importance in the part of the seafront of Athens that was closest to the historic centre. This was the most accessible from a topographic point of view and also where the first of the city’s four ports used to be in ancient times. Faliron Bay connects the port of Piraeus, the centre of Athens and the coast of the Saronic Gulf. Looking from the Bay towards the sea one can enjoy unobstructed sea views all the way to Aegina island while the approach from the sea offers a unique panorama of the Attica Basin and the Acropolis.
It was because of those features that in the early 60s the location was considered ideal for projecting the image of a city that claimed its position in the global tourism market, thanks to its advantageous combination of sea and archaeological sites, as two components of a unique tourist experience. It was therefore decided to extend the bay by reclaiming the shallow and sandy beach that was polluted but nevertheless popular with the working class. The aim was to develop modern, high-profile tourist facilities, sport and commercial infrastructure, a port and indoor swimming facilities. A highway was also planned along the coast, with interchanges at both ends.
The highway along the coast and the Peace and Friendship Stadium (SEF – Stadio Eirinis kai Filias) were eventually completed in the 70s and early 80s, while the earthworks, which remained unfinished for decades, led to the degradation and abandonment of the coast. However, the strategic decision of the 60s was endorsed by the Athens Regulatory Plan of 1985. The aim of that plan was to redistribute central functions across the metropolitan area but lately this aim has been less linked to the provision of social infrastructure and more geared towards supporting entrepreneurship.
Athens found new prospects for its international economic and political promotion in the 2004 Olympic Games. In commemoration of the 1896 Olympic Games, the city’s candidature dossier proposed a new Faliro Olympic Complex. The proposal envisaged new temporary sports facilities to complement SEF, the completion of the reclamation earthworks and the remediation of the coast as well as the removal of the Horse-Racing Track so that the Bay could be organised according to the guidelines of the Athens Regulatory Plan.
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- Observatory for free open spaces in Attiki http://www.asda.gr
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