2020 | Jan
The architecture of the Neo Faliro suburb of Piraeus began to be dominated by neoclassical and eclectic style buildings from the last quarter of the 19th century. Less known for this feature than the centre of Athens, this neighbourhood was, thanks to its proximity to the sea, and until the first decades of the 20th century, a new summer holiday destination for wealthy Athenian families. Subsequently, the gradual increase in real estate development was linked to flats-for-land based contracts (known as the antiparochi system) with no consideration, in most cases, for the previous constructions. This new development model was influenced by the socio-economic context of the time, as the increase in the number of permanent residents and the subsequent changes in the neighbourhood required buildings that were more functional and adapted to an increasingly hectic lifestyle. This paper aims to demonstrate the uninterrupted presence of the historic buildings of Neo Faliro and to contribute to the broader scientific debate on the management of architectural memory in the contemporary period, and more particularly, on the link between (neo-) classical morphology and Western representations of Hellenism throughout the 19th century. It is of particular interest in the study of the symbolism of the historic buildings of Neo Faliro. The renewal of the local architectural memory, and its relationship with contemporary issues at different levels, may contribute to the understanding of internal contradictions as well as to the necessary paradigm shift.
Map 1: Neo Faliro and surrounding neighbourhoods
When Constantinos A. Doxiadis conceptualised ‘Ekistics’ as the Science of Human Settlements, he placed at the centre of his analysis a system of five elements/tools: Nature/Environment, Anthropos, Society, Shells (buildings/dwelling units) and Networks. Seen from different perspectives (economic, social, political, technical and cultural), these contribute to the understanding of the structure, functioning, and evolution of housing units (Doxiadis, 1968). Among these elements, the shells are the material expression of the dialectical relationship between demographic evolution, economic development, socio-historical trajectories and cultural landmarks in the urban, peri-urban or communal setting. These buildings are, moreover, in direct contact with traffic networks, the predominant aesthetic of each era and the degree of resilience of local societies.
Today, historic buildings/shells help us connect tradition to the present as they contribute to our understanding of the pressures on the city over time (economy, cultural ebb and flow, norms and ideas, globalisation) and the city’s capacity to cope with these pressures. From this perspective, the historic buildings of Neo Faliro – a peri-urban node between the centre of Athens and the port of Piraeus – offer a crucial opportunity to explore, in space and time, the identity of the local architectural memory by linking it to broader geopolitical and social issues.
With its back to the sea: the acquired introversion of Neo Faliro
After World War II and the Civil War (1944-1949), the subject of the reconstruction of the country was paramount in Greece. With the help of the Marshall Plan and the economic revival of the mid-1950s (Alogoskoufis, 1995), the steady development of the construction sector helped stabilise the political system and ensure the citizens’ feeling of financial security (the role of ownership and trust in real estate). At the same time, the horizontal mobility of the Greek population (rural exodus) created the need for the rapid building of affordable housing which gradually became associated with phenomena ranging from commercialisation and standardisation to the destruction of the traditional architectural landscape and the severe deterioration of aesthetic quality (Prévélakis, 2000). The Greek cinema of the 1960s illustrated this demand for new post-war housing, in which urbanisation symbolised social ascension and found practical expression in the functional comforts of the condominium . Consequently, Greek building construction in the period between 1955-1967 followed the triptych of stabilisation – urbanisation – urban reconstruction and relied heavily on the process of antiparochi .
The changing lifestyles and the introduction of apartment buildings in the urban landscape  also influenced, although much later than in the centre of Athens, the peri-urban neighbourhoods, which began, in turn, to modernise while disregarding the aesthetic result. The most significant examples of this are the districts of Kaminia and Neo Faliro, where workers whose jobs were in the industrial area of Peiraios Street, found fertile ground capable of accommodating this change: from the mid-1970s onwards, the antiparochi gradually replaced the traditional detached houses and some historic buildings, thus transforming an entire class of petty-bourgeois into owners. At the same time, Neo Faliro became the new hub between Athens and the port of Piraeus, the latter functioning, from the early 1960s, as a second centre after Athens. This change resulted from internal migratory flows and various geopolitical processes, as well as from the congestion-pollution combination brought on by the increasing number of vehicles in the streets of Athens. One could observe, on the one hand, the arrival of internal migrants and the creation of local communities (paroikies) by Greek islanders  in the southern suburbs (Georgikopoulos, 2018a) and, on the other, the reverse trend wealthy families leaving the centre of Athens in favour of the former holiday suburbs, especially from the 1980s onwards.
In this context, Neo Faliro benefited from the resulting economic and cultural activity (retail, industries, businesses, entertainment, restaurants), although the customers and employees increasingly opted to travel by car. However, on the polar opposite, despite notable exceptions in favour of strategic and coherent urban planning , a break in the local architectural memory begins to emerge. The development of apartment buildings in Neo Faliro transformed a diverse and multi-purpose neighbourhood into a mediocre suburb. This was the price to pay for the necessary compromise that would restore the socio-political and economic balance within a post-war Greece (World War II, Civil War) in the midst of the Cold War.
The uncontrolled suburbanisation and concentration of internal migrants led to the scattering of activities, increased traffic congestion, the need to renew public transportation, but also to administrative decentralisation and the creation of new jobs at the local level. On the other hand, it also involved thoughtless construction and the emergence of large multi-storey buildings – “small luxury palaces with all comforts” (Μυλωνάκη, 2012) – replacing the historic buildings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was a “sacrifice” on the altar of development and necessary demographic and social renewal. From the mid-1970s and especially from the 1980s onwards, the Neo Faliro district underwent the demolition of its old buildings while its inhabitants increasingly favoured the security offered by introversion and architectural oblivion. However, what does this architectural memory consist of? To which socio-historical processes does it relate? Furthermore, through what symbolism does it interact with other geographical scales?
The era of « strategic cosmopolitanism »
Until the interwar period, Neo Faliro was where the Athenian bourgeoisie met the proletariat of Piraeus. At a short distance from the local factories, also called fàbrikes, (such as the AIS electric station, the ION chocolate factory, the CHROPEI, ELAIS, Minerva, IVI, Kerameikos, Indiana and Sarantopoulos factories, the Hellenic Textile Industry etc.) were scattered neoclassical and eclectic style holiday houses, used by wealthy Athenians especially during the summer.
On the seafront, the Baths (Loutrà) – moved from Zéa to Neo Faliro – and the Nautical Club (Nautikos Omilos) were also places where the different social classes met, since the beach of Neo Faliro welcomed both the inhabitants of the various districts of Piraeus and the bourgeois Athenian families. Likewise, the public school was another space of coexistence and assimilation, where students from very different social classes were able to create and maintain essential bonds. This resulted in the incorporation of the historic buildings into the local social fabric, as the children of their owners invited friends and classmates over for various celebrations.
Thanks to the local light industrialisation and luxury tourism (the “Aktaion” and “Grand Hotel de Phalère” hotels, the music and refreshments stand “Tarantella”), the economic development of Neo Faliro held significant appeal and gradually attracted entrepreneurs, workers, as well as the wealthy inhabitants of Piraeus (such as the writer Pavlos Nirvanas, nom de plume of Petros Apostolidis) and retired Athenians as permanent residents. This enriched the local architectural landscape with single and semi-detached houses typical of the neo-historicist style of the inter-war period (Photos 1-3). This trend persisted until the 1960s.
Photos 1-3: Pre-war buildings in Neo Faliro
Source : Ioannis Georgikopoulos
Both the social composition and demographic evolution of Neo Faliro (Table 1)  demonstrate the extroversion and open-mindedness that characterised the suburbs as a place of osmosis between very heterogeneous elements, to which had already been added refugees from Asia Minor  as well as the descendants and heirs of the owners of some historic buildings (such as the Giannopoulos, Kotzamanoglou, Lorandos, Papaggelis, Farao, Christophi families etc.).
Table 1: Demographic evolution of Neo Faliro
This extroverted character of the suburbs was in line with the situation during the last quarter of the 19th century, when Neo Faliro began to develop and become organised, taking advantage of the growing economic activity in Piraeus after 1870 (Μαλικούτη, 2004). Under King George I, the diversion of the Piraeus-Athens steam locomotive (Official Gazette – ΦEK 18/1869 – Decree on the railway link between the Public Baths of Neo Faliro and the Athens-Piraeus line), intended to facilitate access to the creek of Neo Faliro, paved the way for the emergence of peri-urban architecture. Later, the steam tramway (1887) and then the electric tramway became an alternative mode of transportation for the Athens-Faliro route. The first holiday houses were built starting in the 1880s as meeting places for the bourgeois Athenian families and the intellectuals of the time. A significant example is the mansion of the satirical poet Georges Souris (Photo 4), where writers belonging to the so-called “New School of Athens” (also called the “1880 generation”) organised cultural evenings. At that time, Neo Faliro became a part of the Municipality of Piraeus (1876) and had 242 permanent residents in the 1889 census.
Photo 4: George Souris’s residence in Neo Faliro
Source : Ioannis Georgikopoulos
Up to, and including, the inter-war period, the neighbourhood remained included in the design of urban planning, either with projects for manor house developments on land around the streets following the slope of the Cephissus river (such as the plans of Ludwig Hoffmann for example) or in the form of urban planning studies (such as those proposed by Stilianos Leloudas) with suggestions for the creation of entertainment areas (“Places of the Coasts” – Akton Periochi) which would extend from Tourkolimano to Paleo Faliro (Φιλιππίδης, 1984: 116-120).
The construction of these buildings, along with that of luxury hotels along the seafront (such as the “Aktaion” and “Grand Hotel de Phalère”), was rooted in the classicist tradition while also integrating elements of eclecticism. This synthesis of influences, combinations, and of architectural forms was imbedded in the respect for local realities and the social needs of Neo Faliro: (small-scale) second homes for vacations and entertainment, integrated into a landscape that combines both urban and seaside elements. Today, and despite the general look of abandonment, we can still see representative examples of this mixed architecture, in which High Neoclassicism and Popular Neoclassicism (Photos 5-12) are articulated with polycentric eclecticism (Photos 13-15) and picturesque architecture (Photos 16-17) in a syncretism between the different morphological elements and the local architectural idiom.
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