BOSTON – When appreciating such prominent works of Greek architecture as the Acropolis, it is often easy to overlook contemporary efforts to enhance the magnificent structure in the context of modern Athens.
The legacy of Dimitris Pikionis, a colossal figure in modern Greek architecture, is inextricably intertwined with his famous work on the landscaping of the path leading to the Acropolis, as well as the observation areas on Philopapppou Hill. This work, which occurred in the 1970s, left its mark on Athens and the historic area of the Acropolis.
On the evening of November 8, the Consulate General of Greece in Boston held an event to commemorate the life and legacy of Pikionis, also displaying images of his work provided by the Benaki Museum and a recently made documentary on Pikionis by ERT.
Stratos Efthymiou, the Consul General of Greece in Boston, opened the night by offering some words and welcoming the numerous guests who filled the consulate’s newly renovated halls.
He celebrated the ability of Pikionis to both preserve Greek culture while subtly incorporating new and international themes with Greek tradition. He thanked those who helped organize the event, noting that its inspiration came from a conversation with the night’s first speaker, Alexandra Samaras.
Samaras is not only a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and Columbia University School of Architecture, but also the granddaughter of Pikionis. She was therefore able to provide insight not only into the Acropolis landscaping, on which she is an expert, but also into Pikionis as a man.
She noted her early memories of visiting her grandparents’ one-room house in Greece as a child, and her interaction with a grandfather she described as a gentle and sensitive individual.
Samaras also pointed out the independent direction of Pikionis’ work given his time. Rejecting contemporary modernism, which had risen in prominence due to its effectiveness in creating housing space following the surge in population in Greece due to the Asia Minor Catastrophe, Pikionis embraced eastern elements and a deliberately methodical process in his work.
The stones used in his path were all found locally and arranged by hand, working slowly and incorporating the natural jagged lines that had defined Athenian roads for centuries. He often recycled materials and incorporated subtle designs in the path that both reflected the ancient symbolism and new architectural ideas.
Pikionis was clearly a scholar of his time, drawing praise from other architects, even in his travels to the United States, which Samaras recounted. He also drew on new ideas and artistic movements in his work, which he also promoted through his paintings and publications.
The next speaker, Thomas Doxiadis, then provided insight into the Acropolis path through a series of photos creating a sort of virtual tour. This provided a fuller sense of Pikionis’ desire that the roads be walked so that the individual could be a full participant to the emotional experience of rising up to the Acropolis.
Doxiadis is a practicing architect int Greece and contributor to a number of projects including advising the 2004 Olympics. He is also an expert on Pikionis’ work, and his uncle was a student of Pikionis.
Doxiadis noted how Piokionis was able to make the path seem like a part of the landscape, incorporating nature around it to give the sense of perpetual existence despite its artificial construction. He also praised Pikionis’ ability to both respect Greece’s past and incorporate eastern elements, as demonstrated by his renovation of the Loumbardiaris Church.
Both Samaras and Doxiadis pointed to the gentleness and sensitivity that defined Pikionis’ life, which also defined his work and allowed him to leave his mark on history.