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Culture

New Book Highlights the Architectural Marvel SNFCC

On May 24, at the Morgan Library and Museum in Midtown Manhattan, Victoria Newhouse presented a lecture entitled Kissing Cousins: Renzo Piano in New York and Athens. The lecture offered a fascinating comparison between the famed architect’s impressive addition to the historic Morgan Library in New York and his groundbreaking, modern masterpiece the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) in Athens.

Drawing on her extensive research and expertise as an architectural historian, Newhouse spoke eloquently about the similarities and differences between the two projects.

The lecture took place only a day after the release of her latest book Chaos and Culture: Renzo Piano Building Workshop and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens. The book is a wonderful guide to the extraordinary project and includes 200 photographs and drawings that illustrate the development of the SNFCC from an idea through the building process and then to a functioning cultural center.

Many of the photographs and drawings were also used as projections that highlighted the compelling lecture at the Morgan.

Colin Bailey, Director of the Morgan, gave the welcoming remarks and introduced Newhouse who also founded and directed the Architectural History Foundation, a nonprofit publisher of scholarly books. Bailey and Newhouse both noted that the first meeting in 2007 between architect Renzo Piano and Stavros Niarchos Foundation co-President Andreas Dracopoulos took place at the Morgan which had opened its Piano-designed addition a year earlier.

Newhouse observed that the shared belief in “the redemptive power of beauty” and meeting in the new space at the Morgan, helped Piano win the commission after Dracopoulos had been struggling to find an architect. She said she heard Piano say over and over during the construction that the SNFCC is “a symbol of hope for a debilitated nation.”

Among the similarities Newhouse pointed out between the Morgan Library and the SNFCC designs is that both include a library, an auditorium, and an open space. The scale and the experience of building in New York and in Athens were, of course, much different, as well as the fact that the Morgan’s existing buildings would be incorporated into the design while the SNFCC was an entirely new complex.

In 2006, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation announced its gift of a new cultural center to house both Greek National Library and the Greek National Opera House within a forty-acre landscaped public park. Two years later, with designers and engineers in place and the project underway, the Greek economy collapsed.

In Chaos and Culture, Newhouse describes how a philanthropist, Dracopoulos, and an extraordinary design team became convinced that architecture could serve as a beacon of hope amid Greece’s economic crisis and political upheaval.

With meticulous research, interviews with designers, and historic context, Newhouse recounts the decade-long process leading to the creation of the SNFCC, an $800 million dollar project that is a symbol of the recovery and survival of Greece.

The author notes how the SNFCC stands on a hill in view of the Parthenon to the north and Faliro Bay to the south and situates the project within the context of the modern history of Athens, beginning with Greece’s independence in 1832, and reaching back to describe two-thousand-year old cemeteries unearthed on the site. Also included in the book are aerial views by the photographer Iwan Baan that documented the process and context of the SNFCC.

Among those in attendance at the lecture and the reception that followed were representatives from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Vasili Tsamis- Chief Operating Officer and Stelios Vasilakis- Director of Programs & Strategic Initiatives.

The book, Chaos and Culture: Renzo Piano Building Workshop and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens by Victoria Newhouse, is available online and in bookstores.

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