NEW YORK – The Greek Institute of Architects in New York, an organization established in 2013 for the purpose of bringing together Greek Architects in New York, (GIANY) especially students and young practitioners newly arrived from Greece, inaugurated its lecture series on March 4.
Elia Zenghelis, distinguished Greek architect and educator, presented “The Private and the Collective Ideas, Principles and Projects,” at the Greek Press Office in Manhattan.
The guests, architects and enthusiasts who filled the auditorium were welcomed by Lambros Kazis, Press Secretary, and Amb. George Iliopoulos, Consul General of Greece, expressed his excitement about the GIANY initiative.
Members of the GIANY organizing committee aslo briefly addressed the guests. Constantine Bouras spoke about the Lecture Series, Dimitra Tsachrelia introduced Zenghelis and Evita Fanou moderated the Q&A. The GIANY Organizing Committee also includes Electra Kontoroupi, Ioannis Oikonomou, and Foteinos Soulos.
Zenghelis provided a panoramic view of a career that spanned revolutionary periods in the architectural and political realms.
He studied architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, completing his studies in 1961.
The 1960s, which he said was dominated by bourgeois consumerism in the homes and radicalism in the streets and on campus, he remembers as a wonderful decade of parties, architectural practice and teaching.
As a prominent teacher at the Architectural he introduced radical accent-gardism into the curriculum in reaction to the inflexible artistic ideologies that prevailed through his schooling and embodied in movements like Team 10.
Rem Koolhaas, with whom he co-founded the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) along with his wife, Zoe Zenghelis, and Madelon Vriesendorp was one of Zenghelis’ most important collaborators.
The student uprisings of 1968 – he referred to the “delirium of protest” – spilled across the English Channel impacted architectural education.
“The relationship between teacher and student was never the same,” throughout the West, but the English students, whom he said were not as politically sophisticated as their continental counterparts, managed to turn the experience into an excuse to not do any work.
Zenghelis’ unit, however, attracted the more serious youth and became a school within a school.
Much of his work entailed breathtaking re-imaginings and challenges to the prevailing urban and suburban environment with provocative projects like “No Stop City.”
He is deeply concerned about the relationship between the man-made world and nature, which he insists must be kept physically and conceptually distinct. “It is a dialectical relationship, between two opposites, and the differences,” between the two necessary elements of human life, “should never be hidden or dressed up.”
On the other hand, urban and suburban sprawl are for him blights on the world and Zenghelis has become obsessed with the idea that cities should be given definite limits beyond which nothing should be built.
His relationship with clients evolved from love to hate, and he does not miss them at this stage in his life.
Zenghelis told several informative and entertaining tales of promising projects that never came to fruition as a result of shortages of funds or client interference.
The most amusing story involved a project on a Japanese island. His firm was commissioned to design a hilltop town but when he arrived he was informed that the landscape was levelled to facilitate construction.
Amidst the soccer fields and parking lots, he nevertheless was able to create buildings whose curved perimeters and rooflines conjure up the bodies of the murdered hills.
History – one could generalize and say truth – is important to Zenghelis.
He was disappointed when the Germans decided to remove all references to the Berlin Wall – and thus the people who suffered as a result of it and who died trying to transgress it – when the Brandenburg Gate was restored.
A recently installed row of lights does evoke the searchlights who purpose was to crush freedom rather than illuminate.
Communication is critical to art and life. He is a critic of the state of his profession, which boasts pluralism, but without vital criticism and debate.
He loves New York – he referred to the “intoxicating 1970s he experienced – but his urban paradise is London, with its wonderful gardens and cosmopolitanism.
In recent years he has become enamored with landscapes and enjoys working with gardeners.
Several of the paintings that Zenghelis made with his wife to illustrate the OMA projects – such as Hotel Sphinx (1975), and Sixteen Villas on the Island of Antiparos, Greece (1981) – are now included in the Art and Design collection of the MoMA in New York.