Stefanos Polyzoides the Godfather of New Urbanism

March 15, 2017

By Vasilis Papoutsis

Stefanos Polyzoides is an award-winning architect and urban planner who has brought an innovative approach to urban development that emphasizes mixed use sustainable structures, rehabilitation of historic buildings within transit-oriented communities.

He grew up near Plastira Square in Pagrati home to some notable citizens among them Manos Hatzidakis the Academy Award composer, Karolos Papoulias former President of Greece and Yiannis Diakogiannis an iconic sports broadcaster.

Polyzoides got his undergraduate and master’s degrees in architecture and urban planning from Princeton University and planned to return to Greece to practice architecture. At the time Greece was under a dictatorship and ”my father was in the opposition and he was afraid that I may suffer because of his believes. He told me to go back to the US and stay there for a while. So I came back to the States,” Polyzoides said.

He held the position of Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Southern California (USC) for 24 years and from 1983 through 1990 he was on the Advisory Board for the School of Architecture at Princeton University. In 1990 he established the architecture firm Moule & Polyzoides with his wife and partner Elizabeth Moule.

Their work has been published worldwide, showcased in various museums, and received a number of awards for excellence. In 1991, at the invitation of the nonprofit Local Government Commission, Polyzoides, Elizabeth, and a few other architects developed a set of community principles for land use planning called the Ahwahnee Principles.

Those became the foundation for the creation of the Congress for the New Urbanism in 1993. Today, the organization has more than 3,000 members and it is the leading international organization promoting New Urbanist principles through education, legislation, and planning. Polyzoides is now known as the ”Godfather of New Urbanism.”

To this day, the firm of Moule &Polyzoides has completed more than 300 projects and has an international reputation in producing beautiful individual buildings as well as master plans for districts, neighborhoods, towns, and cities on a human scale, walkable with open spaces, landscape, and transportation. Locally, some of the firm’s projects are the Playhouse Plaza, the Silver Spur Court, and Plaza La Reina.

The Pasadena Playhouse Plaza office building in Pasadena CA, is a mixed-use development organized around a series of courtyards and paseos in the city’s vibrant art district, while Plaza La Reina in the historic Westwood Village near UCLA is a 44-room residential hotel around a public courtyard on top of retail stores.

Silver Spur Court  is an 18-unit mixed use project whose spacious residential units averaging about 2,000 square feet and all have private patios and balconies overlooking the public courtyards. ”Every building is a contributor to the character of the street and we approach each design around that philosophy.”Images are available at mparchitects.com.

The firm also has a number of overseas projects, most notably in Dubai, Guatemala City, Panama, and Kenya, but not in Greece. ”Athens had a beautiful center prior to the 1960s, but now it needs a new approach,”said Polyzoides, who visits Greece regularly has a lot of strong opinions about the ongoing crisis and the EU. ”I am a believer of the Europe Union as a concept but the execution of it is horrible. Now we have the rich European nations against the poor ones. In order to survive as a union the countries need to develop an acute sense of solidarity with each other just as we have in the US. Otherwise it will not survive as a union and the recent Brexit could only be the start” Polyzoides said. ”Greece has been tortured for its mismanagement and thrown into an unsustainable path of austerity. Greece has effectively become a colony” he continued.

The only solution to the problem he thinks would be for Greece to ”enter a plan of reorganization similar to Chapter 11 and leave the Union as painful as that might be for a few years.” As someone who came to the US as an immigrant himself Polyzoides supports legal immigration and has empathy for the immigrants who come here or Greece but ”I am not a supporter of open borders, as massive immigration tends to change the character and culture of a country.”

After been here for so long he feels ”completely assimilated as a citizen and a professional in the United States. I have enjoyed great success and I have a great family. But in my soul I am 100% Greek, I always will be.” Polyzoides is also the author of the book Courtyard Housing in Los Angeles, a distinct architecture style with multi-family housing centered around a courtyard that is suitable to the California warm weather. He is also the co-author of The Plazas of New Mexico and the forthcoming Between House and Tower: The Architecture of Density.


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