NEW YORK – Among the many ironies of the Greek crisis is that the architects of the new Greece were hard at work – literally – before the crash. Greece has produced a remarkable crop of designers, and the proof is that while the crisis forced them to seek work outside Greece, they are thriving all over the world.
Many have settled in New York and on February 5 the Greek Consulate overflowed with people who admire them and their work at the opening reception of an exhibition organized by the Greek Institute of Architects in New York (GIANY), which runs through February 20.
These are Hellenes abroad who not only vow not to forget Greece – they all hope to return some day – they refuse to forget their Greek colleagues in their midst in the Diaspora.
They established GIANY in 2013 and its aim is to bring together their colleagues for mutual support and enrichment.
The curatorial team of the exhibit, titled “GRE-NYC, Young Architects Practicing in New York,” are among GIANY’s founders: Constantine Bouras, Evita Fanou, Electra Kontoroupi, Ioannis Oikonomou, Foteinos Soulos and Dimitra Tsachrelia.
Bouras explained that in the past, the Greeks who studied architecture in America remained for a year to do their Optional Professional Training (OPT) and returned home. Today, with little to return to, they form a large community in New York.
“Everyone knew someone else, but they didn’t know everybody,” Bouras said, so we took the initiative to organize social gatherings. Over time, it became a forum for discussions about their profession, and life in New York – which can be overwhelming for newcomers.
It is an expensive place with limited affordable housing, so finding a good place to live is a top priority for them and they discovered networking made the search easier.
“As exciting as it is to be in New York, it is tough place to face every day when you first arrive,” Bouras said, and GIANY social gatherings help overcome New York isolation – and Aegean nostalgia.
The visa process can also be nerve-wracking – they have to be connected with a company and work full time, so the networking GIANY fosters is extremely valuable.
“Ideally, GIANY will have two poles,” or focuses, New York and Greece, Bouras said, helping those who want to come to New York and those preparing to return to Greece.
Among the events they are planning are lectures and roundtable discussion by prominent architects.
GIANY was created to broaden and deepen the community that was developing naturally, and the exhibition was conceived its introduction to the greater New York and Greek-American communities.
In November 2014 an open invitation was sent to all of the then-55 members; 37 participated.
The organizers and the host, Amb. George Iliopoulos, the Consul General of Greece, were overwhelmed and delighted by the more than 400 people who were present at various times.
“The consulate was extremely welcoming and supportive. Most of the costs of the reception and exhibition were underwritten Alpha Bank,” and there were other sponsors Bouras told TNH.”
Bouras was born and raised in Athens. He studied architecture at the National Technical University of Athens and later earned his Master’s degree at Harvard. He works at Leroy Street Studio where he is project architect on high-end residential projects.
Fanou studied architecture at University of Thessaloniki. When she came for post graduate work at Columbia it was her first time in America. She works for Raft Architects designing public elementary schools in Queens and her next project will be a hotel.
Like some of the others, Fanou was assisted by family friends in America.
The exhibit contains her final project at Columbia. ‘It is called Archipelago,” a project that aimed to overcome social isolation in Rio de Janeiro.
Kontoroupi was born in Athens and has roots in the Peloponnese. She graduated from the National Technical University of Athens with Highest Honors in 2011. Her sister Thalia is studying for her doctorate in Civil Engineering at Columbia University.
She works for studioMDA, the firm of one of her professors. Those who did not study in the United States and who lack an academic network here stand to benefit the most from GIANY.
Tsachrelia studied at the Patras University School of Architecture and holds a Master of Science Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. She is an associate at Steven Holl Architects, and together with her twin sister Eirini Tsachrelia, she also works independently on private commissions.
Economou is the first architect in his family, whose roots are near architectural paradise of Delphi. He studied at the Polytechnic School of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and at the National Technical University in Athens.
His company, the Oiio Architectural Studio, is based in Athens, and he opened an office in New York when he decided to remain there fate after winning a competition that brought him to America. The project, named “My City Too,” was exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York. He does residential work and is now involved in a renovation.
Soulos wanted to be an architect from the age of eight. He studied at the University of Patras and came to New York when he won the prestigious Metzelopoulos scholarship for study abroad and attended Columbia University, where he studied new design technology, which he applied to the design of the Barclays Center for his employer, SHoP Architects.
Asked to explain the impressive crop of young architects that Greece has produced, he said Greece has many schools of architecture and that there are very good professors who transmit the most up to date design knowledge and capabilities, so it is easy for those who come here to demonstrate their talents.”
He hopes GIANY will make available the support and wisdom he found among friends when he arrived. “They gave me the advice I needed for a good start here,” he said, and expressed GIANY’s philosophy: “We help each other and all of us make progress together.”
Soulos told TNH that his generation also benefits from having been raised with the mentality of being international citizens, which prepares architects for careers that will take them around the world. “We are here in New York, and later we will be in Europe, and again in New York, and one day back home in Greece.”