Hellinikon Airport was first established as a military airbase in the late 1930s, a dozen kilometres south of Athens. It changed hands several times during the Second World War before, in the late 1950s, becoming a commercial airport. It remained Athens’ airport until 2001, when a fancier airport was constructed to the north-west, better accommodating modern aircraft.
This urban condition has become commonplace for many cities, where new economic or technological developments suddenly render large (often central) parcels free for development. What cities decide to do with these opportunities can have dramatic results on their future: Berlin’s Tempelhof and Paris’s abattoirs are now vast public parks. Meanwhile, London’s Isle of Dogs is a pseudo-public corporate playground and Battersea Power Station is taking shape as a luxury investment zone for the global elite. Each to their own, it appears.
Bryan Maddock’s proposal to transform Hellinikon through parallel housing bars almost three kilometres long at first appears to reference Le Corbusier’s vision of Algiers − the well-known sinuous city-building (or immeuble cité).
However, as a political statement, the project is closer to the civic pride of a Soviet microrayon (self-contained mini-district). This is because the buildings articulate a strong masterplan, and not the other way around. In addition to the housing blocks is a landscape of smaller villas, fields, parks and public spaces. The subtle response to the existing topography gives them a gentle, undulating form.
There are a number of practical and theoretical concerns that accompany proposals of this kind. Foremost among them, the inability of megastructures to adapt through time, but instead to ossify and limit functional potential.
Maddock has addressed this with a diverse programme matching the complexities of a mature city. There is sufficient flexibility in the masterplan itself, beyond the proposed buildings, to make you believe the scheme would work over time, even if the architecture were to be demolished.
Maddock’s Immeuble Cité is a sophisticated response to the complexities of the modern city. It negotiates commercial and infrastructural requirements as deftly as it handles the fundamentals of civic space and how we might live in comfort.
This was one of the schemes that divided the jury most: did the architecture sufficiently address the shortcomings that have befallen megastructures in the past? Ultimately the advocates won over the doubters. It is the sort of Grand Projet that might have found favour with the EU, in its flusher financial days.