Interview with Panayiotis Tournikiotis

05 May, 2010

Interview with Panayiotis Tournikiotis

At the column ‘High Rise’ regarding high rise buildings and skyscrapers several conversations with well known architects and engineers will be hosted. 

By Alexios Vandoros

Greek version

These conversations focus on the Greek High Rise reality and especially at the prohibition of building higher than 27m throughout Greece.

At this conversation the architect Panayiotis Tournikiotis is hosted. He is Professor at the Faculty of Architecture Polytechnic University of Athens. He has published many books, amongst them for Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier, the irradiation of Parthenon at the newer age and the historiography of the modern architecture. He has been honored twice with the International architectural book prize of the American Institute of Architects and once with the prize of the Athens Academy.

ALEXIOS VANDOROS: Do you believe that a high rise building maintains its function? Do we build high for functional reasons or for symbolic, vanity or other reasons? Why do buildings from a certain big height and above are built?

PANAYIOTIS TOURNIKIOTIS:  I have visited important tall buildings in Paris, Frankfurt, London, New York, Berlin and of course in Athens (with the relativeness of height of course).

Do you believe that a high rise building maintains its function? Do we build high for functional reasons or for symbolic, vanity or other reasons? Why do buildings from a certain big height and above are built?

I believe that the main reason for building higher is mainly economic thus profiteering  (μέγιστη εκμετάλλευση της ελάχιστης γης σε πυκνά και ακριβά κέντρα πόλεων) και ο δεύτερος συμβολικός, με την έννοια της δήλωσης δύναμης και της αντίστοιχης εξουσίας (συνήθως οικονομικής – τράπεζα, πολυεθνική εταιρεία κλπ).

The studied placement of high rise constructions combined with the utilization of the free spaces on the ground that arise can constitute an ecological answer to the today’s inhuman urban density of the Greek cities?

P.Τ.: This could happen under the condition of another town-planning and land-planning, which would come out as a result of another perception for the urban space. The modernists tried to plan this – at least Le Corbusier – but the societies and the politics of the post-war era did not see at these proposals rapid and cheap constructing for urgency needs. They could not and maybe they did not want to visualize another relationship between human and nature, a new relationship between city and nature. Maybe it was too early (or late). In our days I am flatly negative to the construction of high rise inside the already constructed cities, even if the alibi of liberating ground space for ‘green’ is appealed. If we want more ‘green’ we can simply demolish some buildings. It costs, but greenery is an expensive luxuriance.

Α.V.: Combining the energy consumption of a high rise building in comparison with a group of low rise buildings, with the same general layout, do you believe that the high rise building is nowadays competitive? Do we head to the creation of ecological skyscrapers – ecoscrapers?

P.Τ.: Ecological skyscrapers (for example Foster’s in Frankfurt, which I have visited thoroughly) have not persuaded me. Low-rise buildings can be the same, and more, ecological especially when they are planned from the beginning with sustainable intentions.

Α.V.: Do you know which actions have taken place in Greece for the construction of high rise buildings? Is there any future for such kind of buildings in Greece?

P.Τ.: I know mainly the efforts that took place during the period of the dictatorship in Athens regarding the temporary liberation of heights. These buildings will continue their journey if they are well maintained, which is a fact for all buildings though. I do not think that they are exceptional buildings. They seem to me rather commonplace and indifferent. I would not miss them if any wizard could make them disappear.

Α.V.: It is a paradox that big construction companies, international developers that construct and own many high rise buildings from China to Middle East, abstain mysteriously from any conversation about the release of the maximum building height in Greece. In a country that many political decisions are guided from any kind of economical interests, it is strange that the huge construction section, that constitutes for many years the main promoter of the national development, it is odd to maintain such a restrictive regulation. How so many people, who guide till the external politics of the country, do not force to release the construction heights and have literally wiped out any relevant conversation?

P.Τ.: I think that there are markets that offer easier, faster and greater profit than Greece at the sector of high rise construction. This is why the interested companies are focused there. There must be also other reasons, but I do not care more. As long as they are busy elsewhere and leave us alone it is better.

Α.V.: The two biggest cities in Greece nowadays, Athens and Thessaloniki, have expanded exaggeratedly embodying step by step adjacent territories creating megacities. Would it be better if the ground spread is restrained, giving more height to the constructions in order to consolidate the population?

P.Τ.: We can simplier think of holding the population raise, if not its reduction. Neither width nor height. The ‘outer planning’ formation (translator’s note: this is a Greek ingenuity that allows citizens to build at plots that are not inside the planned part of the cities) must also be forbidden forever. This does not mean that organized town-planning is excluded. Athens though – I know my city better than Thessaloniki – has a lot of residences and office spaces that are not used at the same time that new neighborhoods, building units and malls are being constructed for profiteering.

Should this take place regionally or in a greater scale? Is it better to create a small Manhattan or a Defance or to have some buildings spread inside the urban fabric?

P.Τ.: Obviously, not to be done.
Α.V.: I will place my personal estimation – answer to some ‘urban legends’ that have prevailed the Greek society against high rise construction. I would like you to analyze compendiously each one of them:

(1) The construction cost of a high rise building in comparison to the same fabrication spread in smaller buildings is lower.

P.Τ.: Maybe. I do not have clues but this does not change my opinion.

(2) The fire safety demands (passive and active) increase linearly proportionately to the layout and not exponentially to the height.

P.Τ.: Right. This does not decrease low-rise buildings.

The ventilation of each space in a building is possible at any height with the use of proper architectural design and bioclimatic parameters.

P.Τ.: Right. This does not decrease low-rise buildings.

(4) The energy demands of a building depend on the architectural design and the use (or not) of the principles of sustainable architecture design.

P.Τ.: Right. This does not decrease low-rise buildings.

(5) Using new technologies – double floor elevators and fireproof elevators - the need for wells and elevators is a little bit bigger than the similar need for the same l fabrication spread in smaller buildings.
(6) The ‘unstopped’ view towards the Acropolis will not be corrupted by constructing a few skyscrapers at the Hellinicon area or at the area of Elaiones.

P.Τ.: I did not mention an Acropolis problem. Generally, the interruption of the view due to the high rise buildings ‘teeth’ would bother me. I would say the same thing for a city without high monuments and special geography.

At the same time there have been constructed high rise buildings at:
(7) cities that are situated at areas those suffer seriously from earthquakes, much more than Greece (Tokyo, Los Angeles)
(8) cities with excellent historic centers, which are by the way highly protected from the use of car and deterioration (Italy, Spain, France, Germany)
(9) cities in countries those are much inferior to Greece in the living standard and economically (Bulgaria, Turkey, Africa cities, South America cities)
P.Τ.: The last arguments could all be reversed: high rise buildings have not been constructed in cities that do not suffer from earthquakes, in other historic centers that are equally protected or in cities that do not have historic centers, or in cities at countries that have higher living and economic level than Greece. In short, all arguments can stand proportionately to what you want to conclude.
From my point of view I consider high rise also an urban legend, and I have not felt any charm walking amongst the high rise buildings of Manhattan or Defense in Paris. On the contrary I have felt great charm many times at areas that high rise buildings are absent.
I tried to be honest and brief. If you think that my opinions are not sufficient or not accommodating you can of course leave them out.

  Thank you for the constitutive conversation and I believe that we will have the chance to talk again in the near future.

Translation: Alexios Vandoros

Alexios Vandoros,
Chief editor of e-magazine
CTBUH Country Leader for Greece


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