Piraeus Tower

Piraeus Tower, an Ideas Tower

20 July, 2010

Piraeus Tower, an Ideas Tower

The new column for the architectural ideas competition "Piraeus Tower 2010.After the competition has been completed, fertile assessments from the architectural community and particularly from Greek -academic and professional- architecture may be done.

By Manolis Anastasakis

Greek version

The international architectural ideas competition for the reformation of "Piraeus Tower" facades initially aimed at the reformation of a small skyscraper in a medium-size city. In fact, however, it raised questions concerning what is a tall building today and how this one intervenes and integrates in the urban landscape. The results of the competition show that it went along with the reflections of a period where a drastic redefinition of consolidated concepts and practices is attempted in the architecture both in terms of approaching the "constructed" and in terms of its relationship with the environment.

The starting line for the competition notice was the need for replanning an -uncompleted since the '70s- offices building where the down floors are used for commercial purposes. The skeleton of building is constructed from reinforced concrete and it is organised in a typical way - a vertical core with floors in horizontal layers. The growth of building' s volume results thus from the natural limits of skeleton and its position in the plot.

Given the main bulk of the building and the engagements of this static body, it was normal that every attendance would be pondered over these restrictions. Nevertheless, it would finally put in front a completed concept of the tower combining and composing the structure after having taken into consideration other important parameters of each planning, such as the space, the technology, the nutshell, the urban, the sustainability and of course the final shape and the aesthetic.

It is clear that the programmatic data of the competition were initially leading up to the research of a new exterior form, so that will be considered as a cladding and not as an expression of a total concept or at least of an internal structure and organisation. Moreover, it is clear that the predetermined static structure of the tower did not encourage proposals where the constructional system is the principal element of expression. However, the huge participation as well as the big variety of proposals have changed the initial restrictions dredging up essentially crucial questions during the planning of tall buildings: energy behaviour, connection with the city, symbolic dimension.

The free choice of the composition and the breadth of treatment of designing requirements are greatly determined by the type of each notice: search of ideas or choice of a plan to be implemented? In the first case the accent is given in the innovation, experimentation and imagination (see the competitions for future skyscrapers that the electronic magazine "" organizes). In the second case, the planning provides constructible solutions efficiently.

The competition for the Piraeus Tower combined the concept with the reality. The notice organized by the e- magazine and DuPont Company (see completed notice in annex) was seeking ideas no matter the cost, and at the same time it offered a real background for these ideas to be developed. This open window in inventiveness and bold expression determined the content of attendances of this competition. A total assessment of submitted proposals may be now compared more with pioneering designs (the manufactures in international exhibitions are good examples, such as this one in Shanghaï this year) than with the completed designs of the ongoing architectural production.

The proposals
The attractiveness of subject was impressed on the big number of attendances which came from 44 countries with the participation of 950 architects in total, designers and students who were divided into 380 teams. This competition, where the 180 teams (about the half) were coming from Greece, has given the opportunity for Greek attendances to be among the proposals of an international architectural community and to compete with it as well.

Having a quick look at the proposals we can easily understand that the bioclimatic parameter is overwhelmingly present. Although its designing solution is unequal, the spirit of season or, otherwise speaking, the need for an environmental sensitivity in buildings planning is also impressed on this collection of architectural designs. Furthermore, the freedom and breadth concerning the requirements and objectives of competition are obvious. Each proposal interpreted in a particular way the intentionally open and flexible notice and it was characterised both by pragmatism and applicable design and by expression of innovative ideas even if they are feasibly ambiguous. What is more, many proposals altered the "building program" either by adding floors or by removing functional spaces. Some other proposals intervened drastically in the existing body. Given the huge participation, a big variety of approaches and the expression of every modern designing culture are made possible. The majority of proposals implements common techniques of tall buildings regarding the skin editing, curtain walls, double skin, the multi-level systems of facades, the intermediate spaces and so on.

Despite the variety and the diversity of designs, two or three strategies are possible to be recognised. This helps the grouping of entries with axis the sovereign designing direction.
A first team of studies chose the building form in order to respond to the question of what a tower in Piraeus can be today. The handling of form, of course, varies between the incorporation of enthetic manufactures in it, intermediate spaces or even bioclimatic elements, and the scene or symbolic character that may be given to it. This search of either luxuriant or simple architectural expressiveness can be identified in more than the half participations of this team.
Relevant to the previous one is the entries team which either is inspired by historical reports or directly and indirectly responds to the relation of building with the location and the urban landscape. In this case as well, the form is the sovereign vehicle in order for the designing intention to be attributed. This choice leads to the common effort for adaptation of building to its integration space (a skyscraper by its nature defines more than being defined by its environment) and for responding to the question: how much "local" can be a tall building? This team invests in the format of manufacture.
The above approaches regard the tower-building as mass with drawn volume and form. The proposals that represent them refer to the international scene and they can demonstrate in this competition superb examples in this competition. Although they are different as far as the starting line and the priorities they have set up, the 9 from the 12 distinguished entries approach the building as a moulded volume (without necessary a formalistic dimension). As far as the 4 awards are concerned, only one of them has been distinguished (entry 656) receiving one from the two equivalent C awards. The majority of the jury chose the proposals that re-defined radically the materiality of tall building continuing and extending a recent reflection.

One ten of proposals (all of them are between the 69 proposals that were selected at the preliminary stage of evaluation) revised the conventional perception for the face as surface and as volume. These proposals focused on the concepts of limit and materiality. They work out a strategy of dematerialization of the building which is based on high or conventional technology techniques. These techniques offer -in distance from the main trunk of the building- systems and devices capable to react to natural phenomena: wind, rain, light radiation. The interesting point in these systems is that they register the relation of the building with the natural and they are worked out in order to meet basic requirements of bioclimatic planning. These systems can also constitute energy resources giving at the same time to the building a light and dynamic character. The integration of technology into architecture and the neutrality towards the morphological expression remind the opinion of Mies van der Rohe cited 60 years ago: "I hope you will understand that architecture has nothing to do with the invention of forms. ... Architecture is the real battleground of the spirit. Architecture ... is the crystallization of its inner structure, the slow unfolding of its form. That is the reason why technology and architecture are so closely related. ....". The reference in this text of Mies shows the long reflection on the relation of architecture with technology and form. But what inversion is carried out nowadays about how we conceive the architectural work, the structure and its presence? The challenge of bioclimatic planning maturely leads the architecture to an interactive relationship with the natural elements and to cooperation with the nature. The architecture is now created "from outside towards inside" and the sensitive to the environment proposed technological antennas become the architectural project.

It is obvious that this new perception for the natural presence of architecture and its relation with the natural environment can be transported and attributed by various designing technical and technological applications. The A' Prize (entry 110), the B' Prize (entry 311) and the one of the two C' Prizes (entry 496) proposed us three different ways of elevation and management of natural elements (the first entry the air, the second one the water and the third one the light). The subsequent concession of conventional constructional elements and hence of their corresponding architectural expression, creates a new reality for the perception of the building but it also re-defines the conditions through which we judge its integration in the -artificial and natural- environment. These three proposals have been distinguished both for the force of conception and for the persuasive way by which they managed their principal concept.

The evaluation
The force and the innovation of rewarded attendances and the designing quality of all distinguished proposals were recognized by a multi-compound and pluralist jury. The different starting lines of the 11 members of the jury were impressed on the process of evaluation, as it was expected, and they lively expressed in the final choice for the A' Prize. The convergence which was achieved through a process of marking and majority choice (the tables of evaluation are mentioned in annex), elected finally the most interesting and completed proposals. Thanks to the polymorph of the jury, these distinguished entries greatly represent the different ways of thought and the different tendencies that were submitted. It is, therefore, clear the advantage of pluralist jury: representation in the discriminations of a wide spectrum of proposals with its most notable examples.

During the process of careful examination of the choices of the jury and the grade in all phases of evaluation, it may be observed that in order for a proposal to be distinguished in the 12 finalists and even more to be between the 6 of the second phase, the highest mark (grade 8) from 2-3 members of the jury during the A phase was not enough. It should achieve good grades (grade 4 or 5) from at least 3-4 other members of the jury. Thus, both the 12 and 6 finalists were elected by a wide convergence. Between the first 6 entries, every member of the jury was invited to show his/her preference for the awards classification order. In this phase many proposals had been chosen, but the two proposals, that were prejudged for the final choice, distinguished either because the one had more supporters for A' Prize (3 A' choices for entry 311), or because the other one had wider consent (2 A' choices for entry 110 but also 8 indications for award). The final result for the choice of the A' Prize was decided by 7 members of the jury who chose the designing concept and the originality of the entry with code 110 more than the possibility of its direct application. The other 4 member of the jury did not participate in the final choice being unable to attribute the A' Prize in proposals that did not meet their own basic criterion of feasibility, although they recognized (the 2 at least from them) the virtues of the two prevailing proposals. The explanatory reports of members of the jury are mentioned in this list and they contribute in understanding the opinion and the attitude of each one of them. Furthermore, they enrich from different point of view the reflection that this competition has revealed. As far as the proposal for "Windscraper" is concerned submitted by Matthias Hollwich and Marc Kushner which achieved the A' Prize, its value was recognized by 9 of the 11 members of the jury. "The windscraper is an exceptional fresh and elegant approach for the Piraeus Tower. ... This proposal relinks the building with the water and wind elements that are predominant to the Piraeus Port." (C. Kondylis) ● "It has created a beautiful elegant image of what proportionally is a challenging mass of a structure." (T. Johnson) ● "A very interesting proposition for ‘wind catchers' on rods extending out from the building." (A. Wood) ● "This concept could help to reduce the environmental footprint of existing buildings. The technical feasibility has to be better assessed but this concept creates from the sea a very powerful "white vision" thanks to the transparency and the mobility of its white facade." (A-L. Citerne) ● "I supported it for the originality of this bioclimatic solution, and also for its simple and minimal architectural design." (P. Dragonas) ● "It has a clear and strong idea and this in an ideas competition with an aesthetic result of high value." (A. Tombazis) ● "It gives a direct, cohesive and poetic response to the question posed within this competition, while suggesting a model-building, diffusing and completed under the natural conditions of its environment." (Z. Kotionis) ● "The symbolic strength of the project consists mainly of the dialogue between the old and new through the proposed "aura" of the phantom- building and its interplay with the power of the wind." (A. Tripodakis) ● There is an architectural vision, innovation and strong aesthetic and environmental intent in the project 110 (N. Kalogirou).

The profit from the dialog that already has been launched is enriched by texts of the participants. In these texts, the reflection on the nature of the tall building, its place in the urban landscape and its importance for environmentally sustainable cities is fully developed. After the competition has been completed, fertile assessments from the architectural community and particularly from Greek -academic and professional- architecture may be done. Four Greek teams were distinguished with B' Mention without any experience in planning tall buildings, proving that architecture in Greece has the human potential so that it will be recognised internationally. In a country where the construction of even a tall building has frozen since more than three decades, the replanning of the tower in Piraeus may give the spark for a more essential line of arguments for the position of tall building in Athens. Both the challenge and the responsibility for the householder of tower are multiple. As a consequence, the unique modern skyscraper in Attic landscape cannot be other than this one located in Piraeus. The competition gave the occasion for the tower to be characterised by designing quality. If the Municipality of Piraeus dares it, the A' Prize can prove that its architectural innovation is applicable.

Manolis Anastasakis
Architect, Head of the competition organisation

See the prizes and the mentions HERE

See the 69 proposals of the 2nd Phase HERE (flip .doc)

See All the submitted proposals (380) of the competition HERE (flip .doc)

Exhibition's Catalogue presenting all the proposals of the competition HERE

Further information on competition's website (proclamation, downloads, etc) HERE

Exhibition Opening in Athens. Speeches (videos & photos) HERE

Workshop HERE

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