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Tasis Papaioannou. PIRAEUS TOWER 2010

13 September, 2010

Tasis Papaioannou. PIRAEUS TOWER 2010

Even a competition of "Ideas" like this one could not but propose solutions to real problems...

By Tasis Papaioannou

Greek version

The competition "PIRAEUS TOWER 2010 - changing the face/facade" cannot be considered but absolutely successful, mainly because of the huge attendance, but also of the perfect organisation by the colleagues of the electronic magazine "greekarchitects". This big attendance declares the architects interest internationally for the Architectural Competitions, but at the same time it reveals the big unemployment that -unfortunately- exists in our domain during the last years.

The "Tower" of Piraeus, a representative example of tall building of the '70s with long history, has remained uninhabited all these years. And this is the most tragic that can be occurred in an architectural work independent of its architectural value, namely tha fact that is empty of persons! I would say that the most important contribution of this competition and its organizers is that it points out the need for habiting the building, so that it will be called "live cell" in the city of Piraeus and not such for "changing its face". In my opinion, the change of faces and its general modernisation aimed at the functioning of the tall building in the centre of port of Piraeus (under the condition that some important issues have been checked by the responsible institutions, such as the static sufficiency of this body, the passive fire safety, the minimum tax burden of traffic in the region etc), carrying out a new and important operation both via new uses that would be accommodated there and as important landmark in the broader urban web. The façade alteration could not therefore be only a new "cladding" without any proposal of using this empty shell. Otherwise, we would just speak about "stage design" without content which of course would not ensure the above central objective. For this reason, solutions that proposed respective uses-operations for its internal spaces apart from the change of exterior wrapping were interesting, without something like that being clear mentioned in the requirements of the competition.

Even a competition of "Ideas" like this one could not but propose solutions to real problems, solutions that in a next phase would also take their final shape. These proposals are innovative and simultaneously realistic. And I do not mean that constructional solution of proposals that was submitted was essential, but that these proposals could convince that they could be implemented without problems and that they do not create new, even more complex problems. The insistence, therefore, of some colleagues and my personal insistence in the above admission was not for vague and nebulous reasons of "obsession" in constructional solutions or for the building art, but in the conviction that the awarded entries could be implemented and in the prospect for the A' Award to be a reality, so that the "Tower" of Piraeus will be functioned.

I am wondering how are we able to judge an architectural project if we don't imagine it implemented in this particular place and time? What type of architectural criticism would be this one if we just faced it as sculptural object, as "artwork" and not as a space of life?

Each research and each experiment have values in the architecture, when it has the space of life as main objective, even if some times it looks at first glance utopian. Consequently, we can not consider the architectural space as just an esthetic object or attribute to it vague characterisations such as "dreamy", "poetic" etc. The value of architectural project is that it must respond to concrete and real needs. I believe that the most essential and vital role of architecture -this one that makes it exist- is the provision of solutions to real and vital problems of city and persons, beyond a barren formalism, especially in a difficult period like ours, where the spectacle and the consumerism of picture has been devastating for the architecture and not only.

For this reason we had assumed important responsibility against our hundred colleagues who took part in the competition and tried to respond to many architectural questions set up by this competition. Besides, we must remember that not all poems are good and many dreams lead up to nightmares at the end.

I had declared from the beginning to Mr Mistrioti (before the competition notice) my second thought regarding the fact that the judgment process would be held exclusively via the internet, without the live discussion, thoughts and opinions exchange, between the members of the jury (something that other colleagues pointed out later during the judgment process as well). He then explained to me that insurmountable organisational and economical problems were present (mainly as far as the foreign colleagues and their possibility of coming in Greece are concerned). I considered it absolutely reasonable. I would not say however that for this reason the jury chose the submitted entries.

During the judgment process (at the final stage in particular) two tendencies were predominant between the jury. Our colleague, Mr Tripodakis, mentioned this point as well locating the problem mainly in the lack of criteria which should have been set up at the initial phase of process of evaluation of entries. The question however is still the same: does the existence of criteria ensure the fact that all members of the jury will take them into consideration (and particularly in the same way), since many times -as the experience has shown- something like that is violated? Let's see an example: the "environmental character" of the proposal was used by some members of the jury in order to support the solution that they proposed for first award and for the same exactly reason other members of the jury did not vote it, considering that it presents big environmental problems. The same criterion hence was used positively in the first case and negatively in the second case for the same solution.

It is worth mentioning that different approaches between the members of the jury are absolutely normal - not to say necessary. And that because we do not share all the same points of view for architecture. We do not judge on the basis of same criteria, giving priority in everything that we consider important and essential. And this fact should not afraid us or puzzle us. On the contrary, we have to consider it normal in such an expanded jury. Finally, the choice -for the A' Award- of the proposal that we would like to see it implemented in this case was of significant importance for anyone of us. And I believe that this is what every member of the jury desires not only this competition.

In every architectural competition the jury is in charge of the difficult role and the responsibility for the final choice. This responsibility was much bigger in this competition because of the big attendance and the plenty of different approaches. This responsibility, beyond anything else (evaluation of proposals, awarding of prizes, mentions etc), creates inevitably architectural models in particular for the new generations of architects through our final choices. In the competition -except of our notable colleagues from Greece and abroad- many academic teachers participated as well as members of the jury, whose responsibility was double because of the above reasons. We owed, therefore, to persuasively and clearly respond to all participants and to the architectural community and to justify our choice for these particular proposals. Nevertheless, we had to respond to the citizens of Piraeus who were waiting for a serious solution to the chronic problem of the abandoned "Tower".

380 proposals were submitted in total that answered in a widest spectrum of reflection and that could schematically be grouped in the following categories, without obviously losing the independence and the particularity of their main concept:

a) Investment of faces with minimal interventions, keeping intact the synthetic and constructional structure of the building.

b) Addition of a perimetric area in the building, the exterior limit of which was the exterior face of building in first level, while in second level was the internal face that was identified with the level of existing face.

c) Addition of small-secondary volumes in the main building.

d) Addition-completion of basic volume either by width or by height.

e) Big interventions/additions radically changing both the synthetic and static structure of the building.

f) Effort for creation of a signal/symbol in an unsophisticated and bad way, touching in some cases the limits of kitsch.

In my opinion, the proposals of the first two categories are of significant interest because they took into consideration and "followed" the synthetic and mainly the constructional/static structure of this building. In other words, these solutions could easily be implemented keeping intact the body of the building and proposing at the same time new uses for the existing "shell".

The basic objective was the sun protection of the building via innovative (even experimental) proposals that would persuasively respond to this problem. What is more, another main objective was the accentuation of the building and its indication as landmark in the biggest port-"entry gate" of the country.

After the judgment process had been over and after the two prevailing proposals (No 110 and No 311) had been selected after repeated votes, our colleague A.Wood opened a interesting discussion which we continued (agreeing with his reflections and remarks), concerning the value of these proposals and whether they should be awarded. This emerged also from the previous phase of voting (between the 6 prevailing proposals and the other 6 that followed) where solutions of high, in my opinion, interest were not present and they could be distinguished, as I had previously mentioned. The following vital question has been again in the surface: which type of solutions we choose to be awarded and which one will achieve the first award?

The above question was indeed crucial in combination of course with whether or not feasibility of the awarded proposals was indispensable term of the competition. On the answer of the above question the evaluation of the submitted proposals would be automatically depend. In fact, this is a wider and very important question and it does not concern only in this particular competition, but also in the way of considering the architecture. If thus the feasibility of proposals which will be awarded was one of the objectives of the organizers and I do believe that it was (see notice, possibility of choice of structurable materials of a particular company etc), then the two solutions (No 110 and 311) did not achieve this objective. Of course some colleagues believed exactly the opposite and for this reason they obviously voted it.

I personally believe (other colleagues mentioned it afterwards) that it was exceptionally difficult the judgment of abstract and unclear proposals which "undermined" any architectural criterion that could be set up, taking finally into consideration only the powerful and symbolic content of proposal or its poetic dimension. For the above reasons, I considered that no one of the two solutions should have received the A' Award (even if they differ a lot between each other and they are not of the same value). I also believe that they are ambiguous proposals, but even in the ideal case that somebody would find the way for implementing them, they would create much more problems than they supposed to resolve (e.g. our colleagues Wood, Stassinopoulos and Tripodakis accurately point out some of these problems). Furthermore, it had no point to vote for one proposal between the final two that did not meet the criteria that I set up.

I thought, therefore, that it was better to permit my colleagues to vote in the final stage between the proposals that they had selected respecting their opinion which though I could not accept since I radically disagreed! Consequently, it was practically impossible for me to participate in the final phase of voting between the two prevailing solutions and so I was not present in the process.

I propose the following order of classification:

For A' award, the entry with code 496

For B' award, the entry with code 656

For C' award, the entry with code 110

For A' Mention, I propose 3 entries with the codes 182, 293 and 311.

Between the 6 proposals, I propose for A' Award the proposal with code 496, because of its inventive and simple solution of investment of faces of the "Tower" that achieves the sun protection of the building and because of the interest that its altered faces present during the day, constituting at the same time a representative landmark at the port of Piraeus. I am afraid that in the case of implementing the proposal, the final manufacture may be both very complex and heavy so that it can stand up to the wind pressure because of its high height. Moreover, I do not know how it will behave during the time. However, I would like to add that between the finalist proposals, these ones that in my opinion could achieve awards are absent. Consequently, the order of classification that I propose for the awards and mentions reveals my opinion for the evaluation between them, rather than the proposals I would propose between all the other attendances.

Tassis Papaioannou, Architect

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