Since the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis more and more cities around the world present a degraded social and urban fabric. On their effort to transcend economic recession, policy makers treat the urban space as a mere vehicle for economic growth. This is when the capitalistic mode of production of space is set in motion. Privatization, deregulation and withdrawal of the state from the provision of social services are the first line of defense of defaulted economies[i].
Ten kilometers south of downtown Athens lays Hellinikon, the old international airport of Athens that ceased its operation in 2001. After thirteen years of faulty visions for a Metropolitan Park, its 626 Ha remain mostly unexploited; but, not entirely. Despite the ongoing crisis and the recent acquisition of Hellinikon by a multi-national investment conglomerate, a handful of people have activated Hellinikon, celebrating the public urban land as platform for social prosperity. Voluntary tree planting, a Community Clinic, a Civil Aviation Museum, and a Self-Managed Urban Farm have become the symbols of resistance against the privatization of the former airport. But are those spontaneous and small-scale interventions bold enough to address a citywide problem?
THE COLLECTIVE SUPERSTRUCTURE
The hypothesis of the project is that the answer to the question of unexploited land within the context of a city in crisis is the urbanization of existing grassroots initiatives. In order for those social forces to resist the dominance of traditional developmental practices and have a meaningful impact on the city at large, they need to strategically occupy the available land. Based on the influential theories of Autonomy[ii][iii], the “Right to the City”[iv][v], and De-Growth[vi], this urban design proposal investigates the scalar shift of existing bottom-up practices into a radical community that denounces economic growth and relies on its own resources and its self-institution; a Collective Superstructure[vii] (Figure 02, 03). This ambiguous title (Collective and Superstructure) expresses the assumption that a project on autonomy cannot happen randomly or entirely unplanned. There needs to be a scheme that can predict and dictate the urban capacity of the given land. The structure of this new community is based on four strategies:
The agricultural production is the driving force behind this strategy of Urban Autonomy, and the Agricultural Belt, is the main tool for the community’s self-sufficiency in food (Figure 05). The Urban Patch is the urbanization vehicle of the Collective Superstructure. The patches are city sectors defined in size and shape whose role is to control growth, achieve the overall self-sufficiency of the community, and manage the water resources (Figure 6.a).
The Metropolitan Community Clinic is proof that basic social provision is possible through voluntary, collective work. This project envisions an expansion of this social model, where the have-nots gain access to housing, employment, and a safe urban environment. The Community Centers are the hubs of this strategy and their role is to provide incoming settlers with basic amenities, define general urban form, and sustain the Water Management System (Figures 6.c, 07). Finally, these structures together with a maze-like street network provide a defensive mechanism for the squadrons against attempts of land acquisition from would-be investors or even the formal state (Figure 6.b).
The environmental infrastructure is driven by the intention to reconnect the adjacent mountain to the waterfront and has a dual goal; firstly, to provide the community with the natural resources for its self-sufficiency, and secondly, to give back to the city the long-anticipated metropolitan park and waterfront.
With the Aviation Museum, local communities paved the way for a generalized re-use of the former airport’s decommissioned facilities. The hard surfaces of the former airport will gradually be relocated to the waterfront, as the community grows, transforming it into a safe place for swimming, fishing and recreation. Extensions of existing transportation networks, and the re-use of the former runway, establish a domestic transportation system. Finally, the existing facilities are being repurposed for the administrational and cultural needs of the new community (Figure 09).
Urban utopias usually denounce or avoid the clash between the traditional and the alternative city. This is pointless. It is not enough to develop a new way to build our cities. We also have to make sure that the old models dissolve. This is why the present proposal insists on the deployment of the autonomous community within the city of Athens, and onto Hellinikon, a property with excessive capitalistic value. The Collective Superstructure is an urban design narrative for a renewed perception of spatial justice in the post-crisis city.
[i] Komninos, “Hellinikon: Tactics of Capital Urbanization and the Collective Superstructure,” 139.
[ii] Castoriadis, “The Retreat from Autonomy.”
[iii] Aureli and Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, The Project of Autonomy Politics and Architecture within and against Capitalism.
[iv] Lefebvre, Le Droit a La Ville.
[v] Harvey, Rebel Cities.
[vi] Latouche, Farewell to Growth.
[vii] Komninos, “Hellinikon and the Question of the Large Urban Void.”
Aureli, Pier Vittorio, and Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture. The Project of Autonomy Politics and Architecture within and against Capitalism. New York: Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture : Princeton Architectural Press, 2008.
Belavilas Nikos, Soureli Konstantina, Vatavali Fereniki, and Kalatzopoulou Maria. Basic Planning & Design Principles for the Creation of the Metropolitan Green Park at the Former Hellinikon International Airport of Athens - Summary of Research Findings and Key Proposal Points. Athens: National Technical University of Athens, Department of Urban and Regional Planning - Urban Environment Laboratory, January 2011.
Castells, Manuel. The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements. 7. Univ of California Press, 1983.
Castoriadis, Cornelius. “The Retreat from Autonomy: Post-Modernism as Generalised Conformism.” Democracy & Nature 7, no. 1 (2001): 17–26. doi:10.1080/10855660020028764.
Harvey, David. Rebel Cities : From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. New York: Verso, 2012.
Komninos, Aristodimos. “Hellinikon and the Question of the Large Urban Void.” SMArchS Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology - School of Architecture and Planning, 2013.
———. “Hellinikon: Tactics of Capital Urbanization and the Collective Superstructure.” In GLOBALIZING ARCHITECTURE / Flows and Disruptions, 1:139–49. Miami, FL: ACSA Press, 2014.
Latouche, Serge. Farewell to Growth. Cambridge; Malden, MA: Polity, 2009.
Lefebvre, Henri. Le Droit a La Ville: Suivi de Espace et Politique. [Paris]: Anthropos, 1972.
Soja, Edward W. Seeking Spatial Justice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.
Sorkin, Michael. Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space. New York: Hill and Wang, 1992.
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HELLINIKON and the Question of the Large Urban Void