Aristide Antonas is a Greek architect that creates ‘speculative’ architectural proposals that comment and critique on social issues surrounding Greece and our contemporary existential meaning. Another way of looking at it, is that he is actually an artist that uses architecture as a means to express his views on society and life, in particular the Greek society of late.
“But we could form landscape languages of remains and see how we can live next to them.” Aristide Antonas
Weak Monument Square (2013) was a design competition entry to create a ‘city square’ or an urban park in the middle of Athens by clearing out several blocks of buildings and surrounding it with scaffolding and fabric; an urban monument by demolition. Its idea was borne from economic collapse; with rows of empty shops on the streets in Athens, Antonas proposed to demolish it all and turn the land into an park.
Somewhat reminiscent of Central Park in Manhattan, it was therefore done in the remembrance of economic failure – a ‘weak’ monument, as opposed to a ‘strong’ one which commemorates strength or success.
But it is different from Central Park in that the building that surrounds the monument is not really a building; it is a building with no function. Its architectonics is reminiscent of the Transformable Vertical Village idea without the actual containers. The central open space is not a park as is the case in New York, but is a monument that commemorates a ruin.
And this ‘ruin’ is a modern one. It is a reminder of the past failed experiment to recreate the glory of the former ‘cradle of western civilization’ that Athens was known for but that had somehow evaporated over time.
Fake Timber House (2005) shows a subterranean apartment with its ‘en plein air’ (roofless) living room located above ground and enclosed with just wood planks, like those used in formwork for concreting.
“buildings are sometimes aggressive; I resist them especially when they desperately want me to worship them.” Aristide Antonas
The house is accessed via a ramp from the hillside which leads to the underground studio space with bedroom, bathroom and study area. The living room is accessed via a cat-ladder and a hole through the roof of the under ground level. It is completely fenced off from the outside with the wood planks; the only view available here is the sky up above.
While the bath and toilet are downstairs, the wash basin strangely is in the living room. The sofa being open to the sky above would need some protection for it to last a while.
Antonas has been fascinated with the infrastructural components of modern Athens, specifically with things such as drainage channel covers, precast concrete covers and metal covers of various sorts from the old Athens metro, all of which have their own pattern of perforations.
These are then ‘stitched’ together to form an eclectic bohemian pattern, like a quilt, which is the basis for a new Greek vernacular, his ‘landscape language of remains’.
Thus the Meteorite Unit (2011) uses these ‘remains’ to completely cover its facade, and since nobody has done that before, it is likened to a ‘meteor’ from outer space falling and landing here. That it is elevated on stilts off the ground further accentuates this, differing from the surrounding urban fabric.
The House For Doing Nothing (2011) is a prototypical design for a house based on a book titled Violence (2008) by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. Here, Zizek provided a commentary and suggestion on how to deal with the perplexing global situation at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, where he suggests the only practical thing to do is to resist the temptation to engage immediately and to ‘wait and see’.
Which in other words, is to do nothing. This is not a place to run to away from the calamity and to wait out the storm, but is in itself a type of response, perhaps just not the normal response. Not to be without irony, Antonas also named it as a responsible house, as this was (is) the correct attitude to have with respect to political responsibility in the current climate of stalemate and never-ending political strife.
The Crane Room (2009) is a similar idea where individuals retreat to their own cubicle room, elevated off the ground by a mobile crane, whose arm also provides water and drainage. Here, units do not have their own kitchen, and must use a communal one located underground. The height of the individual units can also be raised up or down according to the desires of the occupant.
Responding to a dystopic and isolated environment, the works of Aristide Antonas vaguely describes a feeling of surrender. From the walling off of the (man-made) outside world, to the leisurely enjoyment of the pristine Greek natural environment, it is an attitude of both surrender and a waiting for a country’s fortunes to turn.
We see this in the Fake Timber House, where the only room above ground is closed off with wooden planks, in the Meteorite Unit (2011) where the traditional wide balconies are replaced with slits and perforations, and KEG Apartment (2010) which is not really an apartment but a liquid container vehicle fitted with a bed and toilet. Incidentally, why would anyone want to live in the KEG Apartment, unless the immediate outside vicinity has been annihilated, perhaps from a chemical attack, and one is in this truck running for their lives.
Yet within this dark environment, we can see his attempts to create a new techtonic language, a language that doesn’t try to pretend that everything is ok but expresses the current sentiment. By using the remnants of old infrastructural components, whether they be subway panel covers, drainage covers or liquid container vehicles, the idea is to use the old elements of modernity in a new way to foster a new Greek vernacular.
Both the House For Doing Nothing (2011) and The Crane Room (2009) are located in rural, arid, untouched natural land with pristine views of the Aegian Sea. They depict an adherence to Slavoj Zizek’s call for a withdrawal to a secluded place, leading a solitary, isolated existence but simultaneously being connected to others at the same time.
Both also seem to be trying to do away with having exterior walls; in the House For Doing Nothing (2011) the pool has glass side-walls and curtains on the outside, giving new meaning to the word ‘curtain wall’. The Crane Room (2009) also doesn’t seem to have any walls in the front and back but a retractable roof. This appears to be a conscious effort to expose the interior of the house for public ‘consumption’ as promogated in Beatriz Colomina’s book Skinless Architecture (2008).
As our lives are becoming more and more intertwined with technology and inter-connectivity, Colomina’s point is that the architectural avant-garde has responded by increasingly blurring the line between interior and exterior of a building, to the point where the inside becomes the outside and its ‘building-ness’ is indistinguishable. This also corresponds to Colomina’s view that architecture is also one of the various ‘media’ in itself, as it displays the interior ‘event’ of habitation.