Renzo Piano has just finished a new park, library and theatre complex in the Greek capital of Athens following one of the largest donations for a cultural building project ever made.
Located in the Kallithea district in the south of the city the Stavros Niarches Cultural Centre houses the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera, tucked beneath a sloping park and beside a 400-metre-long rectangular lake.
The project was made possible by a $653donation from the Stavros Niarches Foundation – the charity set up after the death of billionaire Greek shipping tycoon Niarchos.
Now the complex is complete, the foundation is handing it as a gift to the Greek state, but will continue to contribute to its upkeep.
Piano was selected for the project following an invited competition in 2008 with the brief to transform a former parking lot left over from the 2004 Olympic Games.
The firm’s first move was to a create a huge artificial hill that rises towards the south end of the site, creating a view of the sea that once lapped the bay of Kallithea but which has long since been pushed out of sight by development and a major highway.
“From our first observations there emerged the idea that by raising the ground – with a slight slope and a progressive course – we could restore the ‘beautiful view’ of Kallithea,” wrote Piano in an essay about the project.
“In that way, without realising it, visitors strolling through the park would find themselves at a height of 30n.”