Greece is not a common first choice for an international practice – neither as a base, nor as a site. There are the inconsistencies of the physical and political infra-structures; the burden of an ancient culture with a golden age commonly seen as long past; the widespread acceptance of engineers undertaking design work; the repetitive urban and village typologies; and, currently making headlines around the world, a government debt so dire that Greek sovereignty itself is debated. Together these problems mark a field of tension with oppositions that are real, weighty and unavoidable. Athenian firm Point Supreme Architects ground its practice on these very oppositions. As winners of Europan 10 Trondheim, this approach will be one to watch.
Australian architect Beth Hughes has chosen Greece and Point Supreme as her base, leaving Rotterdam in 2009 to partner with Konstantinos Pantazis and Marianna Rentzou. A graduate of UTS, Hughes worked with Lacoste+Stevenson Architects on its relocation of the Sydney City Library into Customs House at Circular Quay. Her interest in cultural sites continued through her leader-ship role on OMA’s Redevelopment of Commonwealth Institute, London. Hughes remained with Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture for four years, and it was there that she met Pantazis and Rentzou.
Without Greek ancestry or language – and making the decision to stay within days of arriving in Athens – this was purely a practice-driven move for Hughes. “My main motivation for being in Greece is the collaboration,” she says. Point Supreme has a clearly articulated philosophy, with a strong emphasis on collaborative practice. Taking its name from André Breton’s second manifesto for surrealism, Point Supreme deliberately introduces oppositional elements into its work. This is not a dialectical move; they do not propose one resolution, but rather, they allow contradictions to coexist as something permanently constitutive of the spaces they create.
A delightful case in point is the Pizza Perez restaurant in Syracuse, Italy. Recognizing pizza as a compositional problem with numerous elements, Point Supreme devotes an entire wall to a modernist taxonomy of neat lines and coloured circles, with a reference guide matching colours to toppings. The design has the sophistication of a complex urban transit plan – and then, dominating the entire wall opposite, a zebra.
Point Supreme’s award-winning Europan entry Proscenium was praised by the jury for its “strong contrasts” and “surprising discoveries.” Featuring a centralized public space against a residential periphery, it includes an exaggerated ramp as site-level correction and public space access, and a spiral amphitheatre that doubles as a marketplace.
Back in Athens, Point Supreme’s projects consistently articulate the firm’s philosophy – a direct engagement of the contemporary condition. “There are very few people doing that here,” says Hughes. The burden of history and the even greater weight of the present are too readily rejected, while for Point Supreme they are imperative. Their student housing competition entry Metaxourgeio challenges the conventional low-rise apartment (πολυκατοικία) by creating much-needed Athenian public space at ground level, folding green space into the structure just as Proscenium’s ramp enfolds its communities. The small-budget Six D.O.G.S., a cafe and art space, challenges the πολυκατοικία horizontally instead of vertically, puncturing five ground-level spaces to create a single volume of multiple textures and possibilities.
Ongoing research projects such as Athens Representation, Legitimization 1 and 2, and House Resale Value make Athens itself the site and the base of Point Supreme’s work. Point Supreme challenges contemporary theorists, policy-makers and practitioners to take the Greek condition seriously as a productive field demanding timely, site-specific responses. “Our practice in another city would have generated architecture that was a foregone conclusion,” says Hughes. “We feel that in amongst this history and chaos interesting things can grow.”
Point Supreme Architects
Published online: 1 Jun 2010
Words: Esther Anatolitis
Images: Alberto Moncada, Giorgos Andreakis, John Karahalios, Panagiota Karastergiou, Yannis Drakoulidis
Artichoke, June 2010