Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sophistry and the New Acropolis Museum

Last year I visited the New Acropolis Museum in Athens and had some criticism of the design preferring the well proportioned Delphi Museum. However, this was mild compared to the attack mounted by Alexandra Stara in "The New Acropolis Museum: banal, sloppy, badly detailed sophistry" (The Architectural Review, June 2009).

There is something in Stara's comment the banality of the museums spaces. When I visited, the museum had not yet been op opened and so perhaps I forgave the large empty spaces. Staracriticises the building's use of low cost materials, whereas I liked the stripped classicism, including suggestions of Greek columns in modern material. The building is basically a rectangular box with a smaller glass box on top, rotated about 15 degrees to match The Parthenon.

The time it took to build the building was due to finding archaeological ruins underneath (but how could you dig a hold in Athens and not find ruins?) and planning issues with surrounding building, these are not the fault of the architect. Also the critic seems to confuse the architect's rhetoric about the building with the building itself. Many architects are inclined to use flowery language to describe all sort of theoretical concepts not evident in their buildings. Provided the building functions, doesn't fall down and the roof doesn't leak, the designers can be forgiven these literary indulgences.

Stara invokes the name of Plato, accusing the architect of sophistry. However, the word has two meanings, one an illogical argument for deception, the other, older meaning, is wisdom.

ps: See also Curating Architecture and the City by Sarah Chaplin and Alexandra Stara.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Zappeion Athens

National Gardens of Athens a few months ago I came accross the Zappeio, built for the modern Olympics in the 1880s and later for meetings of the European Union. Like old parliament hose Canberra (but much grander), this is now used for conferences and exhibitions.

On the day I was there some office workers were playing a very fast ball game outside and the Republic of Yemen was having a cultural display inside. There is a pleasant looking but expensive restaurant on the south east side of the Zappeio.

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Antikythera mechanism

Antikythera mechanism in the the National Archaeological Museum of AthensThe National Archaeological Museum of Athens was a bit of a disappointment. This holds important artefacts from ancient Greece, but perhaps too many. Any one room of the museum could justify a whole museum in its own right. As a result the impact of individual items is lessened by their quantity. But feeling like I has seen enough old marble I was caught up short by a small corroded piece of metal in a small case. This was the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient mechanical calculator, far more complex than an astrolabe and possibly designed by Archimedes.

Some months ago I attended a talk where the speaker claimed, not completely seriously, how modifications to the design of the Antikythera mechanism were identifiable in the mechanism and these were the world's first known "software upgrade". Seeing the real thing was very exciting.

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New Acropolis Museum

This week ABC TV is featuring the New Acropolis Museum (Greece - Losing their Marbles , Foreign Correspondent, Reporter: Helen Vatsikopoulos, 07/10/2008). Earlier in the year I visited the museum , when only the foyer was open and the exhibits were stacked in crates. The building reminded me of Parliament House Canberra. There is a risk the scale of the building will overwhelm the exhibits.

The building is conveniently located near a metro station at the base of the Acropolis. It is built on concrete columns over an archaeological site, discovered during construction. Glass panels in the floor outside and in the foyer of the building allow the site to be viewed beneath your feet. This can be a little disconcerting. More seriously, the steel mesh in the floor at the front door is open to the site below, so that dirt and debris will fall down and contaminate the site.

The building foyer has good circulation space, but the lack of facilities such as toilets may be a problem. The grandeur of the entrance is spoilt somewhat by a row of ticket turnstiles, making it look like a metro station. In fact some of Athens metro stations look more like museums than the museum does, with materials discovered during metro construction on display.

While large, the building is not overly lavish. There is good use of modern materials in a stripped classicism style, including suggestions of Greek columns in modern material. The building is basically a rectangular box with a smaller glass box on top, rotated about 15 degrees.

When filled with antiquities, the space should work well. But I would have preferred something less grand, such as the more modest, but well proportioned Delphi Museum. Rather than one big building, the resources could have been spent in improving archaeological exhibits accross Greece and in particular on the Acropolis itself. What is needed is better interpretation of the material, particularly using computer based displays.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Hotel Lozanni Athens

I promised the very helpful manager at Hotel Lozanni, Athens that I would recommend his establishment to Hosteling International. It would be a very good hotel, if a few changes were made:
  1. Ban smoking: The staff smoke in the lobby and the guests smoke at the free cyber cafe on the first floor. This makes the public areas unbearable for people sensitive to smoke. This comment of course, applies to most hotels in Greece.
  2. Install some power points: Strangely, while the rooms have air conditioning and TVs, they don't have power points (apart from one up high for the TV). As a result the guests have to recharge their mobile phones in the hallway at the only power point.
The Hotel is also in a "colorful" part of Athens, but as long as you don;t go out alone at night, it is okay.

ps: Thanks to the hotel staff for taking me across the road to the hardware store, so they could cut the jammed lock off my suitcase.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

OLPC in an Athens CyberCafe

Sitting in the Piel Internet Cafe in Greece someone came up and asked if I was using an OLPC. This illustrates the high level of interest in the project.

I was actually using a Twinhead, which is white and much larger than the OLPC. The OLPC project seems to be changing direction, adopting Microsoft Windows in place of Linux. In contrast the ASUS EEE PC seems to be going from strength to strength, perhaps due to not being burdened by considerations of charity and being simply for-profit.

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