Private Residence | Acropolis – Athens

Built in the 1930’s, the existing residence in the center of Athens accommodated three generations of the first owner’s family. In its original configuration, it comprised of a basement and an elevated ground floor and was surrounded by a garden that was not visible from the street. In a humble manner, the front façade carried vestiges of neoclassical architecture like the wooden double door of the front entrance with its openings, the cornices that segregate the neoclassical facades horizontally, the roof parapet with its symmetrical corner pillars and the consecutive wall shadow gaps. The two metal gates on either side of the façade on Mitsaion street, displaying bold geometrical shapes, most probably belonged to the Art Deco style period. Lacking any heavy neoclassical ornamentation and expensive wall cladding materials, the original facades, in a faded yellow-beige color with light blue window frames did not project any sense of luxury. Furthermore, the evident disproportions of the width versus height of the building volume and of its facades’ openings, attest to the lack of a preliminary architectural study. The building however undoubtedly stood in this neighborhood with pride for almost a century.

Behind the front entrance, the usual marble staircase led up to the elevated ground floor. Enclosed entirely within the walls of the vestibule, the entryway staircase was isolated from the ground floor level by a three-pane glass door. The house possessed the inherent anatomy of a neoclassical residence, where the rooms are located radially around the perimeter of a central hall. On the ground floor one would discover high ceiling reception areas, while on the basement there were half lit chambers with ubiquitous dampness on the wall surfaces. The interior contained no other noteworthy architectural elements but the plastered ceilings that exhibited elegant motifs with geometrical reliefs and curved edges. A plain wooden staircase, evidently damaged by time, would connect the two floors. On its landing, access to the back garden was provided by a secondary exterior door.

Undoubtedly once an oasis in the Athenian city center, the back garden (around 200 sq.m.) was absolutely neglected and the vegetation would allow no access nor navigation around the outdoor premises. An outhouse stood in the southwestern corner of the garden which served as a garage at the time when the house was built, although today it would be considered out of scale to serve this purpose. The terrace of the outhouse would provide the only unobstructed view of the residence’s back façade and an overhead view of its garden. An exterior metal revolving staircase attached to the back façade of the main house led up to an unused roof top from where one could enjoy the western view of the Acropolis Museum, which is located across the street from the house.

A summary of early twentieth century Athenian urban lifestyle was offered by studying this residence, admittedly different from today’s urban life in the capital and the aim was precisely that: for this house to accommodate a contemporary large family, following the addition of a floor and a radical renovation of the existing ones. The new floor would allow for the reconfiguration of the family life structure within the home due to the fact that the bedrooms would be relocated on that upper new floor and the basement space could be taken by secondary uses, as is usual in any newly erected residential project. The back garden could be rejuvenated upon specific interventions and the addition of foliage to become a courtyard similar to the ones found in suburban houses within which a car can also be parked. Ultimately, the new floor would also bestow the residence with its greatest privilege that was not a prerequisite for this project: the new roof top would be granted with an unobstructed view of the Acropolis Monument.

Structurally, the proposal included the reinforcement of the stonework, so that the existing building could provide support for the additional floor. Engineered grout injections were executed throughout the existing loadbearing stone walls resulting in the formation of a compact wall mass of uniform behavior upon those interventions. The existing interior brick walls were also reinforced through the application of armed coating, again based on the structural engineering design. Finally, the additional floor construction followed which included a steel frame structure and a reinforced concrete slab.

Taken that the existing stone walls were not thermally insulated and that all newly configured spaces would be heated, the mechanical engineering design entailed the covering of all exterior wall surfaces with a thermal façade layer. Originally the house did not possess a heating system and was not even connected to the city’s central sewage system. Indicatively, today the residence is equipped with an underfloor heating and cooling system, a central air-conditioning system for heating and cooling with independent controls for each room, thermal break steel window frames with unbreakable glass panes and LED low energy consumption lighting throughout, while all spaces are also naturally lit and ventilated. Furthermore, a KNX home automation system is installed, managing all household functions such as lighting, heating and cooling, shading, audiovisual and security systems.

As far as the architecture is concerned, there was no intention to disrupt the style of the facades. On the contrary, the design proposal aimed at enhancing the existing neoclassical composition of the facades by adding elements that were considered as missing, while maintaining the simplicity and humbleness characteristic of the original expression. The base strip of the building was dressed in a brushed Euboean grey marble, as was traditionally the case in neoclassical facades. In the elevated ground floor part of the façade, the horizontal consecutive wall shadow gaps were replicated, again in consistency with the neoclassical order. Chamfered-edge solid marble frames, made out of the same marble, emphasize the three most dominant façade openings: the main entrance, the three new openings of the front façade at 1st floor level and the new vertical window of the back façade that provides natural light throughout the open well staircase.

The exterior doors and gates of the courtyard were replicated and repositioned in place. Similarly, the new window frames are a design copy of the originals but were made out of steel, in order to achieve a considerably narrow mullion cross-section. Steel window fences were added in all the basement openings to provide an additional layer of protection but also because they were considered a missing element of the original architecture. Dark anthracite metal sheets frame every window in order to highlight the sense of depth of all openings. The color palette and exterior surfaces, in juxtaposed earthy tones of grey and beige with rough textures, is inspired by Milanese building facades. The composition is made up of stony marble, sable metal and an uneven wall surface.

In consistency with the architecture of the facades, the design approach of the interior also aimed at a contemporary, elegant aesthetic with clear references to the Athenian neoclassical residence of the 1930’s. The interior anatomy was maintained intact and was repeated on the new first floor, while the open well staircase now connects all floors continuously from basement to the roof top. Vertical steel elements, have replaced the traditional balustrade of a staircase, but also support the independent steps, each one having a tread made of a solid piece of white Dionysos marble. In the main living spaces and the bedrooms, an oak wood floor succeeds the white marble floors of the entrance hall. At ground floor level, the old glass pane door of the vestibule has been replaced by a newly designed metal one. In that main entrance space, the pattern of the former gypsum ceiling was carved out of an oak wood surface and still makes part of the interior architecture. In the remaining spaces, the rough textured grey ceilings made of a granite powder coating create the impression of a sculpted stone surface and their pronounced carved-edge pays tribute to the old ceiling design. The bathroom walls also exhibit white marble mosaic surfaces in the style of the popular techniques of that period.

There was no clear suggestion with respect to the original uses of each room. The new interior configuration reflects the exclusive requirements of the new owners and would probably satisfy the lifestyle of most contemporary families. On the ground floor, the kitchen takes up the largest room as it is the essential living space for the owners and it is separated by the adjacent dining room by a full-height sliding glass door with mullions that disappears into the wall. The living room, cloakroom and a visitor’s WC are located on the symmetrically opposite side of the entrance hall. The centerpiece staircase leads up to the first floor, where the bedrooms, dressing rooms and bathrooms are located, and ultimately to the roof top level with its outdoor kitchen and wooden deck. In the elevated basement one finds secondary use spaces and a guest room with an independent entrance. Finally, the ground level garden design was inspired by the courtyards of the early twentieth century urban residences. A water element, a longitudinal solid wood dining table, a couple of pergolas and the surviving bougainvilleas and orange trees are surrounded by marble paving blocks. In addition, by removing the plaster from the existing perimeter stone wall of the site, the house now is bestowed with an authentic stone background wall. At the corner of the site, the outhouse is also fully renovated.

Upon completion of the project, one could argue that this residence is granted with a different kind of morphological authenticity, even if its architecture is based on a preexisting structure and a former architectural style. Without excess, regarding both its aesthetic and its scale, it has been designed to satisfy the needs of the contemporary family, but also to respect the urban “μέτρο” of the Athenian capital as it was originally conceived.

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Project Title: Private Residence – Acropolis – Athens
Location: Acropolis Neighborhood, Athens, Greece
Architecture: Anastasia G. Filippeou
Structural Engineering Design: Panagiotis Panagiotopoulos & Associates
Mechanical & Electrical Engineering Design: JEPA – Ι. Papagrigorakis & Associates
Landscape Architecture: Karolos Chanikian – Greenways Landscape Architecture LTD
Lighting Design: FOSS Lighting Design
Construction & General Project Management: Urban Systems
Surface Area: Interiors 382,30sq.m. (on three floors) – Roof Garden 127,40sq.m. –
Site Surface Area: 363,90sq.m.
Construction Duration: May 2018 – September 2019
Photography: Vassilis K. Makris