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Anodic Black: One Athens revisited ― 

The conversion of the Doxiadis building in central Athens into an apartment complex, undertaken by Divercity Architects in 2014, has been a very demanding project. The empty shell of one of the 20th century’s most prominent architecture and urban planning practices has been transformed into a complex of 25 apartments. An iconic example of post-war modern architecture, this radical makeover has created an urban community equipped with private and communal spaces of the highest quality. Making yet another “museum piece” would have been considered a “safe choice” for this project. Instead, the conversion was the result of a carefully elaborated strategy and debate about an alternative approach to architecture, the city, and its history. Almost ten years after the radical makeover of the building, and a second phase of refurbishment that was completed in July 2021 on behalf of Sodia Capital Management, the project now seems fresh as ever.

Construction of the Doxiadis building began in 1957. The project was completed in the 1970s, in four consecutive phases. It was designed by the internationally acclaimed Greek architect and urban planner, Constantinos Doxiadis, as the headquarters for his practice, Doxiadis & Associates, and the Doxiadis School of Technicians. Both the office building and subsequent additions exemplify Doxiadis’ ideas about organic integration into the natural and man-made environment, bioclimatic sustainability, and built-in provisions for future transformation.

When Divercity were assigned the conversion of this abandoned office building into a housing complex in 2008, respect for the building’s history, as well as a visionary strategy for its successful integration into the present and future life of the city, were key considerations. Though imprinted in the collective memory of Athens and globally relevant to the history of 20th century architecture, the building had never been formally listed for preservation. After the dissolution of Doxiadis and Associates, it lay empty on the slopes of Mount Lycabettus, with no prospect of revival. Several interventions over time had significantly altered its initial aspect. Doxiadis himself once famously said that he couldn’t imagine an office building being listed as a monument – eventually, it would have to evolve or perish.

Allowing the original spirit of such a significant building to resurface was both liberating and challenging. The preservation of memory was perceived as an open-ended question: what was to be preserved – whether it had survived, been restored, or damaged – was the building’s inherent architectural quality. The objective was to bring out the best of the original building, while successfully accommodating a new, unexpected interpretation of the space.

The Central Council of Contemporary Monuments granted approval for the conversion with several conditions. First, that the new architecture preserved the escalating volumes that follow the sloping site, organised around the central atrium. Second, the building’s surviving architectural features, such as the round staircases with iron and wooden railings, must be maintained. And finally, the modular grid and infill organization of the facades, which embodied the architectural expression of mid-century modernism, must remain intact. The original concrete structural grid would have to be preserved and restored, while the infill pattern could deviate from the original in three variations that would be consistent with housing, rather than office spaces.

Faced with this challenging brief, Divercity chose to transform the infill façade into a pixelated surface made of three components, each made of a different material. Each “pixel” produces distinctive spatial effects according to functional requirements, through the diffusion of light, the casting of shadows, and the revelation or partial concealment of the spectacular views of Mount Lycabettus and the Acropolis. The private areas of the houses are protected from sight by grey Aliveri marble panels, the material originally used by Doxiadis in the atrium and public spaces. Movable, translucent concrete panels are employed for the first time in Greece to cover semi-private spaces, allowing for a suggestive play of shadows as the silhouettes of moving bodies are projected onto the surface. Glass walls for the living spaces reveal outstanding views of the surrounding hills and urban panorama. On the side facing Mount Lycabettus, glass walls are framed with a thin enclosure that connects the interior space with intimate outdoor sitting areas. As an exception to the rule and a hint at the building’s former incarnation, one of the Doxiadis-designed infill panels has been restored and reinstated on a corner that is visible to passers-by. Thus, the grid and infill pattern is preserved and enhanced through the application of new technologies that did not exist in Doxiadis’ time. Columns and beams covering the characteristic 9-metre spans are straightened to accommodate a slight recess framing the new infill components, further outlining their shape through a thin line of natural shadow.

Outlining and protecting this signature grid and infill pattern was entrusted to AkzoNobel Powder Coatings: The color chosen by the architects, Anodic Black Interpon D2525, gives a sleek, urban impression to the minimal sliding frames, solid balcony enclosures and shading pergolas on the rooftops. Anodic Black is a deep, smooth color emulating the iridescent effects of anodization on metal; however, it is an ecological alternative, a coating without solvents or VOCs emissions, and it has guaranteed sustainability in the course of time. During the second phase of refurbishment, all powder-coated metal architectural components were left untouched and still look good as new. Besides, AkzoNobel Project Guarantees secure excellent color retention and material performance for almost 30 years.

 

Color: Black (RAL 9005) Anodic Collection | Code: YN205E

Photos: Nikos Daniilidis, Color /n Architecture