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Greek architect Nikos Tountas exhibits > University of Miami September 17, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Exhibitions, Hellenic Light Americas.

The work of the Greek architect Nikos Tountas is poetry, in many ways, spare and yet lush.

This is eloquent, evocative architecture that, like poetry, depends on structure, language, metaphor, allusion, and does so with only a few repeated elements. His work tells long stories about the history and culture of a single, little-known Greek island called Kea.

Tountas is little-known outside of Greece, indeed outside of Athens and the tiny island where he has worked over the past two decades, and indeed, he might have remained that way, comparatively obscure. A random question at a dinner party changed that.

Tountas was educated at Cornell University, where his roommate was the architect Jose Gelabert-Navia, the Managing Director of the Miami office of Perkins & Will and an associate professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture. Last spring, Gelabert-Navia took a group of students to Greece and renewed his friendship with his former roommate. At dinner one night, Gelabert-Navia asked, ”Where is your office?” And Tountas replied, ”Right here,” pointing to a room in his own house.

Gelabert-Navia was moved and inspired by what he saw of Tountas’ work and determined to bring it to wider attention. The reasons are many, starting with the extraordinary beauty of the architecture. The houses, says Gelabert-Navia, are all sustainable, all belong to a specific place. And in an era when we all should be asking questions about what is the right way to build, these simple houses in a faraway place offer both inspiration and instruction.

Tountas’ work is the subject of an exhibition at the University of Miami School of Architecture, and Tountas will be in Miami for a week that will culminate in a lecture on his work on October 5. The exhibition, on view at the architecture school’s Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center runs through October 6.

Kea is a rugged, picturesque island in the northern Cyclades, an island that boasted a thriving population of 70,000 in classical antiquity and then declined; until recently, when summer visitors began rediscovering it, the island’s population was little more than 1,500, and it has now just doubled. Kea is an island of terraced hillsides and fertile soil. Viniculture (the red wine of Kea is well-known), barley-growing and pig-farming dominate the economy.

Even in ancient times when elsewhere in Greece the buildings were far more elaborate, Spartan rules forbade the use of ornament in Kea. That is pertinent here, in that Tountas’ houses are minimalist in many ways, a reflection on centuries of tradition. It is not the luminous white architecture, with its blue trim, that we think of when we envision a Greek IslandSantorini, perhaps, or Mykonos. This is a much different aesthetic, a vernacular true to its location and history, and yet it is somehow just as romantic. Almost every place has, or had, an equivalent; in Miami one could point to the exquisite and highly endangered coral rock houses, or to the last vestiges of those pioneer dwellings built of ship salvage and driftwood.

The work on view is all residential and mostly single-family. Tountas relies on local materials, slate, lime made from burned marble, clay, and ocher from the land, but varies the theme. The first house he did on the island, one for himself and his family, was actually the restoration of an old farmhouse, but that led to other commissions to build anew in the same motif.

The work on view includes houses, among them the Craddock House, the Givon House, the Transfilis House, for a number of Europeans, as well as some Greek nationals. Each in its own way is more dramatic than the last, sited to maximize the views and yet, at the same time, seem integral to the landscape.

Gelabert-Navia, working with recent graduate, and now a Perkins & Will employee, Juan Mullerat and funding from the firm, used computer manipulation to give the photographs a kind of watercolor wash, imbuing them with an otherworldly sensibility. They are very alluring.

The exhibition is not so much about an individual house as about a body of work, focused on a singular place and on ideas of building in such a place. It is clear from viewing the images that these are houses that were both designed and crafted, and that the craft imbues the design with its importance, which in our times is quite the opposite of what usually happens.

When architecture becomes metaphor, it must tell a whole story in a single phrase. The work on view here may seem deceptively simple, but the work of Nikos Tountas speaks volumes about a way of designing that, in a world of technological advances, ersatz materials, computerized design, not to mention living, is too often overlooked. We rise above the Earth and look down on it, and it all loses reality, allowing us to forget that the land, and what is in it and on it, is the very reason we’re all here.

The Work of Nikos Tountas on the Island of Kea in the Cyclades, Greece
Where: University of Miami, Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center Gallery
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; through October 6. Lecture by Nikos Tountas, Work on the Island of Kea in the Cyclades, Greece at 6:30 p.m. October 5
How much: Free Info: 305 284 3438

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