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Glass buildings not appropriate for Athens January 26, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece.
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The Atelier residential complex in New York  The Atelier residential complex at West 42nd Street in New York City.

Costas Kondylis says he would also like to do some work in Greece and is most inspired by the site of the former Athens airport at Hellenikon. ‘It is the best plot of land in Europe and the best opportunity for something new in Athens and hence Europe,’ he said. Comparing it to Canary Wharf in London and La Defense in Paris, he sees the old airport land as ‘the ideal location for a commercial center with office skyscrapers that can become a focal point for foreign companies as well so that Athens can become the financial center of the Balkans and Middle East.’

You have not worked in Greece so far. Why is that?

I would like to do something important for the country, which is why I haven’t done anything yet. I don’t want to return and compete with other architects. As it is, there is a lot of talent in Greece. I would like to offer something based on the experience I have gained in America, and New York in particular.

Such as?

Something that would arouse my architectural imagination is the site of Hellenikon, the former Athens airport. It is the best plot of land in Europe and the best chance for something new in Athens and hence Europe. I am not being vague. A whole community of skyscrapers, the Canary Wharf, turned London into the financial center of Europe. The same occurred in Paris with La Defense. New commercial centers were created without spoiling or degrading these cities, providing new areas for business to develop. The old airport, therefore, is the ideal location for a commercial center with office skyscrapers that could become a focal point for foreign companies as well so that Athens can become the financial center of the Balkans and Middle East. I have images in my mind that could form a harmonious whole. For example, an Olympic square with an Olympic Torch lit permanently in the middle, green spaces between the buildings, passageways to provide easy access to the sea, creating the Copacabana of Athens, hotels, apartment blocks, schools…

How feasible is all this?

In Greece at the moment everyone is so concerned with their everyday problems that no one can see the development of the country in the long term. The long term is of no political interest. After a four-year term you want to have a project to present and you can’t leave an important work unfinished. We need a politician with vision. We think we can get by with tourism but it’s not enough. Large-scale works need political and entrepreneurial guts.

Business pluck is not lacking in the Greeks; I see it in New York every day. This, though, is restricted to companies and not the civil service. All Greek politicians are afraid of making big decisions in case they are criticized.

It is possible to realize what I have envisioned. I could see myself as a symbol in such a situation. I am not interested in making money in Greece. I am quite busy here as it is. But I would like to offer something to Greece.

In terms of aesthetics, what have skyscrapers got to do with the Attica landscape?

I have seen several glass buildings in Athens that are good but nothing fantastic. I agree that glass buildings or buildings with mirrors are not appropriate for the Athenian climate. In Athens I can see more buildings with stone and glass. I do not exclude glass buildings from the city but I don’t think they are ideal for Greece.


Costas Kondylis > The architect January 26, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece.
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An architect with a vision and clout

Costas Kondylis was born in the Belgian Congo, where his father was an exceptionally successful merchant.

He finished junior high school at the Classical Lyceum Anavryton in Maroussi, Greece. He did postgraduate studies in Geneva and New York, where he has lived and worked for the last 35 years.

He has been honored for his work by the New York Society of Architects and has been granted an honorary doctorate by The Ioannina University in Greece.

Kondylis is responsible for the construction of more than 60 skyscrapers in Manhattan, including the tallest residential building in the world, the World Trump Tower.

He recently joined forces with his daughter Alexia, now in charge of the subsidiary company Costas Kondylis & Partners LLP, Kondylis Design, to renovate New York’s landmark hotel, the Plaza. He has another daughter, Katerina, and a granddaughter, Stella.

The Greek who shaped New York’s skyline and urban aesthetics January 26, 2007

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Costas Kondylis, the Greek who helped shape New York’s skyline and urban aesthetics > One of the most successful architects in the US, the Congo-born, Athens-raised visionary combines creativity with a tough business sense

Costas Kondylis, the Greek architect  Costas Kondylis in front of the historic Plaza Hotel in New York City, which is being renovated by Kondylis Design.

‘My design studio is a creation of a dream I had, an area where we have time and freedom to dream architecturally and not be under the pressure of clients, time and deadlines,’ he explained. With over 50 skyscrapers to his name, Costas Kondylis has been a key player in shaping New York City’s skyline and modern urban aesthetics. 

You have some of the most important and famous buildings in the world to your credit. Is there anything else you would like to prove?

Every week I feel as though I’m sitting exams. What I have achieved is not enough. The moment you pause is when you decline. What I am engaged in now is how to proceed to something bigger, more beautiful and more modern. My design studio is a creation of a dream I had, an area where we have time and freedom to dream architecturally and not be under the pressure of clients, time and deadlines. There were just four of us when we started out but now we are 25 people conducting studies. That is the creative aspect of our work.

How do you plan a project?

When we undertake a project we dream for a few weeks. I have the luxury to think, to imagine the building in relation to its environment, to decide whether I want something that complements or contrasts with the surroundings. We live in a highly capitalistic society where the financial aspect plays a major role. The key to success is I think to use design characteristics that maximize the value of a building. I consider design to be an added value. I also take into account the way of life, requirements and image the person who buys one of my buildings wants to project. Thirdly, I estimate what sort of investment the building will be. I want to be certain that the buyer, if they wish to sell in two of three years’ time, will not lose money and might even gain.

Do all these factors restrict your creativity?

This is where the strength and skill of the architect lies, to be able to produce a good piece of architecture while subjected to restrictions. It’s easy for someone to give you complete freedom to do what you want. What is difficult is creating an environment that is favorable toward future tenants and is also an architectural sculpture that is aesthetically pleasing in an urban environment. This is the enormous challenge.

Your buildings have classical features.

If a building is designed according to current trends, when the trend discontinues the building will lose value. I keep abreast of all modern trends and I want to be a part of them. I am not a reactionary but I can go only as far as the client and market allow me to. If I lose my client there is no building afterward. This alone goes against what architecture is about in essence. Architecture is supposed to shape the actual environment, not to remain as designs on paper or as highly ambitious plans.

One would think you do business as if playing a game of Monopoly.

It all started with the presence of successful entrepreneurs around me when I was young, my father being the first. I have always admired people who start off with nothing and make it in the business world. This excites me. On the other hand I have always liked architecture and design, in particular industrial design. I was passionate about architecture and I had talent. My mother sensed my talent first and pushed me in that direction without me realizing it. That’s how I developed my motto: I believe good buildings mean good architecture and good architecture means good business.

You are well known for high-quality skyscrapers such as the Trump World Tower, which is the tallest residential building in the world.

The economics of buildings is what plays the biggest role. In fact they are machines that produce money. What is of great importance is maximizing the value of the land. In contrast with the formula “form follows functionality,” in fact “form follows money.”

However, you yourself have chosen not to live in a skyscraper.

I grew up by the sea, in Greece, Europe and Africa. I see skyscrapers as mountain peaks. I like tall buildings but I see them as reception areas, apartments where you receive people and have parties. They belong to people who have their homes in a New York suburb. When you want to entertain you don’t need to be in an area that inspires the snugness of a home. Many people, of course, like these apartments as permanent homes as well. In many of them you wake up in the morning and you are above the clouds.

How does one survive in a ruthless market like that of New York?

One of the reasons why I am here is because I am exclusively devoted to designing buildings. I did not want to get involved in business even though I had many opportunities. I decided quite young that I did not want to be distracted from design and architecture. I knew that I wanted to devote 110 percent of thought and work to architecture or I would be scattered left and right, wasting energy, control and focus.

When someone devotes 110 percent of themselves to work, what’s left for everything else?

It’s true that it’s had an adverse effect on my personal life. There is little time for my kids and family but I ensure that I give them quality time. I am very close to my two daughters so I must have done something right. At least that’s what I say to myself because I love both of them very much. Now we have other ways of spending time together. One of my daughters and I have created her own company in which I am the main shareholder but she herself manages it.

How come you like both static buildings and fast cars?

When I was young I wanted to be a car designer. When I finished junior high school I looked for a university to study car design but there was no such school in Europe then. I would have had to go and study at the Fiat factory and learn the work inside the factory, which I didn’t want. I see cars as industrial design and I keep abreast of trends in car design, because aerodynamic design is necessary for very high buildings.

I expected you to say that you liked fast cars simply for your own pleasure.

That’s my official argument. I collect cars and I have a 1968 Ferrari and a Lamborghini.

Opportunities for a landscape architect January 26, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece.
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‘Here you have a fantastic palette of plants to work with if you know how’
‘Lawns don’t need to be ruled out but should be treated like a precious thing,’ said Rackham, who designed the garden at a home on Spetses.

Landscaping of public space in Greece, apart from the summary attention it received ahead of the 2004 Olympics, is not much in evidence compared to the situation in the private sector, as British landscape architect Simon Rackham has found since moving here to work a year and a half ago.

“The threats to the Greek landscape from uncontrolled development are making people realize that the landscape is the basic resource, and that we can no longer take it for granted,” he said. “So the demand for landscape architects to understand, design and manage landscapes is already developing strongly in the private sector, where the economic value of a healthy, beautiful and sustainable landscape directly affects people’s wallets.”

Rackham had been coming here frequently for both work and pleasure for just over two years before he settled here. During a talk he recently gave for the Mediterranean Garden Society, he discussed some of the changes he has observed.

“Things are very different. The political climate is quite different, the way the public works are funded and carried out, or not carried out, as the case may be. However, it is the private sector that seems to have completely caught on to the importance of the landscape,” he said.

In Greece, Rackham has been working on a variety of projects, from designs for public spaces such as open-air theaters and reclaimed waste sites to hotel grounds and private gardens.

Abroad he has had wide-ranging experience designing landscapes in Britain and New Zealand, where he spent four years doing public realm projects, including the remodeling of streets in five city centers, as well as the historic centers of Stirling and Edinburgh in Scotland. One of his most important projects in Britain was the reconstruction of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s courtyard.

“The landscape is our basic resource, it’s what everything depends on, it is where we live, where we work, it comes before any of the other things which the politicians or decision makers think are important. If you don’t have landscape you don’t have places where you want to live or want to build houses, create jobs and encourage tourism,” he said in his lecture.

“That really hasn’t come through in the public sector yet. In the private sector, where people invest their own money, nobody would think about spending 10 million on a beautiful hotel and not think about what the land around it looked like.”

Rackham said he finds working in Greece very interesting for a variety of reasons.

“The opportunities for landscape architecture in Greece are breathtaking; I love the landscapes of Greece, from alpine mountains to virgin forests to dry canyons to olive terraces to sun-baked islands to the streets and squares buzzing with activity. And I have always liked a challenge.”

During the lecture, he explained that “the biodiversity means you have a fantastic palette of plants to work with if you understand and know how to. They are very often adapted to specific, and difficult to replicate, conditions. You really have to think carefully about it. As a landscape architect you have to know that and find people, and they are out there, who know about these things. It is always important to ask. “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”

Rackham also talked about some of the things people should bear in mind when thinking about their own outdoor space.

“You need to think about the life of what you’re making, how its going to be managed and who is going to manage it. How are you going to pay for it, and how long you want it to last, the quality of the materials, these issues are all linked,” he explained. “The quality of the materials ties into usability and maintenance and management. Durability is important. If you lay a 5-centimeter paving slab your grandchildren will still be lifting and relaying it when they come to redesign it. If you lay a 2 or 3 centimeter slab, when they try and lift it will break.

“You may love gardens but how much time do you have to spend gardening, how much do you like it? Make sure you have a robust framework, but which is low maintenance and which looks a standard that you are happy with. It doesn’t always have to look the same all year. Within that, make areas where you play and so on, expand and contrast them as your circumstances suit. But don’t start out by making yourself a very elaborate garden. Start out with a framework and grow the garden as you feel comfortable.”

Rackham’s view on lawns is that they don’t need to be ruled out but should be treated “like a precious thing.”

He advised one homeowner with a house right on a windy shoreline who wanted a lawn near a pool to “make a little square of it and treat it like a little jewel, don’t make it big but make the most of it.” For larger areas further from the house he is in favor of grass, not lawns.

“People gasp when you say grass but I don’t mean lawn. Wild grasses in Greece that go brown in summer and produce seedheads are beautiful. On lots of sites there is still a huge amount of seed. You don’t need to do anything. Be vigilant about what does come up and take out what you don’t want.”

As for the future of the sector in Greece, Rackham believes there is tremendous scope for professionals to show what is possible.

“When the European landscape convention is ratified by Greece, local authorities will be required to consider the landscape as a whole in all decision making. I believe that this, in conjunction with rising public expectations, will expand the role of the landscape architect in Greece enormously,” he said. “There are amazing opportunities out there for the taking. Public realm improvements are an effective and highly visible way for politicians to show that they are doing something for the communities they represent, and the skills and expertise of landscape architects in delivering these projects have been demonstrated in towns and cities around the world.

“I believe that the economic and social value of public open space is being recognized in the public sector, but we as landscape architects in Greece still have to do more to show officials what we can offer.”

Maria Callas stage jewelry shown at NYC’s MET January 26, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.
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No stranger to the high art of living, Maria Callas was the owner of glorious pieces of jewelry with which she adorned herself during her tumultuous life. Sparkle, however, was also a faithful companion on stage.

Maria Callas, the Greek Diva in full glory  “Maria Callas and Swarovski: Jewels on Stage at The Metropolitan Opera” a new exhibition that opened in New York last week, showcases a collection of stage pieces that will be unveiled to the American public for the very first time.

The show features more than 40 items displayed alongside archival photographic material and Callas memorabilia. Before traveling on to a number of global spots, the exhibition in the Metropolitan Opera House’s Founders Hall will run to March 3.

Born Maria Anna Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulos to an immigrant Greek family in New York in 1923, Callas made her debut in 1941. In August 1947, the rising, yet still largely unknown, vocalist appeared at the Verona Arena to interpret «La Gioconda.» For this make-or-break performance, she wore a small coronet of crystal and faux pearls created for her by the Milan-based atelier Marangoni with Swarovski stones. The evening proved to be a great success and Callas, a highly superstitious artist, insisted on wearing Marangoni pieces set with Swarovski stones from that moment on.

From 1947 to 1965, the father and son duo Ennio and Antonio Marangoni worked closely with the diva to created jewelry for more than 600 stage performances. Established in 1940, the Marangoni studio has long collaborated with Austrian Swarovski to develop pieces for celebrated artists, such as Renata Tebaldi, Rudolf Nureyev and Luciano Pavarotti. Nowadays, the studio produces intricate pieces of costume jewelry for the likes of Sir Elton John, Madonna and Nicole Kidman. In 1999, the Atelier Marangoni became part of the Swarovski Group of Companies.

In New York, at the MET, the exhibition highlights a number of landmark performances by Callas in works such as «Norma,» «La Sonnambula,» «La Traviata,» «Tosca» and «Anna Bolena.» Furthermore, the show celebrates the artist’s relationship with the legendary opera house: Over a 24-year period, the soprano appeared at the theater in 21 performances.

For her MET debut in 1956, in which Callas interpreted «Norma,» a signature role in her extraordinary career, the diva was clad in a parure, a set of matching pieces featuring earrings, necklace and tiara. All set with Swarovski crystals, the pieces were so bright that for a televised scene broadcast on «The Ed Sullivan Show» the artist could only wear the earrings. For her first appearance as «Tosca» in that same year, her stage jewelry was designed by MET stage director Dino Yiannopoulos, executed exclusively for Callas by Swarovski.

At the MET, a number of spectacular pieces throw light on a dramatic life on stage. These include a choker collar set with blood-red crystal stones, a Renaissance-style cabochon-set corsage ornament as well as a Russian crown set with luxurious multicolored Swarovski gems.

The diva was deeply attached to the pieces she wore. Having acquired the power of amulets, the items often traveled with her in car trunks, faithful friends during long or shorter journeys. Meanwhile, on the precious jewelry front, her husband, mentor and manager, Giovanni Battista Meneghini, had a habit of giving her a fine jewel to mark the addition of each new role in her repertoire. A stylish Callas would then mix and match real and faux, until the day director Luchino Visconti persuaded her that historical accuracy and authenticity on stage didn’t go hand in hand with fashion games, even if they came straight from the heart.

Greek fashion gets on the road January 26, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Fashion & Style.
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Local designers present collections in Japan and prestigious international fashion trade fairs in France

Greek fashion is traveling well beyond local borders these days, with one designer taking to the catwalk in Japan and more local talent preparing for international fashion trade exhibitions in Paris.

Just back from a visit to Tokyo is veteran Loukia. The designer presented her winter haute-couture collection to a select audience at the city’s Shoto Gallery on January 18. The show, a first for a Greek designer, was attended by an eager audience, including fellow designer Junko Koshino, representatives of local luxury department stores such as Isetan and Takashimaya, apparel importers as well as an array of members of Japan’s fashion press. While in town, the Greek designer also took part in an international fashion fair for ready-to-wear. Loukia’s presence in Japan counted on the support of the Greek Embassy in Tokyo and the Greek Ministry of Tourism.

Is something changing in the world of Greek fashion?

«It’s absolutely vital that Greek designers make the kind of clothes than can travel around the world,» says Antonis Kioukas, producer of the two-year-old Greek fashion week. «If the fashion week doesn’t become commercial, its going to die a slow death.»

To avoid this, Kioukas is currently developing a viable production line and showroom representing local talent. To do so, he scouted Greece and neighboring countries to locate production units. Following extensive research, he has come up with an apparel manufacturer based in northern Greece and with two units in Bulgaria.

According to Kioukas, the production guarantees substantial economies of scale, such as designers benefiting from a 50 percent reduction for the realization of patterns, thanks to a special arrangement with Technology and Design Center (ELKEDE).

The ambitious project currently represents 11 designers, members of the Hellenic Fashion Designers Association (HFD), but, says Kioukas, any member of the organization is welcome to join in, provided that their garments can be manufactured on a mass as opposed to the smaller, atelier scale.

The aim here is the development of an efficiently running wholesale network and for the Athens showroom, which is scheduled to open its doors in February, to gradually attract local and international buyers and press.

These are more than encouraging signs for HFD, a union founded in 2004. Since its establishment, the association has hosted four fashion weeks, namely the Diners Athens Collections InStyle, while at the same time has concentrated its efforts on building bridges with the Greek public and private sectors, as well as the world. The fifth edition of the Diners Athens Collections InStyle will take place at Zappeion Hall from March 15 to 19.

Meanwhile, a small group of designers is set for the Pret-A-Porter Paris trade show, taking place February 1 to 4.

Loukia, Celia D. and Thessaloniki-based Konstantinos are participating in the Atmosphere section, Costas Faliakos and Kathy Heyndels will be at the Studio, while accessories designer Dimitris Dassios will be part of The Box.

In early March, the Vendome Luxury Show at the glamorous Ritz Hotel will welcome 30 designers, among them Greeks Chara Lebessi, Veloudakis, Mi-Ro and Christos Costarellos.

Also in March, Yiorgos Eleftheriades and accessories designer Maria Mastori will present their collections at the Tranoi trade fair.

These promising developments are largely due to the fashion weeks, which opened the door for salon representatives to take a look at designers and establish communication. Exchanges began last year, with a number of designers, including Deux Hommes and Eleftheriades participating at French trade fairs.

Rhodes tourism rosy January 26, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean, Tourism.
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A further increase is expected in Rhodes arrivals, thanks partly to beautiful sights such as the port of the main town.

Rhodes is set for a considerable rise in tourism arrivals this year, according to provisional data on bookings collected by the island’s Hoteliers’ Association.

The favorable estimates for this year follow a good season last year for the island. According to the latest data by the association, last year closed with a 10 percent rise compared with 2005.

In its recent meeting, the association discussed the prospects of Rhodes tourism and a series of outstanding issues concerning the hotel sector on the island, such as town-planning problems. There was special reference to the particularly positive figures expected for Rhodes hotels that use the “all-inclusive” systems of bookings. Already in most cases there is an occupancy rate that reaches 100 percent for July and August. There is also already a very satisfactory occupancy rate for other months, which is unusual so early in the year. Bookings from the Austrian and the German markets show a significant increase, while other markets on the rise are those of Italy, Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. Interestingly, a positive trend is seen in non-traditional markets, such as Russia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The main rise, though, comes from Great Britain, which is about to post a record number of arrivals on Rhodes. One important factor for that is the start on March 28 of four direct flights per week by GB Airways, a British Airways subsidiary, linking London Gatwick with Rhodes. GB flew only twice per week last year.

A special program to attract visitors from Sweden to Rhodes will also start, along with the island’s participation in several international tourism exhibitions and other promotional activities.