Aris Konstantinidis, Greek Regional Modernist

“Architecture is not an art, it is a natural function.  It grows out of the ground, like animals and plants.”  –Aris Konstantinidis

Greek regional modernist architect, Aris Konstantinidis (b. 1913) received his Dipl. Ing. Arch. from Technische Universität München in 1936. After graduation, Konstantinidis returned to Greece, served one year of mandatory military service, and then began work on his first commission, the Villa Cerca de Eleusis.

arisKonstantinidis

During the early 20th century, Greece was in constant political turmoil and was suffering the devastating effects caused by multiple wars, authoritarian regimes, economic depression, coups and unstable governments. Accordingly, private commissions for new architectural projects were difficult to obtain, so Konstantinidis began what would be a lifelong career of public sector work in 1938. His first job with theTown Planning Department of Athens was cut short by a second call to military duty from 1940 to 1941; a period that marked the beginning of Greece’s involvement in World War II and the catastrophic occupation by Italy and Germany. And while World War II would end in 1945, another conflict, the Greek Civil War, would begin in 1946. Those constant political upheavals would make Konstantinidis’s early life and career a series of civil servant positions interrupted by stints of military duty. Perhaps it was that turbulence, and the repeated attempts by foreign powers to strip Greece of its national identity, that helped form his vision of a true Greek regional modern architecture.

During the Greek Civil War and after, Konstantinidis published three books about rural “anonymous” Greek architecture. He toured the islands and countryside extensively, photographing and studying the vernacular architecture. Konstantinidis disliked the “romantic” architecture built throughout the19th century, and said that it was “a curse” — and the columns and pediments Greece had become known for were not at all Greek, but European. He believed that true Greek architecture was found in the countryside and that the true Greek forms came from the “small and modest and unassuming folk architecture.”

In the early 1950s, after decades of war, Greece began to rebuild and tourism played a major role. In 1957, under the leadership of Konstantinidis, the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) began to build a series of state-owned hotels called the Xenia Hotels. In keeping with his personal philosophy of “architecture should be experienced in relation to the environment,” Konstantinidis considered the topography and climate in the design of each site. Over the next decade, Konstantinidis designed and, with the help of a small team of young architects, coordinated the construction of over 50 modern hotels, as well as beach bars, souvenir shops, restaurants and other attractions at scenic locations throughout Greece.

In 1962, Konstantinidis designed the Anavyssos “Weekend House” in Attica, Greece for General Panayotis Papapanayotou. Considered to be his landmark project, it conveyed the most important aspects of Konstantinidis’s “god-built” philosophy. The “Weekend House” was a “vessel for life” and the structure was “so deeply rooted in its environment that it [was] as if it had always been there.” The “Weekend House,” built from stone gathered at the site, was designed so that the inside and outside became one space, and the inhabitant of the house could live with nature.

In 1967, after a group of army colonels seized power in a coup d’etat which ushered in a dictatorship that lasted until 1974, Konstantinidis went into self-exile and took a teaching position in Zurich. Three years later, he returned to Greece and again worked for the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) doing occasional consulting as a Special Advisor. It was during that time that Konstantinidis witnessed the decline of the Xenia project. Many of the properties were in disrepair, abandoned or demolished due to mismanagement, unregulated construction during the dictatorship, depreciation, bad investments and post-war economic troubles. In 1978, feeling as though he was no longer relevant, he retired.

During the 1980s, receiving little to no commission work, Konstantinidis began to devote his time to writing and expressing his personal philosophies — and condemning the current developments and trends in architecture. In his 1987 publication, “Sinners and Plagiarists: Architecture Takes Off,” Konstantinidis named numerous architects, including Le Corbusier and Loos, that he believed were doing modern architecture an injustice.

In 1992, in his last book, “God-Built,” Konstantinidis said, “so every building, small or large, blooms on a particular site like an indigenous natural feature, to live with man and to have stature, meaning and soul . . . A work that is not a harmonious part of the landscape, cannot be architecture . . . it is also necessary for the architect to belong to a particular geographic and historical place, if he wants to make something that will have life and durability. True architecture, like any true art, has to be indigenous not international.” Konstantinidis never built outside of Greece.

Suffering from depression, Aris Konstantinidis took his life in September 1993.

ARIS
ROW 1: Xenia Hotel, Paliouri Beach (Chalkidiki), 1960s (abandoned); Anavyssos “Weekend House,” 1962; ROW 2: Xenia Hotel, Poros, 1961-64 (renovated/in use); Aris Konstantinidis, 1956; ROW 3: Xenia Hotel, Kalambaka, 1960 (abandoned)(Photo: Aris Konstantinidis Archive); Xenia Hotel, Nafplio, 1960 (abandoned)(Photo: Photographic Archives of Benaki Museum)

 

 

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