Urban play. The case of Athens
It is common ground in the contemporary metropolis that spaces for play are the fundamental public spaces in which social development, movement skills and team spirit are enhanced and therefore their presence at a neighbourhood scale is imperative.
In Athens today, on the one side children’s everyday life offers limited opportunities for outdoor play, exploration, development of imagination and ingenuity. On the other side, the existing spaces for play - approximately 130 in the City of Athens’ ownership - are repetitive, standardised and in their majority in a degraded condition. They lack character, definition, identity, reference, memory, relation to context. Athens’ spaces for play reflect the complete lack of a conceptual effort in their design and constitute samples of a random and unplanned implementation process. Only half of the spaces are today certified for meeting safety standards with respect to equipment, construction and facilities.
The PXATHENS project based upon the recording and assessment of the existing situation of spaces for play in the southern and central districts of the City of Athens, focuses on six degraded spaces and in turn formulates a strategy for their redesign. The strategy is summarised in the following principles: projection of references | places for all ages | catering for multi-dimensional play | identification of character | folding the ground | negotiation of borders | creation of a network.
Network and nexuses
The envisioned PXATHENS’ spaces for play will offer the ‘in-situ’ joy of discovering nature, of confirmation of physical skills, of observation and exploration, of social coexistence in an autonomous, familiar, safe environment. Further- more, their interconnection will define a physical and digital network of play, to which everyone, - young and old - will have unlimited - real but also digital - access.
Implementation: the expandable model
The PXATHENS project is the first initiative of the non-profit organisation ‘Paradeigmatos Harin’- developed in col- laboration with the Municipality of Athens. The initiative strives to bring into creative contact donors, sponsors and citizens aiming to associate the responsibility for solidarity and offering with individual effort for participation and progress. Starting with the pilot project of 6 real and 1 digital spaces, an expandable model is being established in the
central neighbourhoods of Athens.
Within the network, each of the first six nexuses is characterised by an effort to bring forward a particular characteris- tic of the spaces’ urban context, which provides the space with a special ‘identity’ highlighting to the youth the urban, social and cultural value the places of their everyday lives have.
Therefore the six properties along a pedestrian street on the foothills of the Acropolis defined the 'Six Thresholds'. A crossroad with its serene, almost domestic atmosphere was rearticulated in the 'Three Corners'. The adjacency to a church dedicated to Prophet Elijah, who according to Christian tradition had to be built upon hilltops became reference to the 'Hill’s Plateaus'. A plot at the corner of an urban block within a densely built Athenian neighbourhood was treated as a 'Lot'. The inner courtyard of a typical urban block, with its hidden entrance and impressive tall trees, defined the 'Secret Garden'. In the case of a church square, the existing dense, forest vegetation, remnants of the former grove, identified the 'Forest Square'.
The space for play stretches on the foothills of the Acropolis, alongside one of the City’s most important pedestrian streets which leads to the New Acropolis Museum. The north side of the street is defined by six separate ownerships and buildings of different periods, including three listed neoclassical buildings alongside polykatoikias of the 30’s and 60’s, while the south side is occupied by an elementary school designed by Patroklos Karantinos. Due to the proximity to the school, the space while degraded with the typical concrete configurations of flower beds and sittings of the 70’s, remains a very busy place used both by children and their guardians mainly during the hours that school is dismissed.
The entrances to the ownerships -the thresholds- gave a rhythm and character to the intervention. Their reinstatement determined the organisation of the space, which thus was divided into six sections, on the projections of the ownerships’ boundaries. From the west to the east, the first, third and fifth section, function as accesses to the school. The south side of the second and third section is where the main playing area is located, surrounded by con- crete configurations of parabolic shapes which become sitting and playing elements engulfing the existing trees.
The selected equipment is aimed towards two age groups: toddlers and children between the ages of six and twelve years old. Balance and tumble toys have been specified, as they develop the children’s ability to focus while shaping important social skills and encouraging communication through observation, storytelling and conversation.
The construction and operation of the ‘Six Thresholds’ space for play was completed in Autumn 2013.
6 voids: PXATHENS in the Hellenic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
The PXATHENS project was presented at the 13th Architecture Biennale of Venice constituting an installation in the Hellenic Pavilion of 1:1 transpositions of the six spaces for play in Athens’ centre.
Within the exhibition context each artefact undertook a double function which related to the human body and the experience of the space and the other exhibits. Each object was constructed with the prescribed materials for the actual space for play in Athens’ centre and placed respectively in the exhibition space within six voids that related to the real urban condition of the real site, in the real city.
Design Date 2011-2012
Construction Date Autumn 2013 [1st phase]