Athens is often wrongly considered an ugly city. Certainly, the Greek capital is not short of ramshackle-looking 1960s flats that sprawl around the Acropolis. However, modern Athenian architecture rivals design across Europe, with an increasing number of striking buildings cropping up over the city in the past decade. Culture Trip takes a closer look at some of the coolest buildings in Athens and their designs.
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If you’re walking around Lycabettus Hill, you can’t fail to notice the futuristic building that appears from the side as you approach the Kolonaki area. The surreal exterior is built from CNC-cut travertine marble and wouldn’t look out of place in Ex Machina or as the home of a James Bond villain, such is the disconcerting, striking texture and shape of its multi-level design. Yet the bright interior is far from sinister, with copious use of luxury Greek marbles and grandiose earthy tones to reflect the building’s proximity to the beautiful natural environment. Throughout, the architects have sought to reconcile the contradictions of the Athenian landscape and the city’s history within a modern, future-facing building – that just happens to look out onto one of the city’s oldest.
The Ileana Tounta Gallery is hard to miss. Located on a relatively quiet road behind Leof Alexandros, the industrial building stands out amongst the row of residential buildings. Inside, visitors will find a modern art gallery that houses some of the most exciting exhibitions from international and local artists. The gallery’s restaurant, 48 Urban Garden, is reason alone to visit. An oasis of calm, the garden was designed by AK-A architects. Visitors will find themselves surrounded by bright, open interiors that are emphasised by earthy tones and natural materials. It’s a perfect place to escape to in the heart of the city.
Step inside the Onassis Cultural Centre and the first thing that will strike you is the huge, egg-like golden walls that occupy the centre of the room. The building was designed by AS.Architecture-Studio in 2010 and was created to offer a modern take on Greek architecture. The striking glass-and-marble exterior makes way for a more opulent and organic interior, with the exterior of the 880-person auditorium providing the focal point at the centre of the ground floor. The majestic auditoriums – there are two main ones and an exhibition hall within the building – were the result of a collaboration between three architects: Mark Foley, who designed the interiors, James Morse, who did the theatre lighting, and Eleftheria Deko & Associates, who created the lighting throughout the building. Upstairs you’ll also find an Art-Deco-inspired Michelin-starred restaurant and bar with the best views of the Acropolis in the city.
Designed by Bernard Tschumi Architects, the Acropolis Museum is one of the most exciting buildings to have opened in Athens in recent years. The precisely configured exterior not only holds an impressive collection of archaeological finds but also reflects the artful interior design. Visitors to the museum are invited to experience the discoveries as if they were archaeologists themselves. A gently sloping entrance guides audiences through the initial finds made by archaeologists throughout the lower parts of the hill. The first tier of the building slopes over the discoveries, which can also be seen through glass panels below. Huge windows on the second floor bring swathes of natural light into the building, ensuring that the experience of viewing the sculptures is never quite the same depending on what time of day, or time of year, you visit. The top layer of the building recreates the structure of the Parthenon marbles as they were first built, creating an immersive viewing experience.
The renovated former FIX building on the busy Syngrou Avenue stands out for the strange, contrasting façades around its exterior. Originally designed by the iconic Greek architect Takis Zenetos, the museum was taken over in 2000 to be the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Mired by financial complications, the building itself was finally partially opened in 2018. Inside, visitors will experience large, minimal interiors and plenty of natural light from the glass walls and large windows. While the building is still not operating at full capacity, it will eventually house a top-floor restaurant with panoramic views of the city alongside an extensive collection of Greek and international artists.
Designed by K Lab architects, the Perianth Hotel is situated within one of Athens’ signature Bauhaus buildings. Stark concrete exteriors with identical balconies are playfully at odds with the hotel’s surrounding area, where a classic Byzantine church sits on the other side of the square. And yet this fascinating juxtaposition is triangulated by the hotel’s interiors, which add a striking new layer to the design. The interior space evokes classic Greek elements such as terrazzo floors and marries classical style with minimalist, industrial details such as black metal frames and glass-brick walls.
Another of the city’s leading cultural spaces, The Breeder Gallery in Athens is both difficult to find and hard to miss. Located at the heart of the Metaxourgeio area, the gallery is marked by a giant rusting door that pivots to open up the whole front of the building during openings. The interior is similarly minimal and alluring. Formerly an old ice factory, key features from the 1970s building have been preserved while new additions such as floating concrete steps were introduced during the renovations. The gallery offers the main space on the ground floor and basement as well as more intimate exhibitions at The Breeder Playroom, where visitors will also encounter Memphis Group furniture and other surprising sculptures.