The Consulate General of Greece in Boston hosted an exhibition and two lectures earlier this month revisiting the work and honoring the legacy of distinguished Greek architect Dimitris Pikionis (1887-1968). The event’s theme was “Dimitris Pikionis: Modernization and Greek Identity.”
Greek Consul General Stratos Efthymiou expressed his great admiration for Pikionis, who he described as a prolific personality and colossal figure in Greek architecture, and a creator with the unique ability to bring together the world around him with the world we inherited from our Greek ancestors.
He extended particular thanks to Pikionis’ granddaughter, Alexandra Samaras, and her husband Elias Samaras, who helped the Consulate organize and host the event, which is part of an ongoing initiative to expand its cultural outreach.
Lectures were also given as part of the event by Alexandra Samaras and Thomas Doxiadis, both contemporary Greek architects, who spoke about Pikionis’ life and work. Archival photographs, a documentary from ERT, and rare audiovisual material from the Benaki Museum transformed the Consulate into a temporary homage to Pikionis’ creative vision.
The two speakers embraced the central theme of the event by re-visiting the arc of the visionary architect’s career, giving particular focus to his stunningly beautiful design for the landscape which surrounds the Acropolis and Filopappou Hills in downtown Athens.
They drew attention to his innate interest in the kinds of details which a casual observer might easily overlook, as well as his love for local materials such as marble, and for traditional manual construction techniques, some of which he revived for the purposes of his work.
The architect also had a particular appreciation for all things handmade.
As Samaras mentioned in her presentation, titled “Dimitris Pikionis: An Architect’s Vision that Continues to Inspire us Today,” Pikionis maintained a deep respect for the legacy of ancient Greece and incorporated Greek cultural values into his designs while also carefully considering the natural environment.
This was a completely revolutionary approach at a time when the Western world was going through a period of explosive industrialization and expanding automated production and modernization.
Pikionis’ work was, and continues to be, modern — but not “modernist.” It is also pervaded by a metaphysical quality, as he was a believer in Plotinus’ notion that it is necessary to not only have sight but also insight both in work and in life.
Although he never had the opportunity to travel to Japan, he became acquainted with that part of the world through author Nikos Kazantzakis and came to admire Japanese architecture, an influence which translated subtly into architectural elements such as gateways and pavilions.
Doxiadis’ speech, entitled “Walking Through History: Dimitris Pikionis’ Paths Around the Acropolis,” focused on Pikionis’ paths and walkways which encircle the Athens Acropolis, a project which was deceptively unpretentious given its central geographic and cultural position.
Through the use of pertinent photographic materials, Doxiadis drew attention to Pikionis’ unique ability not to mimic but rather to re-interpret the legacy of ancient Greece, thus achieving the illusion that the area we encounter today has always existed in its present form and configuration.
This is exactly the impression all visitors have when visiting the iconic Hill, despite the fact that all the landscape around it and leading up to the Parthenon is a thoroughly choreographed creation.
Pikionis ensured that his gleaming stone pathways would make their way through the landscape in harmonious coexistence with the flora he selected to grow alongside. In his characteristically mindful approach, he studied the native local vegetation and chose a plethora of indigenous plants, resisting the tendency of Greek landscape designers at that time to plant mainly pines.
Concluding his presentation, Doxiadis spoke of the great power of aesthetic sensitivity, paying tribute to the sensibilities of the great architect, which are reflected in the way in which he reconciled the past and the present of Athens, a city that, as Doxiadis said, is continuously being “reconstituted from its fragments.”