A MULTIMILLION-EURO plan to transform Athens' former airport into a residential park complete with sports venues and leisure and business centres has been met with mixed reactions by experts.
On November 26, Public Works Minister George Souflias opened the Elliniko project to public consultation, giving architects, landscape architects, civil engineers, local mayors, ministers and transport directors an opportunity to air their objections - or forever hold their peace - before the bulldozers roll in.
"My first impression is that it's probably the best plan that has ever appeared for the area," says landscape architect Thomas Doxiadis. "It is a very responsible and forward-thinking landscape strategy of the type we should be looking at for the next century."
David Serero and Elena Fernandez of Iterae (formerly DZO architecture), in collaboration with landscape architect Philippe Coignet, won the international competition for Elliniko's makeover. Their 700 million euro plan for a 530ha (hectare) park combines areas of indigenous vegetation with low-scale construction comprising housing for up to 20,000 inhabitants, as well as sporting and leisure facilities and a business centre that would accommodate 15,000 people.
The buildings will be developed with respect to the environment, says Serero. Green roofs and balcony gardens are an integral part of the plan.
"We cannot have this beautiful park alongside typical Athens blocks with air-conditioning sets on the balconies," he stresses. "We will use the lower temperature of the park to create fresher, more environmentally-conscious buildings."
The key issue, he says, was to combat the area's chronic water shortage. "There were originally a series of rivers running through the site, from the mountain to the sea. By retracing those, we can collect water from the surroundings and create an artificial ecosystem based on the rule of nature," he explains.
Catching water, storing it and releasing it for irrigation of the site would, he says, make the park's water consumption the same or less than that of the adjacent Glyfada golf course, which, at a mere 50ha, is 10 times smaller.
The airport's main runway will be kept as a pedestrian boulevard, while the diagonal taxiway will be extended, bridging Poseidonos (part of which will be tunnelled underground) and allowing direct access to the sea.
Souflias announced on December 4 that Elliniko will also provide a home for the ministry of environment, public works and town planning, which is currently scattered throughout Athens, and the Goulandris Museum of Modern Art.
The ministry claims that Elliniko park will be the largest in Europe. However, although it is substantially bigger than London's Hyde Park (250ha, including Kensington Gardens), it is dwarfed by Richmond Park, at 955ha, the Bois de Boulogne in Paris (865ha) and Phoenix Park, Dublin (712ha).
"The [Serero/Fernandez] proposal is admirable, but we think that the whole area of Elliniko should become a park," says Christina Theoharis, a civil engineer and environmental spokeswoman for the Technical Chamber, the state advisory body of engineers and architects. She echoes the main concern of local mayors, who are adamant that not a single hectare should be given over to construction.
"Creating a new city with thousands of inhabitants will result in more people in Athens, more energy consumption, more sewage and rubbish and more traffic," says Theoharis. "Elliniko is one of the last opportunities for Athens, which has an urgent need for green spaces, particularly after the burning of Mount Parnitha in the summer."
The architects' brief for Elliniko stipulated that 120ha of the area would be developed. Recentl