ETH Zurich Fieldtrip to Athens II
“Timeless architecture carries a legacy, fits perfectly into the context, and gives physical form to abstract typologies. This makes it anonymous, meaning that the architect falls by the wayside. And that’s the way it should be”, so says Swiss architect Christoph Gantenbein who along with his partner Emmanuel Christ embarked on a number of study trips to capture urban architecture from around the world.
Over the years, Christ and Gantenbein together with their teaching staff and students at ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) have travelled to Rome, New York, Buenos Aires, Paris, New Delhi, São Paulo and Athens, publishing their findings in two books, Typology and Typology II. During their travels they came across some startling similarities: Paris and Athens both tend towards homogeneous streetscapes of low-rise apartment blocks, while high-rise São Paulo reminded Christ of Hong Kong.
Travelling the world with an architect’s eye
“In the old European tradition, you would travel to Italy and Greece and look at the classics – even the modernists did that,” says Christ . Indeed, Le Corbusier’s three weeks stay in Athens was an essential step in his legendary ‘Voyage d’Orient’. Overwhelmed by the Parthenon, he revisited the site every day for three weeks, sketching and photographing, even comparing the temple to a machine!
During their study trip in Athens in March 2014 ETH students and faculty retraced the footsteps of Le Corbusier on an architectural walking tour devised and led by architect Nikos Magouliotis for Big Olive. The tour provided the team an opportunity to observe fine examples of modernist architecture that began to appear in Athens during the 1930’s courtesy of a school of architects who had drunk at the Le Corbusier table in the beginning of their professional careers.
Assembling Athenian urbanism
In order to introduce their students to Athens’ buildings, Christ and Gantenbein systematically documented the common types of the Greek multifunctional dwelling also known as polykatoikia (πολυκατοικία). These structures found throughout the city are nothing more than the domestic adaptation of the Corbusian Dom-ino system. In fact, the repetition of this basic unit makes up the bulk of the Athenian urban fabric.
The documentation of Athens’ unheralded buildings along with these of other metropoles have been published in the volume Typology 2: Delhi, Paris, São Paulo, Athens. Besides the book Christ and Gantenbein’s typology city guide features an app identifying samples of metropolitan and essentially anonymous architecture of all the afore mentioned cities. Presented with floor plans and key information, the resource acts as a directory of urban architecture around the world.
Read more about our collaboration with ETHZ here.
 Bert Große, “Architecture without a creator | Christoph Gantenbein”, Sto Foundation, Retrieved 10/03/2016.
 “What happens if you inject Hong Kong’s density into Zurich’s history?”, South China Morning Post, Retrieved 10/03/2016.
 William JR Curtis, “The Classical ideals of Le Corbusier”, The Architectural Review, Retrieved 10/03/2016.
 Karissa Rosenfield, “Venice Biennale 2012: Greek Pavilion”, Arch Daily, Retrieved 10/03/2016.
 Pier Vittorio Aureli, Maria S. Giudici, Platon Issaias, “From Dom-ino to Polykatoikia”, Domus, Retrieved 10/03/2016.
Words by: Nikos Magouliotis & Nicolas Nicolaides
Photos: Yannis Zaras
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