It only took days since the Greek State took control of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre for critics’ fears to be confirmed.
The impressive project, considered to be one of Athens’ most valuable architectural jewels, was plagued by an image of abandon and decay and an equally putrid smell, coming out of the once-marvelled-upon water canal that takes centre stage.
Designed by the internationally acclaimed Renzo Piano, one of the indisputable heroes of modern architecture, the Centre considers the canal one of the site’s most significant components.
The architect’s goal was to redefine the centre’s relationship with the sea, not only referring to the view of the sea (by creating an artificial hill), but also to the physical presence of water.
The canal is 400 m long, 30 m wide and goes down to 70 cm towards the edges and 150 cm at its centre, and it expands across the main pathway of visitors, leading to the main complex of buildings.
Up until recently, it was one of the most lauded elements of the centre, but now it is slowly turning into a swamp; the clear green-blue water giving way to a frothy brown mud filled with algae. This, of course, has nothing to do with the centre becoming part of the public sector. In a statement posted on its website, the Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre explains that it is natural for water to stagnate and look like it does: “Given that the canal is formed by seawater, which eventually returns to the sea, the use of chlorine is strictly forbidden”, reads the statement.
“As a result of this natural process, it is expected that algae is formed at certain parts of it. Two robotic mechanisms are installed on a permanent basis, removing the algae that is naturally formed at its bottom, while an annual cleaning schedule lasting approximately four weeks, sees the depletion and then infusion of new water from the sea. This March the scheduled maintenance and cleaning process takes place and is expected to be completed by the end of the month. For this reason, the frequent activities related to the canal (sailing, kayak) will be available again in April”.