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Aristotle, a teacher of the past. Aristotelous Square, a teacher of the present?
Demetres Zygomalas, architect, MSc in conservation of historic buildings and complexes

The famous philosopher Aristotle went down in history as a celebrated teacher. Strangely enough, twenty-one centuries after his lifetime, the square that bears his name in Thessaloniki has its own lesson to teach.

Aristotelous Square is nowadays in a condition that can claim little if no praise at all. Despite its vast historical and functional value, it combines low aesthetic quality, insufficient urban equipment and unattended green areas with an unprecedented sense of disorder.

Efforts to reverse this situation began in 1997. In the framework of an international architectural competition for the redesign of the wider axis to which the square belongs, the construction of a “square below the square” was set forth. Yet the proposal remained on paper, as did all the remaining interventions of the award-winning project.

In 2000, the Ministry of Culture listed the square and the fronts of the surrounding buildings, a move that also had no practical impact. The latter began to be shaped only six years later, when the Municipality of Thessaloniki produced an enhancement project for the southern section of the square. On the whole, with the exception of certain good intensions, it was seriously problematic and particularly harmful for the historic identity of the place. Thankfully, its negative aspects were largely eradicated upon control by the Ministry of Culture.

Hence, Aristotelous Square is now in a position to teach a valuable lesson regarding both the kind of interventions that are compatible with historic public space enhancement and the procedures through which such a goal ought to be pursued.

jim_zs@yahoo.com

23/02/2007
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Pict.1 Aristotelous Square. View from the side of the sea, early 1990s (post card by Toumbis editions).
Pict.2 Aristotelous Square. Present day view from the side of the city (photo by A. Avramidis - source: D. Rigopoulos, “Platia Aristo-telos?”, K - inclusive magazine of newspaper “I Kathimerini”, 153, 7 May 2006, p. 32-33).
Pict.3 Drawing of Aristotelous Square from the side of the sea, prepared by the square’s designer, E. Hébrard. Note the special form of the quay.
Pict.4 Nikiforidis, Cuomo, Tarani. First prize in the International Architectural Competition for the Redesign of the Civic Axis of Aristotelous (1997). Aerial view of the square displaying the proposed interventions (kindly offered by M. Nikiforidis).
Pict.5 Plan of the proposed redesign of Aristotelous Square by the Municipality of Thessaloniki (2006). Note the green areas in green and the places for tables and chairs in purple (source: Municipality of Thessaloniki, Department of Architectural Projects - colouring: D. Zygomalas).