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Inappropriate ‘renovations’ of traditional building-stations by Greek Railway Organization (OSE)
Stella Katsarou_Tzeveleki, archaeologist, Ministry of Culture

For a few months now I have been following the work currently being carried out by OSE on shaping the environment of the traditional stations on the route Athens-Oinoi. The apparently forms part of the extensive programme initiated by OSE two or three years ago, on stations throughout Greece. These projects give rise to various questions and reservations as to their aesthetic and functional character, and also as to the legality of OSE’s intervention from an architectural and cultural point of view.

The numerous old railway-station buildings, with their standard facades and ground plan, with which we are all familiar, are aged over hundred years old, and are therefore monuments of the early modern cultural heritage of Greece. Given their historical architectural value, they have been placed under the jurisdiction of institutional bodies and procedures of the Ministry of the Environment, Country Planning and Public Works, which are responsible for preserving and enhancing our early modern architectural heritage (such as traditional settlements, early industrial architecture, old railway coaches, etc.).

Despite this, for years now the distinctive personality of these historic buildings is not only not being preserved, but is constantly deteriorating as a result of arbitrary functional interventions: notice-boards that are aesthetically incompatible with the buildings spring up on their stone facades, along with various kinds of {lit} toilet signs, air-condition units and ticket-validating machines placed in the most conspicuous places, visible cables and {irregular holes} in front of and next to the main doors, depending on what each stationmaster decides. There is, of course, no question of a reliable timetable: numbers are written and erased on aged wooden boards that are corrected with badly painted layers of oil-paint or blanco or by pieces of paper stuck to them.

And in spite of the filth and untidiness that are the rule in Greece, the stations still retain their romantic image. Until a radical redesign of the railway stations in 2008 which completely changed things.

First question – elevated platforms: Tonnes of cement were suddenly dumped in front of the railway buildings, creating a raised platform, at least 0.50 m high, at the edge of the formerly unified platform, along the lines, swamping the buildings behind it. In some stations, a narrow corridor is left between the new platform and the building, at the lower level of the old platform (Aphidnes, Sphendali, etc.), though at some stations this is not the case (e.g. at Ayios Stephanos and Dekeleia, the new raised platform extends to the doors of the old building and blocks the lower part of them, creating a semi-basement room!). Now, to get from the station to the train, passengers have to climb up on to the raised block in order to get on the train, and vice versa, since they first get off the train and then have to get off it (!). The platform itself, once a unified surface with an open view in front of the station, has been broken up into an underground and overground section, with all that this entails for the enhancement of the building. This is, of course, not just an aesthetic question, but also raised functional problems for children, the old, crowds, and the channelling off of rainwater.

Second question – footbridge: A few metres away from the station at Aphidnes, a huge footbridge has been installed, with numerous metal bases and sections. The once cheerful, romantic period railway building has been sunk beneath the platform and is now crowded, next to the metal skeleton of the bridge.

In both cases, the interventions are inconsistent, a circumstance that is noted and condemned by passengers. All of them are reminding of off-hand building works run by contractors, as usually in Greece, rather than by a serious, detailed architectural study that respects the building-monument. These important buildings have been entombed and degraded, not to say made ridiculous. Unfortunately, the row of tasteful lamp-posts and shelters imitating the traditional style at the ends of the stations reveal a feigned interest, and do nothing to counterbalance the aesthetic damage to the authentic buildings.

OSE was probably obliged to undertake the redesigning of the traditional station buildings by new technical specifications, functional needs and the desirability of modernising the railway network. However, we all know that any intervention in traditional buildings, however necessary it may be for the general good, should only be carried out in agreement with the historical value of the building, with which it is far from in conflict. This is why there are consultative services that, through their judgement and recommendations, guarantee that what is functionally essential will be carried out with respect for architectural history and traditional aesthetics. This is not impossible, for Architecture has shown that it has imagination and solutions for all problems, providing that the protection and enhancement of cultural heritage is given priority.

So, ordinary citizens wonder
: Were the above projects carried out by OSE approved by the services of the Ministry of the Environment, Country-Planning and Public Works that are responsible for traditional architecture? The signs, ticket machines and air-condition units can be removed or changed, but the cement and metal structures are made to last forever, and have been installed at many stations throughout Greece. Who will rid us of the pessimism of permanent, extensive and non-reversible damage?

18/02/2009
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Afidnes railway station, 4 January 2009