Title: The school of Athens: The National Pavilion of Greece at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale Di Venezia
Curators: Xristina Argyros & Ryan Neiheiser
Work: Collaboration in model making
Date: 2018

Details:  “The School of Athens”, the Greek Pavilion exhibition at the Biennale Architettura 2018, examined the architecture of the academic commons – from Plato’s Academy to contemporary university designs. Refe encing Raphael’s famous fresco, the Pavilion is transformed into a stepped landscape – an open, informal, and common space that will invite visitors to interact with fifty-six 3D-printed models of educational spaces from around the world and different architectural periods, both built and unbuilt.

“The School of Athens” is an ambition; a utopian vision of a free, open, informal, and common space for learning. It is an in-between space. Neither inside nor outside, not quite a room, but also not simply a space for circulation. It is monumental, but also generous, and almost casual. It is not a classroom, and yet we see scholars and students debating, teaching, and studying. Although we typically think of learning taking place in the classroom, educators and architects have recognized for thousands of years that learning also takes place in the space between; in the hallways, on the stairs, at the café, in the quad. Socrates taught in the Agora. Plato founded his Academy in the olive grove outside of Athens and often taught while walking. Medieval colleges were organized around a communal courtyard. 20th century universities are filled with informal learning spaces often associated with circulation, and today there is a particular fascination with designing staircases, or stepped seating spaces, as the main architectural feature of an academic commons.

Architects throughout history have experimented with different spatial strategies for creating “free-spaces” in academic institutions – unprogrammed spaces for impromptu conversations, casual gossip, pop-up lectures, networking, and informal teaching. However, these in-between spaces are often difficult to see amidst all of the other programmes in a university building.

“The School of Athens” exhibition at the Greek Pavilion considers these academic common spaces as architectural specimens; objectively identified, classified, and made legible for analysis, comparison, and debate. Specifically, the exhibition showcases physical models of fifty-six different academic common spaces from across history and around the world, both realized and unrealized. By no means canonical, complete, or definitive, this selection is simply meant to provide a diverse and representative sample of projects that are compelling. With more time and resources, this study could productively expand to include hundreds of projects. The fifty-six models on display are all treated equally, mounted on the end of vertical steel bars, elevated to waist height for easy viewing from all angles, and organized in a grid that fills the pavilion equally in all directions. The physical models are complemented by data, drawing, and image pamphlets that allow for further project comparison. An online database of all fixty-six digital models can be accessed for further interrogation and play.

The pavilion is its own kind of learning “freespace.” By self-conciously adopting the architectural trope (or architectural cliché?) of the amphitheater, the space is constructed as a stepped landscape that enables individual study, small group informal conversation, and large group lectures and debates. The field of 3d printed models is displayed across this landscape, inviting visitors to move throughout the pavilion, and animate the models – almost as additional participants – during large lectures or events.

A pavilion that examines the common spaces that students and teachers occupy should be researched and produced by students and teachers. The project is an international collaboration between students and faculty at the National Τechnical University of Athens and the Architectural Association in London. Through a series of workshops held in Athens and London throughout the spring of 2018 we collectively selected the projects, identified the academic commons in each, “designed” the extracted specimen digitally, and fabricated the physical models.
There’s no absolute definition of the academic commons. It remains subjective, slippery, and open for debate. However, its clear that the academic commons is paradoxically the space within the university that is either un-programmed, or that is capable of supporting a multitude of different programs. The academic commons is the connective tissue of the university, often having some overlap with the main circulation spaces, but they are not necessarily equivalent. To borrow Hannah Arendt’s term, the academic commons is the “space of appearance” within the university, the institutional equivalent of the public space in the city, or of the living room in the house. It is the space to see and be seen.

Researching, revealing, and evaluating the architecture of the academic commons that surround us is a critical first step towards being able to reinvent the academic commons of the future. There is therefore an urgent need to both look back, and to scan across the current landscape of university architecture, to extract interesting and successful spaces that are “free” – democratic, unprogrammed, and common.

-Text by curators Xristina Argyros and Ryan Neiheiser, May 2018


My case study for Venice Biennale was the Ecole d'architecture de Marne-la-Vallée, designed in 1999 by Bernard Tschumi. During the analysis it became clear that the building is largely characterized by its free space. In addition to the architectural design, the features of which are evident in the plans, the users of the building channel their lives into its spaces, either through their creativity, or simply through using it for discussion or relaxation. The free space in this case provides a safe and intimate environment, a repository of thoughts and actions. The sociability that characterizes it, the sense of unification and partnership is the element that in a school of architecture, activates the students while also educating them on the experience of spatial qualities. The research and visualization of a building’s free space offers a different reading of it, being an extremely interesting process. Elements such as lighting or visual communication between spaces acquire a special hue when they are viewed as study axes of university buildings. The design of a such infrastructure, certainly takes into consideration the form of negative space. Free space is a set of conventions, conflicts and concessions, just like open, public space.

“The School of Athens” in the Benaki Museum

In 2020, “The School of Athens”, was exhibited for a second time in the Benaki Museum in Athens, continuing and expanding the research exhibited at the Greek National Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Colophon 2018 

The National Pavilion of Greece
at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale Di Venezia

May 26 – November 25
Giardini della Biennale

Ministry of Environment and Energy,
The General Secretariat of Spatial Planning & Urban Environment

Eirini Klampatsea

Xristina Argyros & Ryan Neiheiser

Panayotis Tournikiotis, Danae Haratsis, Eleni Vagianou, Giorgio Piscitelli, Eirini Sapka, Francesco Zuddas, Bryce Suite, Typical Organization for Standards & Order, Students from the Architectural Association, Students from the National Technical University of Athens

Student Collaborators:
Nena Aru, Aggeliki Asimakopoulou, Niccolo Cesaris, Ryan Mujung Chiu, Aggelos Chouliaras, Ioannis Georgaklis, Gianna Gkioni, Theodora Giovanazzi, Alexandros Gravalos, Alexia Haluli, Grace Jeong, Xara Kaika, Penelopi Karalis, Lito Karamitsou, Georgia Kestekoglou, Kevin Larson, Nicholas Lin, Charalampos Marangos, Grigoris Mathioudakis, Christina Melissourgou, Atiyeh Naghavi, Katerina Papadopoulou, Olga Psarri, Heliciane Rallis, Panagiotis Soteriades, Maria Nefeli Stamatari, Evangelos Stampelos, Elaine Skoufi, Marianna Tsapepa, Aggeliki Tsilidi, Qiuyu Xiong, Aijie Xiong, Tommy Hexuan Yu, Chris Zhongtian Yuan, Stavros Zotos

Project Credits:
Construction – Labadarios Construction
Lighting Design – Bright Special Lighting
Typographic Design – Typical Organization for Standards & Order
Photography – Ugo Carmeni
3D Printing – Hellas3d, 3DHub

With the co-financing of Greece and the European Union

Grand Sponsor: Onassis Culture
Sponsor: Bright Special Lighting, EOT (Greek National Tourism Organisation)
Supporters: Outset Contemporary Art Fund (Greece), NEON Organization for Culture and Development, Aegean Airlines, Alpha Bank, Kraft Paints, Archeiothiki, Ancient Kallos, Hellas 3D, Anek Lines, Superfast Ferries, Domaine Evharis, Enteka S.A.

Under the Auspices of the:
Hellenic Institute of Architecture

︎ Marianna Tsapepa, 2020