Renovating the Athenian Buildings’ Facades: towards aesthetic and energy efficiency improvement?

The architectural landscape of Athens’ city center was extensively shaped during the 1960s and 1970s, with commercial and public buildings characterized predominantly by grid-patterned facades. This architectural grid often reveals the underlying structure of columns and slabs, a reflection of the era’s emphasis on functionality and rapid construction necessitated by post-war urbanization in Greece, alongside the prevailing modernist ideology of “form follows function.”

In the present day, the aftermath of the economic crisis over the past decade has spurred rapid development in Athens’ city center, driven by numerous real estate investments targeting tourism and commercial ventures. These investments primarily focus on the existing building stock, necessitating transformations that enhance both aesthetics and sustainability.

The primary aim of this presentation is to analyze the fundamental characteristics and typologies of transformations applied to grid facades and to examine how these adaptations address critical contemporary questions of aesthetics and sustainability. The central inquiry revolves around whether the modernist grid of existing buildings serves as an opportunity or an obstacle in the pursuit of contemporary architectural expression and the enhancement of urban fabric.

We will categorize and examine examples of renovated buildings that either retain and emphasize their original grid structure or conceal it to project a completely new image. In the first category, the grid remains a dominant feature but is modified to achieve aesthetic and sustainability improvements. Common modifications include thermal insulation, cladding with contemporary materials, and the addition of blinds. These interventions are typically tailored to the building’s future function, such as conveying a sense of luxury for hotels or reinforcing corporate identity for commercial spaces.

The alternative approach seeks to “break” the grid, utilizing it as a structural framework to create a final result that diverges from the building’s original appearance. In this scenario, the grid is morphologically transformed, either concealed behind a new exterior shell or reconfigured into geometric volumes constructed with modern materials and methods. These larger investments often extend beyond mere energy efficiency, incorporating a comprehensive framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-effective green buildings that deliver environmental, social, and governance benefits.

The architects and engineers engaged in these transformations face the dual challenge of enhancing the existing building stock in terms of aesthetics and energy efficiency, thereby extending the buildings’ life spans and addressing the urgent issue of climate change. This research aims to assess how the various approaches we have studied respond to these challenges. A critical question remains: Is the level of investment a major determinant in achieving a successful transformation? By examining these case studies, we seek to understand the intricate balance between financial input and the quality of architectural and sustainable outcomes in the context of Athens’ evolving urban landscape.