Professor praises ancient Greek architecture

According to 20th-century Greek architect Constantinos Doxiadis, failing to revive the human element in architectural planning may bring about the end of civilization.

Professor of the history and theory of architecture at the Architecture School of the National Technical University of Athens in Greece Panayotis Tournikiotis explored Doxiadis’ influence and legacy in a talk on Monday night. The lecture, titled “Global Greece: C.A. Doxiadis and Planning in the Network Era,” aimed to explore how the planning of cities in ancient Greece relates to modern construction and design. Tournikiotis explained that Doxiadis aimed to recreate a “human dimension” in architecture, which was central to ancient Greek cities but has become lost in modernity.

“The ancient Greeks designed not isolated objects but parts of a dynamic urban environment,” Tournikiotis quoted Doxiadis as saying, adding that the Greek polis was often built around a marketplace — a center of human gathering.

Tournikiotis explained that the human aspect of urban design must now be synthesized with the mechanical demands of an industrial world, and eventually evolve into what Doxiadis calls the “ecumenopolis,” a global city. The ancient Greeks’ commitment to a human dimension in their designs has faded with time, the professor explained, but must be regained in both architectural theory and practice.

To illustrate this, Tournikiotis displayed maps depicting the Greek city of Priene in the year 350 B.C., comparing them to Doxiadis’ work in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. He noted that both showed a communal focal point of social interaction, which demonstrates Doxiadis’ desire to “create cities which consist of elements based on the human scale” as well as his emphasis on the human perspective. Many of Doxiadis’ sketches and drawings were structured around the 360-degree rotation of the human eye, a technique that underscores the “early humanistic existentialism” of Doxiadis’ projects, the professor added.

“To build a global network, you have to go back to the villages,” Tournikiotis noted, echoing Doxiadis.

Dean of the School of Architecture Robert A.M. Stern, who attended the lecture, said that American architects did not hold a positive opinion of Doxiadis before the mid-1960s, when many of them showed a renewed interest in the architecture of the Greek islands and Doxiadis’ theories reemerged  in U.S. architectural circles. The Greek architect saw his country as the beginning of the world, as the origin of democracy, Tournikiotis added, suggesting that the influence of ancient Greece should spread as much into modern architecture as it has into politics.

Swarnabh Ghosh ARC ’14 praised Tournikiotis’ talk, adding that the discussion of the origins of Doxiadis’ theories clarified a lot of questions architecture students have about Ekistics, a concept in urban planning pioneered by Doxiadis.

The lecture was sponsored by the Alexander S. Onassis foundation and co-organized by the School of Architecture and Yale’s Hellenic Studies department.

Correction: March 26

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Panayotis Tournikiotis was a professor at the University of Athens. In fact, he teaches at the Architecture School of the National Technical University of Athens.

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