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ITERAE ARCHITECTURE. Hellenikon Metropolitan Park

Twenty kilometers away from Athens on the Greek coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the former Hellenikon airport closed in 2001 was used to build the Olympic village of the 2004 summer Games. The Greek Minister for the Environment sponsored an open international competition to find the "21st century urban park of exceptional scale and remarkable design". The program included housing, offices and social services and a park with "green areas, cultural, sports and leisure facilities" on a 530 hectares site. The brief asked for the new urban development to generate enough income to finance the park and called for the restoration the Saarinen main terminal built in 1960.

In April 2004, the competition results proclaimed the Iterae/OLM project the winning prize to transform the airport site into an urban, which might be the "biggest park in Europe" as announced by the Minister of Environment on Februray 4th 2005.


The project is about developing a design process and a time sequence strategy based on rainwater collection and topographic modifications. A series of six corridors of 200 to 300 meters wide is established to link the existing city on the upper part to the coastline sixty meters below. These corridors or "softscapes" integrate a new drainage system as well as a road network, bicycle paths and walkways.

The project focuses on the construction of a new "ground", both in a formal and theoretical way. The goal is to generate the Hellenikon Park from discrete topographic modifications based on former water creeks channels destroyed by the construction of the airport in 1950.

The modified topography is both a membrane to cultivate the soil and a structure to organize the new urban program: housing is developed in between each corridor in order to create a catalyst for built residential, commercial and leisure development. The geometry and materiality of this new ground fluctuates from soft to hard, from horizontal to oblique, from physical to visual aspects.


The design strategy maximizes and concentrates the effort of transforming the former airport along internal spines and edges at specific locations.

Aerial view.

SOFTSCAPES. The channels or 'softscapes' are integrated systems articulated around three main components: ground, water and planting. Along them, a program of outdoor activities, cultural events and mixed used urban development will structure the 550 hectares. On the traces of natural irrigation patterns the Softscapes, which link the city and the park, combine soft programming and water management strategy. In days of high precipitations, the water flow is channeled, delayed and temporarily stored along those lines. A series of retaining walls, embankments and terraces, which are assembled continuously in response to local contiguity of these spines, generate the surfaces of the Softscapes.

Aerial view of the parc.

Instead of projecting an artificial landscape on the site, this system uses existing conditions and establishes the root of a natural ecosystem, which channeled and distributes natural resources to the park vegetation and reduces the park's maintenance. The northern softscape integrates the new highway using a set of berms and trees for acoustical protection and visual screening.

Night view of the Hardscapes.

HARDSCAPES. The huge scale of the runways and the remaining airport facilities and concrete navigation devices are conceived as "objets trouvés" to define the main visual and circulation axis of the park, in a similar way as the "great perspective" of Le Nôtre in Versailles. Out of the three main runways, the main central one is kept to create an internal pedestrian boulevard. It ties together different areas from Glifada to Alimos connecting high residential area to middle class zones.

The East/West runway, partially covered by the Olympic village, is extended towards the sea bridging over the highway creating a direct connection to the shore and the Aghios Kosmas sport facility. The large concrete decks are preserved and create internal pedestrian boulevards. The lawns between the former runways are reinvestigated as a series of new "platforms" for lounging, playing, contemplating.
The lawns between the former runways are reinvestigated as a series of new "platforms" for lounging, playing, contemplating.

PLANTING / PHASING STRATEGIES. The scale of site and the program complexity conducted us to develop the project in successive phases. The topographic transformations will be the first to emerge acting as spines across the park. Once established, vegetation, circulation and program will expand and thicken them on a time basis.

Simulation of the green area growth.

The planting strategy is developed around the strict use of on-site collected rainwater and around a limited number of species. Pioneer plants (garrigue type) will be implanted first and colonize the site to prepare the ground for mature trees (pine, olive and oak) in function of wet and dry areas creating a new ecology and habitat type. This process will give to the softscapes a controlled diversity, reinforcing the scale of the runway.

Diagram of the water drainage system.

The aim of the design is to organize a set of conditions and devices (topographic transformations, water systems, and planting strategy) that will 'fabricate' the park and develop an integrated system in relation to changing ground conditions over a twenty-year period and not to predict every aspect of the 550 hectares.

EDGES / MAXIMIZE FRONTAGE. By maximizing the city frontage to the park to the park, we increase the interaction between park and the new buildings and therefore we increase the real estate value of those buildings. Like the edge of a river in a delta, which draws between ground and water a border of infinite length, the progressive corrugation of the urban edge stretches the surface of contact between the urban and the open space. A set of macro and micro corrugations of the park's edge triggers inversion between park and city.

Site plan.

URBAN DEVELOPMENT / "DEEP INTRICACY". On the fluctuating boundaries between the park and the highways of the airport, 120 hectares of urban development of mixed-usage will be created The city is not merely extended on the site. It is rather seen as an artificial growth of the park. This strategy implies to setup logics of development based on the following criteria: corrugation of the frontage to the park, optimization of solar protection, and proliferation of open terraces.

This process will generate a new topographic condition, a surelevated park - "jardins en hauteur", which duplicates and extends the Hellenikon Park. This process of inversion is part of the ambition of the project to intricate deeply the park environment with the new urban fabric.

PARK ACTIVATION / PROGRAMMATIC NOISE – INTERFERENCES. The existing site of Hellenikon with its 2 churches, one airport hospital, a fireman house, a control tower, some natural flora, a Saarinen Terminal, 5 concrete runways, a baseball stadium a fencing alley, an antique temple ruin site, a waste treatment plant, an Olympic square, a kayating arena of salted water is by default what the park of La Villette has never been : a surface punctuated by disparate and incoherent events, which triggers unexpected encounters, a "better-than-dream" "cadavre exquis".

Axonometrical scheme.

Here the notions of event and activation of the park are not based on the projection of an abstract grid of points, but instead on the fight to keep these activities alive. The project plans also to reconvert airplane hangars, and on-site abandoned facilities, which are seen as points of resistance to the topography manipulation as museums, theaters, markets halls, commercial center. The morphing of the ground will generate undercuts, points of differentiation, support of specific interventions like kiosks, picnic areas, shading booths, newsstands...

The location of these elements is not master-planned but transformed from the existing "grounds" in order to create maximum exchange, between these activities and the open space. We envision them as a field or "programmatic noise" that will unfold and punctuate indifferently with Hardscapes and Softscapes.

CIRCUITS / EXPERIENCE. The twenty kilometers main peripheral circuit (the equivalent of a semi-marathon) will structure the different entrances of the park towards several smaller circuits set on the Hardscape system: baby strollers, biking, rollerblades or jogging. The degree of curve, ground type or the length of path will affect the type of activity associated with it the motion. "Cool" circuits will use shading devices and misting systems to allow parts of the park to be used in everyday uses. These circuits will allow experiencing the site in multiple ways.

Night view of light pools.

ART INSTALLATION / LIGHT POOLS. The lighting typology used for planes and airport is converted into a guiding system for visitors. At night, some of the open areas adjacent to the former runways are reused as light pools providing a unique experience of landscape. Each light point is a cluster of high-brightness LEDs set in a grid pattern powered by a matrix of both structural and electrical wires. Each color indicates a particular area for entertainment, sports arenas, museums or rest areas.
ITERAE ARCHITECTURE. Hellenikon Metropolitan Park

ITERAE Architecture won the first prize for The Hellenikon Park in Athens competition in 2004. In April 2005 the Greek ministry of environment signed in with the designers the contract for their project, that takes water drainage systems as a generative force of the design and combines 3 systems: Softscapes, Hardscapes and Maximized edges.

Greek Ministry of Environment

Hellenikon International airport, Athens, Greece

size: 530 hectares
cost: €700 millions

design team:
ITERAE Architecture (David Serero, Elena Fernandez), architects
OLM (Philippe Coignet), landscape architect
Erwin Redl, artist



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