Unresolved contradiction: Point Supreme in Athens

Greece is not a common first choice for an international practice – neither as a base, nor as a site. There’s the inconsistencies of the physical and political infrastructures; the burden of an ancient culture with a golden age commonly seen as long past; the widespread acceptance of engineers undertaking design work; the repetitive urban and village typologies; and currently making headlines around the world, a government debt so dire that Greek sovereignty itself is debated.

Together, these problems mark a field of tension with oppositions that are real, weighty, unavoidable. Athenian firm Point Supreme Architects ground their practice on these very oppositions. As winners of Europan 10 Trondheim, this approach will be one to watch.

Australian architect Beth Hughes has chosen Greece and Point Supreme as her base, leaving Rotterdam in 2009 to partner with Konstantinos Pantazis and Marianna Rentzou. A graduate of UTS, Hughes worked with Lacoste+Stevenson Architects on their relocation of the Sydney City Library into Customs House at Circular Quay. Her interest in cultural sites continued through her leadership role on OMA’s Redevelopment of Commonwealth Institute, London. Hughes remained with Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture for four years, and it was there that she met Pantazis and Rentzou.

Without Greek ancestry or language – and making the decision to stay within days of arriving in Athens – this was purely a practice-driven move for Hughes. “My main motivation for being in Greece is the collaboration,” she says. Point Supreme has a clearly articulated philosophy, with a strong emphasis on collaborative practice. Taking their name from André Breton’s second manifesto for surrealism, Point Supreme deliberately introduce oppositional elements into their work. This is not a dialectical move; they do not propose one resolution, but rather, they allow contradictions to coexist as something permanently constitutive of the spaces they create.

A delightful case in point is the Pizza Perez restaurant in Syracuse, Italy. Recognising pizza as a compositional problem with numerous elements, Point Supreme devote an entire wall to a modernist taxonomy of neat lines and coloured circles, with a reference guide matching colours to toppings. The design has the sophistication of a complex urban transit plan – and then, dominating the entire wall opposite: a zebra.

Their award-winning Europan entry Proscenium was praised by the jury for its “strong contrasts” and “surprising discoveries”: a centralised public space against a residential periphery; an exaggerated ramp as site level correction as well as public space access; a spiral amphitheatre doubling as a marketplace.

Back in Athens, Point Supreme’s projects consistently articulate their philosophy, engaging the contemporary condition directly. “There are very few people doing that here,” says Hughes; the burden of history and the even greater weight of the present are too readily rejected, while for Point Supreme they are imperative. Their student housing competition entry Metaxourgeio challenges the conventional low-rise apartment (πολυκατοικία) by creating much-needed Athenian public space at ground level, folding green space into the structure just as Proscenium’s ramp enfolds its communities. Their small-budget Six D.O.G.S., a café and artspace, challenges the πολυκατοικία horizontally instead of vertically, puncturing five ground-level spaces to create a single volume of multiple textures and possibilities.

Ongoing research such as Athens Representation, Legitimisation 1 and 2, and House Resale Value make Athens itself the site as well as the base of their work. Point Supreme challenge contemporary theorists, policy-makers and practitioners to take the Greek condition seriously as a productive field demanding timely, site-specific responses. “Our practice in another city would have generated architecture that was a foregone conclusion,” says Hughes. “We feel that in amongst this history and chaos interesting things can grow.”