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In 2015, Athens will vault to the forefront of 21st century architecture, cul-
ture, and sustainable design. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Cen-
ter is a multifunctional arts and education facility built to enrich the everyday
lives of Athenians and Greeks and attract visitors from around the world.
The Center includes the 169,000 m2 (40 acre) Stavros Niarchos Park, a re-
vitalized modern National Library, and a world-class Opera House. Located
4.5 km south of central Athens on the edge of Faliro Bay, the approximately
€550 million (US$750 million) project is a culmination of the Foundation’s
commitment to the culture, prosperity, and future of Greece. When com-
pleted, it will be operated and controlled by the State, the first private-public
partnership of its kind in Greece, and the largest cultural/educational project
ever undertaken in the country. As one of the largest construction projects in
recent Greek history, the Center will have an immediate impact on the local
economy, providing jobs and infusing capital into a challenging economic
Renowned architect Renzo Piano has met the challenge of designing an ur-
ban icon that represents the aspirations of Greeks in the third millennium
by incorporating essential elements of the national ecology – the sea, sun,
stone, and earth – into a modern topos infused with lightness and transpar-
ency. The site, which saw prior incarnations as a parking lot and horse racing
track, now features a gently graded 32 m-high hill that not only provides
views of both the nearby sea and Acropolis but also functions as a green roof
for the Library and Opera House beneath. The two buildings have been bril-
liantly combined into one fluid, glass-walled structure, sculpted to include an
urban Agora – both a gathering place and a portal to the Library and Opera.
And yet, the spatial footprint of the buildings is less than 15 percent of the
site. The rest is a park, welcome news to a city with the lowest per capita
green space in Europe.
The project goal to be a “flagship of sustainability” is borne out in every as-
pect of the design. In the Park, allées of shade trees provide visitors with re-
spite from the hot summer sun as well as “sink” CO2 emissions. A year-round
Mediterranean Garden showcases indigenous, drought-tolerant plants. Soar-
ing 46.5 m above the Agora level, a massive photovoltaic canopy produces
energy for the building’s needs and contributes to the goal of zero emissions.
An iconographic tower of books, a functional and welcoming symbol of
accessible learning, defines the character of the National Library of Greece.
The Library will be a state-of-the-art repository of Greek written and spoken
heritage, as well as a modern center of connectivity and opportunity,
available to all. The Opera House lobby evokes a “quarry,” where sculpted
pillars of stone, dazzling by daylight and subtle by night, anticipate the
drama to be found on stage. Inside the theater, technological sophistication
and acoustic perfection will accommodate the most demanding produc-
tions as well as ballets, concerts, musicals, and more intimate solo artistic
performances. The Center integrates all three components into a seamless,
thrilling design, flexible to the evolving needs of visitors and accessible to all.
Welcome to The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.

Every day of the year, the Park will be a source of discovery. Linked by con-
cept and topography to the Opera House and the National Library, the Park
is an opportunity for learning – and for recreation, relaxation, and experi-
ence. From the tree-lined Esplanade leading to the Center’s formal entrance
to the gently sloping green roof landscaped with indigenous, drought-resis-
tant plants, the physical character of the Park is pointedly functional within
the overall Center ecology.
Up close, the wonders of the Park reveal themselves to the senses. Entering
from the streets of Kallithea to the north, Park visitors are greeted with the
sound and movement of water jets. Guests can rest in meditative seating ar-
eas or explore a circular labyrinth. Children can play in creative playgrounds
of advanced design. Allées leading further into the Park are lined with tall
pines and olives interspersed with smaller trees, creating contrast between
closed and open space, light and dark, color and texture. At the center of the
Park is the “Great Lawn,” a place for larger gatherings and a playground for
all ages. Its open space offers a venue for concerts, festivals, and films.
Greece’s strong horticultural tradition is celebrated in the open, sunlit
Mediterranean Garden. The plant palette alone will make the garden a
destination: the textures of evergreen plants such as boxwood, coronilla,
cistus, and lentisc; the perfumes of salvia, oregano, thyme, lavender, and
rosemary; the touch of rose petals and euphorbias dianthus – all add to the
sensual pleasure of a visit. Visitors can find inspiration for their own gardens
or balconies and can learn about native species and the threatened Medi-
terranean habitat. Each month will bring a new color, and each season will
introduce a different combination of flowers or foliage.
From the Mediterranean Garden, curving landscaped pathways wend their
way up a gentle grade to a summit 32 m high. Beneath the earth is the build-
ing that houses the Library and Opera House, making the hill the “green
roof” for the structure. One of the largest in Europe, the green roof signifi-
cantly reduces air conditioning requirements. The summit offers spectacu-
lar 360-degree views of the sea to the west, the Acropolis to the east, and
the beautifully landscaped cultural park below, as well as an eagle’s eye view
of the Agora, the central plaza between the Library and the Opera House.
Another prize awaits: a 900 m2 glass-walled Lighthouse, a space for people
seeking a quiet area to read and reflect or to meet in small groups for semi-
nars, study and events, or to appreciate the view. Visitors of all ages and
physical capabilities who choose not to ascend on foot can make their way to
the Lighthouse via an equally memorable experience: a transparent “flying
bridge” and connecting elevator.
The spectacular features of the Stavros Niarchos Park are not all earthbound.
Soaring 14 m above the summit and extending outward from its perimeter
is a gossamer wing – in reality a 105 m x 95 m photovoltaic energy canopy
that provides power for the facility. Constructed of wire-thin filament and
supported by 40 sinewy metal pillars, the canopy will make a fascinating
addition to the city skyline. Coupled with other environmentally innovative
designs and practices, the project aims to earn Platinum Leadership in
Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, the first such
designation in Greece and the first for a project of this scale in Europe.
At ground level, a tree-lined pedestrian Esplanade runs parallel to the glass
façade of the interior structure. Alongside is a wide canal, a figurative exten-
sion of the adjacent sea. The Esplanade readily accommodates wheelchairs
and strollers, and is suitable by day for running, biking, and roller-blading.
Directly across the canal from the Agora, wide marble steps offer a space for
impromptu performance, as well as people-watching.
The Stavros Niarchos Park is designed with a principle of flexibility. As visitors
from around the world claim the Park as their own its structure
and character can evolve to support their emerging needs.
LEED is a building certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) that provides independent

verification that a building was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving energy savings, water efficiency,

CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their

impacts. There are four levels of certification; Platinum is the highest rating awarded.

the contour of the green roof. Yet even from the outside, the separate identi-
ties of the Library and Opera are readily apparent from the distinct design of
their interior lobbies: the book tower of the Library and the stone “quarry” of
the Opera. An essential link between them is the Agora, an outdoor
AND public meeting space carved into the “cliff“ of the structure and

the entrance portal for the Library and Opera lobbies.

The architectural concept of topos and design principle of transparency can
be best appreciated from the vantage point of the Esplanade. Visitors can
view the entire width of the glass façade fronting the National Library and
the Greek National Opera, which have been combined into a single, inspired
structure. The glass façade angles in declension from left to right, following

The new National Library of Greece (NLG) will modernize an institution
founded in 1832. An iconographic tower of books, three stories tall and visible
from the surrounding neighborhood, is the first indication that the Library
has expanded its focus from solely research to include the general public. In
its new role, the Library will support Greeks of all ages and education, from
academic researchers of classical manuscripts, important documents, and
archival material to children destined to become the next generation of us-
ers. The nearly 22,000 m2 (235,000 sq ft) state-of-the-art building combines
tradition with technological innovation and conservation with information
and communication. The flexibility of its design, informed by consultations
with the prominent British Library, ensures that the Library can respond ef-
fectively to ever-changing needs and the challenges of the digital age.
From the Agora, the entrance leads into a large, open lobby that provides an
immediate visual orientation to all the Library’s functions. The lending li-
brary, bolstered by a significant book collection and other media, will include
separate areas for adults, teenagers, and children and will offer a wide range
of educational and cultural programs. The natural light available through-
out the National Library will help create an open, hospitable environment
for individual and collaborative learning. Events and seminars for both chil-
dren and adults will be held, and classes will incorporate natural learning
opportunities found outside in the Stavros Niarchos Park. A Business Center
will provide entrepreneurs and the public with an active hub for enterprise,
knowledge, and innovation, offering computer workstations, laptops, and
wireless connectivity.
Learners from all areas of Greece and abroad will have the capacity of con-
necting to the Library through the Internet. A nationwide digitization project
will help make heritage materials available to the public and will offer access
to the Library’s various collections. Connectivity with other libraries globally
will allow the Library’s users access to material abroad that is relevant to
Greece or Hellenism.
A modern academic research facility found within the National Library will
be an exemplar for other institutions. The new building will enable all ex-
isting research collections, currently located in three separate buildings, to
be housed in a centralized location, with optimized access to collections for
researchers and scholars. Holdings include over 4,500 manuscript codices
from the 9th to the 19th centuries and a rich variety of important historical
documents and archives. Modernized climate control and preservation and
digitization facilities will ensure that the library’s significant rare manuscript
collection is available for future generations of scholars. Training for staff
will keep pace with the latest practices and technical requirements of library
The NLG has an exciting new mission to become an important venue for
exhibitions of its holdings. Selections of the National Library’s manuscripts
will be exhibited on a rotational basis, affording the public the opportunity to
view Greece’s treasures and cultural heritage.
Synergies among the cultural activities of the Greek National
Opera and the National Library of Greece are central to the
vision of the project. In addition to sharing exhibition and conference
rooms, a café, bookstore, and space for public cultural programs will connect
the educational and cultural missions of both institutions.

The Greek National Opera will be an exciting destination for music lovers
and architecture cognoscenti alike. The building will be a multi-use
venue capable of hosting a variety of performances and events.
Its stages will accommodate opera productions, musicals, con-
certs, theater performances, ballets, and multimedia art programs.
Soft stone pillars towering six stories high dominate the lobby and define
the dramatic purpose of the stages within. Throughout the day, sunlight and
shadow play over the natural stone, creating an ever-changing chiaroscu-
ro. At night, beams of light from the Agora and Esplanade illuminate the
“quarry.” Staircases zigzagging close to the towers are linked by loge areas
at every level, providing patrons an opportunity to appreciate the impressive
backdrop close-up.
The expectations raised by the Opera lobby are met by the interior perfor-
mance space. The new 28,000 m2 (301,000 sq ft) Opera is an architectural
jewel, designed to enhance the opera experience for patron and artist alike.
Its world-class acoustics, mechanical capabilities, flexible staging, and in-
nate beauty will position it for immediate entry into the world opera circuit,
ready to play host to the most technically demanding operas, international
multimedia art productions, or uncompromising solo vocalists. The comfort
of the 1,400-seat main auditorium will be matched by the backstage dressing
rooms and rehearsal spaces, and the technical capabilities will extend to the
scenic design and costume shops.
The new Opera presents the GNO with opportunities to strengthen its educa-
tional and outreach programs through lectures, seminars, and other events.
The organization recently developed a children’s stage to attract younger au-
diences and engage future generations of opera-goers, and expanded chil-
dren’s programming will include tours of children’s performances, educa-
tional programs, age-specific seminars, and innovative activities. The GNO
will be able to take advantage of new wireless technologies to present pro-
ductions via the Internet to other Greek cities, while also using the Stavros
Niarchos Park as an outdoor theater for selected video-link performances.
A smaller theater with a capacity of 400 people will present more intimate pro-
ductions, including contemporary Greek music, dance, dramatic readings, and
theater productions in a venue with advanced technical capabilities. The the-
ater has a flexible layout with no fixed seating, making it ideal for experimental
productions. In addition, a school of dance will be resident at the SNFCC.
The Cultural Center would not be complete without a dining experience that
matches the level of excellence of the Center’s design and artistic offerings –
and meets the discerning tastes of all visitors. The destination restaurant will
celebrate the flavors and freshness of Greek cuisine with a menu created with
local, organic ingredients.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation – Dedicated to
Providing Opportunities in Education, Health and
Medicine, Social Welfare, and Arts and Culture
The Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation (SNF) was founded in 1996 with the goal
of providing opportunity in the fields of education, social welfare, health and
medicine, and arts and culture, especially to underserved populations. Since
its inception, the SNF has made a significant impact in the philanthropic
world, providing grants totaling nearly €878 million (US$1.1 billion) to more
than 1,800 not-for-profit organizations in 90 nations around the world. In
Greece, the Foundation’s assistance has funded programs including numer-
ous children’s education opportunities, Special Olympics, day care facilities,
library restoration, university facilities, elder care services, music, hospital
facilities, and ecosystem restoration, among many others.
Consistent with its goals of furthering education and the arts, in 1998 the
Foundation decided to fund construction of a new Greek National Library,
whose collections are currently housed in three separate locations. An idea
took root to not only consolidate the holdings but upgrade the facilities to
enable access to the world of knowledge and information to learners of all
ages, provide research and information resources, and connect the National
Library to other Greek and major libraries throughout the world. The con-
cept was presented to the government, which expressed its support.
The SNF announces its intention to fund
the development of the Stavros Niarchos
Foundation Cultural Center

Signing of Memorandum of Understanding
with the Greek State

Commencement of Field Studies
Master Plan

Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW)
selected to design the SNFCC

Commencement of Feasibility Studies


Meeting of the SNF Board of Directors

and RPBW’s design team with

the Prime Minister

Commencement of Schematics

Renzo Piano presents the SNFCC’s

Concept Design to the Prime Minister

and the Greek public

Signing of contract with the Greek State


Completion of the architectural study

and related technical studies

Commencement of construction

Completion of construction and passing of

responsibility for administration of the

SNFCC to the Greek State

Independent of this initiative, the SNF was considering a proposal to re-
build the Greek National Opera. The Foundation saw an exciting possibility
emerge from its disparate plans, one that was a perfect synthesis of its mis- A hunt for an appropriate site began. A 240,000 m2 (60 acre) tract of land
sion and its commitment to Greece and could provide a lasting and transfor- located 4.5 km south of Athens in the seaside municipality of Kallithea was
mative impact: to include the Greek National Opera, the National Library of identified. Following consultations with the Ministry of Environment and
Greece, and a cultural park in one site, and bequeath to the Greek people a Public Works and the mayor of Kallithea, consensus emerged that the land,
great civic, cultural, educational and environmentally responsible landmark used for parking during the 2004 Olympics, held great promise as both a rec-
of international stature. In 2006, as part of its tenth anniversary celebrations, reation and cultural site. 210,000 m2 (50 acres) of the site were earmarked
the Stavros Niarchos Foundation announced its intention to proceed with its for the Center and Esplanade, with the remaining seven acres designated for
largest individual grant to date: The Stavros Niarchos Foundation the Municipal Sport and Leisure Park of the Municipality of Kallithea.
Cultural Center. Once preliminary studies assured the Foundation and the Greek State of the
project’s viability, in June 2007 the two parties signed a Memorandum of
Understanding (MOU). The agreement stated in part that the Foundation
agreed to assume the total cost of building the SNFCC, estimated to be €550
million (US$750 million), and that upon its completion would “donate it to
the Greek State for use by the Greek people.”
The project was ready to enlist a creative force, an architect who possessed
vision, intellectual curiosity, and elegance, a person of professional distinc-
tion committed to the excellence of every aspect of the Stavros Niarchos
Foundation Cultural Center — and who had a demonstrated respect for the
history and culture of Greece. In early February 2008, the Board announced
its unanimous choice: The Renzo Piano Building Workshop.
Born in Genoa, Italy, Mr. Piano achieved international fame in the 1970s with
the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and has remained at the forefront of
architectural design ever since. In 1998 he was selected for his profession’s
highest honor, the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Never content to re-create his
last commission, he is recognized for the range of his talent, from Kansai air-
port in Japan to the New Caledonia pavilions to, most recently, the California
Academy of Sciences, hailed as a “masterpiece in sustainable architecture.”
Piano’s concept design, presented in January 2009, was met with great
enthusiasm by the Greek public and international architectural press. The
building and landscape designs are beautiful and graceful, integrated into a
built topography. The building footprint will occupy less than 15 percent of
the site; the other 85 percent will be green space, offering visitors a much-
needed respite from urban concrete. The Center will set new standards for
environmental sustainability and accessibility.
Piano is acknowledged for his collaborative design process, and the interna-
tional landscape design firm Deborah Nevins Associates (DNA) is an essen-
tial partner in the project. Known for creating sustainable landscape designs
that can adapt to evolving needs, the firm’s belief that a harmonious and
accessible design can heighten the spirit of all who experience the land —
regardless of their physical capabilities — will be instrumental in continuing
SNF’s practice of serving underrepresented populations in the Athens area,
and from around the whole country.
In March 2009, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation signed a contract with the
Greek State to construct the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.
Four months later, the Greek Parliament ratified the contract, opening the
way for commencement of construction, slated for 2011. As one of the largest
construction projects in recent Greek history, the Center will have an im-
mediate impact on the local economy, providing jobs and infusing capital
into a challenging economic climate. Looking to the future, the Center could
serve as a catalyst to revive the adjacent waterfront area and bring a new arts
community to the neighborhood. In cultural projects of a similar scale in
Europe and North America, the tertiary economic and employment benefits
have been profound, helping to reverse declining civic fortunes and trans-
form stagnant urban landscapes. The potential exists for the SNFCC to have
a similar effect in Greece.
The logo for the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
combines the colors blue, the national color of Greece; turquoise, emblematic
of the Greek Seas; and green, for vegetation, signifying the expansive new
green space that will be created for Athens as well as the ambitious environ-
mental goals of the project. For more information, please visit our website at