Pietro Salini Introduction

Building Beauty in the cradle of European culture

«The most beautiful human deed is being useful to others».
Sophocles, Oedipus the King

Every work of architecture has a connection with the site on which it is built. In the case of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens, to which this book is dedicated, the connection is especially intimate. The complex emerges from the site itself, almost naturally, thanks to the synergy created by a perfect combination of human engineering and the surrounding landscape.

The defining feature of Classical Greek Culture was the citizen’s active involvement in the polis and education. This was a fundamental principle that made men free, different to “barbarians” who were subjects. It is also reflected in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s commitment to building a new cultural center connecting the past to the future.

The complex in the ancient neighbourhood of Kallithea, looking out to the site where the Port of Faliro once stood, is a dream come true thanks to a gift made to Athens and Greece by the private philanthropic foundation, which brought together the architectural genius of Renzo Piano and the engineering expertise of the Salini Impregilo Group and Terna to build a unique piece of architecture. A challenging project that required hard work and a strong cooperation at all levels from the very first moment and that today can be seen as one of the finest examples of efficiency and collaboration between the private and the public sector.

The project stems indeed from the desire to give the country and all the citizens access to the world of knowledge through a new and modern public space. The title of the book, The Last Agora, emphasises the parallelism between the ancient and the modern as well as the complex’s aggregating function as a modern agora that summons and brings together current and future generations in the new spaces of the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera.

In antiquity, at the center of the Greek polis and overlooked by the acropolis, the agora was the beating heart of the city. It was the main square and the place of civil ferment, an open space in which business dealings and social, economic and political relations were carried out.

We are proud to present this modern artistic and cultural center to the general public through a selection of photographs that follow the main phases of the construction of this unique complex and speak to the beauty of the work. This extraordinary project began to take shape with Piano’s sketches and was made possible by state-of-the-art engineering technology in an almost forty-month long construction journey. It was a challenge that initially seemed almost impossible in a setting of incredible beauty, with the Acropolis and the Parthenon in the background.

For us, the journey was marked by the constant search for cutting-edge engineering solutions to help us make this visionary design a reality, pushing the limits of conventional construction. Thanks to the meeting of technology and architecture, of vision and innovation, of sustainability and engineering expertise, the complex was awarded “2016 Global Best Project” in the Cultural/Worship category by Engineering News-Record, a leading U.S. construction and engineering magazine.

This is a reward for all those who believed in the project and accompanied us on this fantastic journey. A journey that looked to the past to discover the future for the next generations.


Pietro Salini
Chief Executive Officer of Webuild (Previously Salini Impregilo)