The Last Agorà

28 through which he divided the seagoing transport market of the Mediterranean with his rival Aristotle Onassis (1906–1975), who himself was married to no less important celebrities. But the biographies of Greece’s shipping magnates are very complicated stories to tell, so it is better to focus on the philanthropic activities of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which has donated a project to the city of Athens for an overall value of approximately 620 million euros, for the construction of a public park, the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera, on an area of 210,000 square metres. To choose the architect for the project, a competition was called among several internationally renowned studios, from which Renzo Piano Building Workshop emerged as the winner. Construction work, entrusted to a joint venture of the Salini Impregilo Group and the Greek company Terna, began in 2012. In 2016, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center was completed on schedule. This year saw the pas- sage of the complex from the client to the state, which will oversee its use for the citizenry. This was a far from simple process, involving complicated steps such as the transfer of the books of the National Library of Greece – whose holdings include over 4,500 manuscript codices from the 9th to the 19th century and a rich variety of important historical documents and archives besides the over one million volumes – along with its staff, from the old headquarters built in 1902 in the center of Athens, with Pentelic marble and Doric columns, next to the Uni- versity and the Academy. Given that, apart from expressing a hope, we can say very little about the conditions required to maintain a work of architecture once it has been perfectly completed according to the initial intentions, I will move straight on to the description of the project, addressing what I see as its most characteristic themes. The park, with its 1,450 Mediterranean trees and 280,000 shrubs grown in nurseries in the Mediterranean and then transported and planted at the site, is the strategic node of the project. In keeping with a logic already applied by Renzo Piano Building Workshop on other occasions (for example in the building of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, published in Casabella No. 791, February 2010), the green space – created in collaboration with landscape designer Deborah Nevins – forms the roof of the library, the opera house and the parking facilities, thanks to the design of an artificial hill that rises from street level to a terrace from which visitors can enjoy a splendid view of part of the city, with the Acropolis perfectly aligned, and of the sea and the islands on the other side. The terrace, with its glass room, sits above the opera house. Its ferro-cement roof, called the Canopy, measuring 100 metres by 100 metres, is a masterpiece Site plan. Courtesy of RPBW