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Chrysa Gerakaki completed her diploma thesis at the Bauhaus University in Germany titled "Memory. A network of monuments for Mati." This work explores the aesthetics of memory and the relationship between trauma, memory, and architecture.
By Mia Kollia
This incredible architect who honors people and the environment in this unique way dreams about the future: "To continue practicing architecture with love, passion, and dedication, to continue to translate feelings into space, to create spaces placing the human being as the central design subject, having ecological consciousness and empathy. Finally, I would like to see my work take shape and form at Mati, as I strongly believe in the importance of preserving memory."
Have you always dreamt of becoming an architect?
From a young age, I loved architecture, its beauty, its history, and its ability to change people's lives. Architecture has always been a part of my life. I wasn't playing with my dolls and playmobile but building their houses. I would ask my parents to buy me cardboard boxes to make dollhouses and small mock-ups to house my toys. As I grew up, my love grew even more assertive. In high school, I read about great architects, artistic movements, and buildings and wrote everything down on a little pad I always had. Once in High School, my decision to study architecture was finalized. Architecture is remarkable because it encompasses philosophy, arts, science, psychology, and sociology.
Which arts of your studies inspired you the most?
I studied at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany, in the same buildings where in 1919, Walter Gropius founded this historical school, which changed the course of art and architecture in the Western world. The school continues to retain many of its once bold and revolutionary elements.
Students are encouraged to express themselves creatively– from ceramics to typography and photography. They must travel at least once every semester and connect with other cultures. They must take courses from other faculty departments and collaborate with and learn from multiple majors. I loved and appreciated this, as it taught me to think complexly, research, read, and look for the "why" and the "because" in everything I am asked to design. During my studies, I loved history, particularly the protection, restoration, and reuse of historical buildings and monuments. Especially in our country, with such a rich architectural heritage, the recognition and promotion of the values of the past and their preservation in the future through their inclusion in modern life is deemed necessary.
What are your professional dreams?
When I finished my first master's degree at Bauhaus University in 2020, I continued with a second one specializing in architecture, memory, and the protection of historical monuments. For me, history, research, and the theory of architecture are essential resources, as it is possible to plan for the present and the future only through the crucial knowledge of the past. Since then, I have lived and worked in Athens as an architect, taking up projects with existing shells and a history that must be preserved and managed sensitively. My need for research and history, the management of the memory carried by a building or monument, and the relationship between architecture, collective memory, and identity are issues that continue to interest me, and I often think that I would like to return to the University, perhaps in the capacity of a Ph.D. candidate. In the future, I would like to continue to design with respect for memory and history and to find creative ways to bridge the present and the past.
Have there been beacons in your life?
My parents taught me the value of hard work and the power of a single person to change the world if they try hard enough. It is an excellent example for the people who raise you to teach you the value of giving without expecting anything in return and devoting your efforts to leaving a legacy. At the same time, I was always lucky to be surrounded by excellent teachers, my high school teacher Mr. Emmanuel Apostolakis, and the teachers who guided me in my master's thesis, Dipl. Ing. Johannes Kuehn, Dr. phil. Hans-Rudolf Meier and G. Nikopoulos. On a professional level, when at the age of 19, I got my first job as part of an internship in the office of Maria Kokkinos and Andreas Kourkoulas; I never expected that six months later, I would leave the office full of knowledge and appetite, and people next to me to support me, love me and advise me until today.
What does it take to achieve one's goal?
Hard work, persistence, organization, and self-discipline are crucial to achieving goals. "Talent, when not accompanied by a strong mind, disciplined in the direct perception of reality and a soul clear of petty egos - a soul steeled with human ethics - is not talent but 'opportunity' that cannot touch the limits of creation,” wrote Karagatsis. Skill comes with training, practice, time, and dedication. All people are talented, each in something different. If this talent translates into a strong need to create and is accompanied by practice and dedication, it certainly resonates with me.
Why did you decide to create for Mati? What is your involvement?
Mati was and still is my home. I grew up in Mati and spent there every summer of my life. On the day of the fire, I was working in an architectural office in the center of Athens, but my family, my mother, my younger sisters, my grandmother, and our animals were there, and they managed to survive by sheer luck. After the fire, we all got busy contributing in every way to the area, cleaning, helping, organizing, and caring. For the next two years, as long as my master's degree lasted, my thought never left Mati. So, I chose to deal with this complex memory issue and contribute in the way I knew best, that of architecture. Approaching this deeply personal subject, I tried to recall my memories, explore my feelings and pain about fire and translate them into space that incorporates all the responsibility of memory within itself. The important thing for me was not to suppress the trauma and the anger but to give them space to be heard and expressed.
What is the story behind your work for Mati?
The work explores the aesthetics of memory and the relationship between trauma, memory, and architecture. It consists of two parts: theoretical research, which examines the mechanism of memory, identity, and belonging, and then ends in an architectural proposal.
With all its scars from the fire, the whole area becomes a palimpsest of memory and history.
Five interventions and five monuments of different scales are scattered in the area, creating a sizeable outdoor memorial. Their locations have been carefully chosen, indicating places that saved or cost many lives. As part of the public space, these interventions are autonomous but also function as part of a whole, a network of memory. They create a network of emblems, symbols of handling the most critical moments of this catastrophe. Monuments are similar in form and shape but different in function and the experience they offer. Their allegory is that they do not provide a spatial proposition that will be useful in everyday life. Instead, they act as a reminder of what was missing and an open invitation to imagine what might have happened had they been around on the day of the fire. They do not offer a workable solution nor exist as an attraction but as an indication of all that went wrong.
A fire station, a shelter, and a jetty. A ladder with 26 steps, one for every person who never found it. A staircase that, instead of leading to the sea, leads to the sky. Finally, the gardens represent the emotional stages related to fire. First, the garden of the past, a garden with dense vegetation like the one that existed in the area before the fire. Then the fire garden, consisting of tall, dry vegetation. A labyrinthine path with seemingly burnt vegetation symbolized the feeling of panic when people didn't know how to go. Next is the garden of sorrow. Black earth, emptiness, the absence of emotions that followed the following days after the fire. Then, the park of lack, underground, dark, and gloomy, with 104 empty seats. The last station in this memory experience is that of acceptance and purification. The space, through its form, embraces the visitor and invites him to look at the sea and the horizon to reflect on what he experienced and recognize the magnitude of the trauma left by the fire. The last part of the monument is an information and training center, which aims to cultivate the visitors and prepare them in a targeted manner so that they can more effectively manage a similar event in the future. Finally, there is an event hall, a museum, an archive, seminar rooms, and a small cafe. All these uses are placed underground and in linear order. Few traces of this construction are visible above ground.
What is your opinion about the aesthetics and architecture of Athens?
Athens has character. But the city’s gems are all these (historical) buildings that represent the values of the society that created them and are an integral part of its history and culture. The grand Nikoloudi portico, the neoclassical ones in the center, the blue apartment building, the low houses in Anafiotika, the Apollo tower, and the refugee houses in Alexandras Avenue. All pieces of an odd but unique puzzle that makes up our collective memory as a society, our very identity.