European Countryside
European territory has become completely urbanized. The countrysides in the traditional sense have disappeared; the distinctions between the town and the country have been blurred. In contrast to the unambiguous urban transformations of cities, the processes of urban change in the countryside are massive, yet often unnoticed. Away from the public eye and professional scrutiny, these processes have created new urban identities and configurations in the formerly rural realm of Europe. The studio series European Countryside will explore the terra incognita of the countryside, and its radical mutations. The project aims to reinvent contemporary countrysides as legitimate and critical subject of architecture profession.

Starting in spring 2016, the studio will select several countryside case studies from the European typological panorama. Through these studies, a definition of contemporary countryside will be researched, and its potentials discovered and represented. These insights will form the basis for projects on the countryside.

The mythical Arcadia and the landscapes of Peloponnese in Greece are the birthplace of European territory and a source of European culture. They will serve as the threshold for the investigation into the character and urban potentials of European territories beyond the city.

Arcadia is one of the most enduring utopias of the western mind. As an imaginary locus and a pictorial style, Arcadia originated in the pastoral scenery of Roman poets Ovid and Virgil, from where it spread throughout western painting and literature. The imaginary realm of Arcadia, where human beings, animals, and plants harmoniously coexist, remains one of the most powerful idyllic constructions of the countryside.

By contrast, the actual region of Arcadia is located on the mountainous core of Peloponnese, the largest peninsula in Greece. These are the oldest inhabited territories in Europe and sources of European culture: sites of classical ruins, such as Epidaurus and ancient Olympia, still punctuate the landscape, and stone villages are scattered on the mountaintops. The entire Peloponnese is a quiet territory, seemingly unaffected by the metropolitan growth of Athens, and the gradual proliferation of new infrastructures and industries in the formerly rural landscape. The region’s low population density, remoteness, and low accessibility are surprising and can be can be understood as possessing a powerful potential in the European context: Arcadia and Peloponnese resist urbanization, and remain an important interruption in the dense urban fabric of the continent. But this countryside is also much more than the imaginary of the pastoral ideal: cultural heritage sites, nature areas, agriculture, energy landscapes, and tourism have interacted here to produce radical urban transformations and new forms of living and production. Our investigation will concentrate on the character and potentials of the Arcadian countryside, seen as an important and typical case in the European panorama of countrysides.

The project is organized as an east-west section through the territory of Peloponnese, running from coast to coast — from Epidaurus to Olympia, through the mountains of Arcadia. Learning from the myths and the direct experience of the landscape, the studio will investigate, discover, promote and design new typologies of Arcadian countryside.

Travel — Integrated Seminar Week (cost frame C)
11.03.16 (evening) – 20.03.16 in Greece

Assistant Prof — Milica Topalovic
Team — Hans Hortig, Karoline Kostka, Fabian Kiepenheuer, Metaxia Markaki, Lukas Wolfensberger
Program — Design Research Studio and Integrated Discipline Planning
Places — 18 Students
Start — 23.02, 10 am, ONA
Contact —
Meike Stender and Akito Yoshinaka
The villages of Arcadia punctuate the slopes of Mainalon, Parnonas and Lykaion Oros mountains. With their compact built structure and defined limits, each village constitutes an identifiable entity in the Arcadian landscape. Located at high altitudes, between 600 and 1200 meters, and surrounded by wilderness, these villages have acquired a special place in Greek political history. During the antiquity, the inaccessible heights of Arcadia triggered imagination and various mythic associations developed around it: Arcadia is the battlefield of Gigantomachy, the birthplace of Zeus, and the homeland of Pan and the Nymphs.

Up to the modern era, the region has never been a unified political entity, but was rather marked by the coexistence of independent city-states. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Arcadia became part of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire (the Despotate of the Morea), still perceived as an intact and secluded region. Its inhabitants became proverbial herdsmen symbolizing both pastoral lack of sophistication, and the gift of simplicity and living in bliss. The imaginary of idyllic paradise travelled to the west through the works of literature, most notably in the visions of a pastoral utopia of Virgil’s Eclogues (42 BC) and later in Jacopo Sannazaro’s Arcadia (1504). During the four hundred years under Ottoman Empire, the remote Arcadian mountains served as hideout where some measure of Greek self-government was preserved, eventually producing the revolutionary generation that won the Greek national independence in 1821.

Since the 1950s, Arcadian villages experienced extreme depopulation as a result of intense urban-rural migration in the postwar Greece. Today, Arcadian villages compose a heterogeneous constellation. One finds touristic villages such as the Mainalon ski resort, with luxurious pensions in renovated stone houses; abandoned villages that exist only as transit points on hiking paths (Arkoudoremma (0 inh.) and Limpovici (0 inh.)), and seasonal villages active only a few days each month, when they host weekend visitors or holiday goers. (Examples are Stemnitsa, which went to 191 inh. in 2011 from 411 inh. in 2001, and Dimitsana with 342 inh. in 2011, shrinking from 611 inh. in 2001—the figure equal the half of its population before the WWII.) At middle-heights bellow 600 meters, agricultural hamlets lacking views and other natural attractions of the peaks have also shrunk. (Examples are Kapelitsa with 30 inh. and Zatouna with 13 inh.) In the lower heights, wealthy agricultural villages are still growing. (Tropaia counted 506 inh. in 2011 compared to 674 inh. in 2001.)

With their history of remoteness and utopian imaginaries, the Arcadian villages today face several challenges radically altering their character. Still considered a remote part of Greece, Arcadia remains an unfortunate object of persisting idyllic mythologies, often misinterpreted as area of intact nature and source of all Greek traditions. This understanding contributes to the further decline of the villages.

The project on Arcadian villages focused on the Arcadian municipality of Gortynia, in which the various transformations have been framed and observed: the challenges of depopulation and the declining village economies; the reinvention of villages as touristic destinations; the lack of infrastructures, and the need for future plans. The project demystifies the stereotype of Arcadia as pastoral idyll and tries to reconstitute a contemporary image of Arcadia under urban transformation. These insights have formed the basis for a territorial strategy for the Arcadian countryside.
Lorenzo Autieri and Patrick Meyer
Despite great variety of agriculture in Peloponnese, two types of fruit cultivation dominate the landscape: oranges in Argos and Lakonia, and olives in Ilia and Messina. Tied to altitude and soil quality, the areas of specific cultivation (olive, orange, wine, etc) are clearly delineated in the landscape.

The word agriculture shares root with Greek “agrios”, meaning “wild”. A degree of unruliness is still part of agricultural production in Greece and in Peloponnese, due to small field sizes and small-scale individual producers, who often operate without formal land title. Compared to elsewhere in Europe the size of agricultural properties in Greece is exceedingly small: 4.4 hectares in average, being even smaller in Peloponnese. In Switzerland, despite the mountainous terrain and the small land subdivision, the average land property is 17.4 hectares. EU policies and subsides have decisive impact in regulating agricultural production in Greece; however, despite the fact that the EU allocates 2.5 billion euros in annual subsidies for production in the so called “less favored areas” such as the small-scale production in Peloponnese, due to the poor state of local politics and administration, much investment is wasted.

The Alfeios River valley and the surrounding hilly slopes covered with olive trees have served as the frame in this project to examine the transformation of olive landscapes in Peloponnese. Due to its hilly topography, the area is designated as “less favored” for cultivation and receives EU subsidies.

Olives and olive oil are the most significant agricultural products in Greece, tightly connected to Greek cultural traditions, shaping both the Greek landscape and regional identities. The importance of olive farming is illustrated by the fact that municipal workers typically get time off every year for the olive harvest. Families in Greece, regardless whether “rural” or “urban“, continue to produce olive oil for themselves. Artisanship surrounding the olive industry stands now in sharp contrast to the industrialization of agriculture in many parts of Europe. The traditional olive farming ecosystems have high levels of biodiversity due to the still-limited use of pesticides. On the other hand, it appears that for small-scale olive producers in is becoming increasingly difficult to adequately promote traditional farming methods and benefit from them.

Complementing the family labor, in Greece and Peloponnese the small-scale producers in agriculture have developed economic relationships with migrant workers. In reclaiming abandoned fields and century-old farms, migrant farmers now help revive Greek countryside. Beside foreign work migration, a new type of urban-to rural migration has emerged: more and more young professionals abandon large cities to move to the countryside, in response to increasing urban unemployment and the financial crisis. In addition, the potential of agro-tourism hasn’t yet been fully explored. Traditionally, agriculture in Greece has been an autonomous field of labor and production; its new association with leisure and tourism may still appear incompatible with the popular understanding of the “countryside.”

Climate, topography and other natural conditions and hazards, property rights, traditions, national and international economic policies and migrations, are all powerful forces shaping the olive production landscape in Greece. In Peloponnese, the predominance of family farms and cooperative organization structures for olive oil processing and trade, emphasize the highly local character of olive agriculture.

The project aimed to describe transformation processes shaping the countryside of olive cultivation. Interested in the potentials of the small-scale, family-based production for the future of European countryside, the project envisions a new kind of “slow territory”, with new ways of living and working in the olive groves.
Dorothee Hahn and Julie Rigling
“Countryside as heritage landscape” refers to landscapes often encountered in Peloponnese: remains of antiquity scattered in myriad remote or peripheral locations, outside of cities. The sanctuary of Olympia, placed in a quiet and relatively secluded spot at the confluence of Alfeios and Kladeos Rivers, is typical of this phenomenon.

The site attracted visitors for centuries, even before the first Olympics, which took place in 776 BC. To provide security for athletes and spectators gathering from all over the Greek World, Olympic Truce was announced before and during the games. The architecture of the site developed in several stages over time, resulting in a heterogeneous structure. In 600 BC, one of the first buildings was the Temple of Hera, followed in 560 BC by the extraordinary Olympic Stadium embedded in the terrain. In 456 BC, during the so-called golden age of Olympia, the Temple of Zeus was built with gigantic statue of Zeus, the work of Phidias, in the interior. Due to the growing importance of the games, further buildings for athletes were built, including the Palaestra and the Baths.

In the 3rd century earthquakes and invading tribes damaged the site. The Olympic games continued to be held until 393 AD when Christian emperor Theodosius prohibited the worship of Greek gods. Repeated floods destroyed the settlement again in the early 7th century. An alternative theory, launched recently by German archaeologists based on findings of mollusk and shells at the site of Olympia, proposes that its definitive destruction took place in the early 7th century as a consequence of a massive tsunami.

Though the site was rediscovered in the 18th century, the first excavations in Olympia took place in 1829, carried out by the French Expedition Scientifique de Morea. Subsequently, the excavations and the preservation of the Ancient Olympia have been the responsibility of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens, who received exclusive access. The first major excavation began in 1875, funded by the German government.

In 1936, the year of the Olympic games in Berlin, a new systematic excavation was initiated by the Nazi Party and theritual of bringing the Olympic flame to the venue of the games had been started. Leni Riefenstahl commemorated the new ritual in the documentary film „Olympia“, purportedly aiming to revive the ideals of the Olympics in the modern, western world.

Today, the Olympia heritage site lies under the jurisdiction of the Greek Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs, which supervises the area for any acts of illegal excavations, and intervenes in case any new finds are revealed. The financial resources for the site are provided by the Greek state and the EU funds.

The contemporary village of Olympia sprouted as a parasite adjoining the archaeological area soon after the ruins were discovered. To this day, the village life is based on seasonal tourist visits, mainly during the summer. The village main road is lined with restaurants, tourist agencies, hotels, two museums and a municipal building—remarkably, nearly all public buildings in Olympia are of high architectural value. The municipal building, the former Xenia Motel, is designed by Aris Konstatinidis, one of Greece’s leading modern architects. Xenia, after the ancient Greek concept of hospitality, was a nationwide state-run project of tourist infrastructure development during the 1960s and ‘70s—today the Xenia structures in Olympia and throughout Greece are largely abandoned and awaiting privatisation.

The wider municipal territory of Olympia today counts around 13 400 inhabitants; the village itself around 1000. In 1989, the ancient site was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage status. The need to protect the remains from possible floods led to the construction of extensive flood barriers along Alpheios. After forest fires nearly reached Olympia in 2007, fire protection infrastructures received major overhaul.

The nearby Port Katakolon serves several cruise lines in the Mediterranean and functions as jumping off point for cruise tourists’ day trips to Olympia. In 2010 for example, nearly 950 000 passengers debarked at the port, and were shuttled to Olympia and back, during their six-hour stops.

As a consequence of UNESCO regulations, many urban interventions have taken place within and around the site. The implemented buffer zone and other protection arrangements applying to built structure and traffic in the area, prevent any conflicts from the expansion of the tourist village, but they also appear to hamper its develpment.
Andres Ruiz and Johannes Hirsbrunner
“Seaside Countryside” is a distinctive typology of coastal development of Peloponnese. Since antiquity, the coast of Peloponnese has been an area of commercial activity, but was also perceived as dangerous and unfit for inhabitation due to piracy, conflict and swampy land. Most historical cities had been located inland, at a distance from the coast.

In the mid 20th century, Peloponnese had still resisted beach tourism: the growing urban middle class in Greece still preferred to escape the city to the mountains for vacation and leisure. Only in the 1960s and ‘70s, coastal tourism begins to flourish, mainly through public incentives, such as Xenia project, in form of large-scale tourist facilities designed and built at various locations throughout the country.

The coast of Ilia is part of low-lying plains on the west of Peloponnese, forming a foreland to the north-south mountain ranges. Pyrgos, Ilia’s largest city, is located about four kilometres inland. The coastal topography was transformed profoundly over time; in antiquity the coastline laid approximately eight kilometres further inland. The present-day coast formed through the build-up of alluvial soil, made cultivable in the second half of the 20th century through extended irrigation infrastructures.

Sited on a rocky cape, Katakolon is a unique point on the coast and has been a port settlement for centuries. From the end of the 19th to the mid 20th century, it functioned as the gate for export of Ilia’s agricultural products, especially raisin, to Europe. In recent years, the Port Katakolon has experienced major makeover through cruise tourism—an ongoing development with uncertain consequences. The port now receives around 300 cruise boats annually, serving as the gateway to the archaeological area of Olympia, located twenty kilometers inland.

Urbanization of Ilia’s coastline is heterogeneous and largely spontaneous: Illegal beach settlements, campsites, summer houses with olive orchards, and new seaside resorts catering to international tourist are lined up side-by-side. The extended coastal zone between the cities (Pyrgos, Amaliada) and the sea functions as a peri-urban landscape, filled by vegetable fields and farmhouses, water reservoirs and irrigation channels, and scattered leisure sites such as motorbike trails and hiking paths.

Ilia’s coast appears to develop without strategic land-use plans. The planning and building regulation in Greece generally focuses on the construction aspect of development; the floor area ratio and the minimum plot size are widespread regulatory instruments. By contrast, zoning plans cover less than 3 percent of the Greek countryside territory, an important exception compared to most European countries, contributing to unauthorized construction. The proportion of unauthorized construction in Greece increased 45 percent between 1950 and 1995. Initially, the mechanism of self-built housing served as a response to the pressing housing shortage, but since the 1970s the practice spread beyond housing to include holiday houses and other tourist establishments. The lasses-faire attitude and the policy of non-demolition since the 1950s can be interpreted as powerful elements of local and national politics and electoral games in Greece, which radically altered the urban landscape of the country.

In contrast to congested touristic coast of the northern Mediterranean, the coast of Ilia is an interesting exception. Not a purely touristic destination, rather, it is appropriated by the locals. The seaside is here still an area of agriculture and second residence connected to nearby inland cities. On the other hand, various pressures including increasing transport infrastructures and tourist arrivals are threatening the local character of the coast and the preserved ecosystems.

Through maps, drawings and text, the project describes the specific local character of Ilia’s coast, seen as an attractive mixture of local seasonal living, agriculture and protected nature areas. The “seaside countryside” is offered as a concept and potential for the future of the area—a proposal to envision an alternative territorial hierarchy, resisting the wholesale submission to international tourism, and strengthening the features of the local urban landscape.
Arcadia is one of the most enduring utopias of the western mind. As an imaginary locus and a pictorial style, Arcadia originated in the pastoral scenery of Roman poets Ovid and Virgil, from where it spread throughout western painting and literature. The imaginary realm of Arcadia, where human beings, animals, and plants harmoniously coexist, remains one of the most powerful idyllic constructions of the countryside.

An investigative journey to Arcadia and Peloponnese constitutes the core of Architecture of Territory first project on the European Countryside. Travelling along the territorial line that crosses the Peloponnese from Epidaurus to Olympia and from east to west coast, we will experience the region’s complexity and beauty.

Extensive field research is a prerequisite for the students’ projects. The interaction with local experts as well as the faculty and students of the School of Architecture at the National Technical University of Athens, will enable a close view of the territory. The journey takes place from March 11—20, 2016.

Seven days
Arcadian villages
Classical ruins
Mystical river
Olive orchards
Summer homes
Football fields with a view
and more
Lectures and Conversations
Travellers is a series of five lectures and conversations about ways of perceiving, studying and portraying urban territories. Each of the guest speakers is a traveler—a person who places the direct observation and experience of urban landscapes in the core of their practice.

The architectural ways of looking, concepts and techniques are unstable at large territorial scales, and yet, urban territories can be seen as crucial contexts for the production of architecture. Seeing an extended urban territory as part of the city – its mirror – can reflect back in the ways we see the city itself, and its architectures. With students and invited guests, we will consider: How can architects look at, study and design urban territories or the “city’s constitutive outside”: the periphery, the agglomeration, the countryside and the hinterland? What are the motives (aesthetic, political) architects can have in engaging with these territories? The aim is to discuss concepts and techniques for territorial investigations and projects.

We will be looking at urban territories through the eyes, lenses and concepts of an urban geographer, a cartographer, a photographer, an artist and an architect.

urban sociologist and professor at ETH Zurich
conversation with guests—Matthew Gandy, UCL (tbc)

27.10.2015—new date!
journalist and chief cartographer, Le Monde diplomatique
conversation with Marc Angélil and Christian Schmid, ETH Zurich

artist, Büro für Städtereisen
conversations with Marcel Meili

artist photographer and videographer
conversation with Bas Princen

architect, assistant professor at ETH Zurich
5.15pm Inaugural lecture at ETH Zentrum HG, Audi Max F30

Selected Mondays, 5.30 – 7 pm, ONA Focushalle

HS2015 elective 1 ECTS credit