|| Panos Koulermos within the Framework of Mediterranean Culture
Antonio Velez Catrain
to Panos Koulermos, I have learned much about him as an architect, as
a human being, above all, as a thinker. In the process. I have discovered
the profound bond of his ideas with the philosophy and spirit of the
Mediterranean- not only the Hellenic Mediterranean, but the whole immense
region, with its diverse shores and primal, mystical waters. The Mediterranean
is perhaps the most serene of all seas, and serenity is perhaps the
most important feature of Koulermos' architecture.
At present, when Koulermos
is at the height of his career, his work appears more reflective, well
conceived and careful than ever. Other architects, when intensely busy,
give up the search for new inspiration, preferring to copy themselves
in order to meet the demand for their work. For Kuolermos, each new
project is more complete than the last, with fewer concessions made
to frivolity. Most importantly, he has remained independent of the trends
that have come and gone in rapid succession in recent years. He has
chosen a difficult means of developing his work: even his smallest,
most everyday projects, such as dwellings and villas, show a search
for transcendence and solemnity. Running through all his projects, like
a golden thread, is a concern with the physical and historical aspects
of the site and place, irrespective of time.
It is no accident that one of the buildings which interests Koulermos
most is the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, In this exemplary project,
Louis Kahn responded to a site that was exceptionally evocative, though
hardly fraught with history. The resultant building transcends the landscape.
Close to Heraklion, Koulermos' buildings for the University of Crete
and the Foundation of Research and Technology establish the same kind of
transcendent dialogue with the landscape and the elements that shape it:
the wind, the scent of the place, the changes in temperature, the seasons
and the crops. In the case of his Biennale project on the Grand Canal in
Venice (Ca' Venier/Guggenheim Foundation) the site, with its mystery and
its poetry, is the thread leading to Koulermos' magical solution that also
links itself with Gardella's architecture in the same city. One might even
say that Koulermos designs not only the buildings themselves, but the
space around them.
I had the opportunity to work with Koulermos on a competition project
for the area around the Alhambra in Granada, He grasped the place and its
history immediately, extracting Its truly important aspects from his very
first visit. He had a clear sense of the culture of Granada and the Islamic
architecture which is part of the heritage of the Mediterranean - and an
equally clear sense of the practical issues involved. He knew just how to
scale the project: how to orient it, define its boundaries and manipulate
the difficult topography of the site.
A further element that I consider to be essential in Koulermos' work is
his ability to create works of architecture which are solemn without being
'monumental' (a widely misused term In contemporary architecture). Those
who strive to build a city out of a succession of significant buildings often
fail to convey the kind of solemnity that Koulermos infuses into a building
or citadel by the act of binding it with the greater natural environment.
Koulermos has nurtured this ability throughout his life. He is constantly
curious, always attentive to events that may have a profound cultural
meaning in our times.
Regarding his craft as an architect, the outstanding aspect is the strong
yet simple way in which each of his buildings relates to the ground. In each
case, the esplanade, platform, podium or staircase will respect the various
topographic incidents and respond to the requirements of the programme
itself. The building will rise in a clear manner, without ambiguities or
distortions, unfurling itself freely against the horizon, capturing the light
and sending it across roofs and walls, defining a whole new architecture
as the shadows fall over the horizontal planes.
Needless to say, these brief comments cannot fully describe Koulermos'
work and thought. However, I do believe that they can help the reader find
in his work the inspiration and motivation that those of us close to him
have learned to value so highly. To conclude, I will mention an element of
his work that has been very important to me personally: his vision of
history. Panes believes in the oneness of time. Present, past and future all
converge in the site, sustaining the work of architecture from its birth to its
natural destruction. The true architect has the ability to envision the
finished work, to imagine, while he draws, how it will look after the
passage of time. This, to me, is Koulermos' most important asset - and his
most admirable one.
Translated by Ana Virginia Ras