My Greek Friend
Francesco Dal Co

    The first step towards knowing more about the work of Panos Koulermos is to consider the details of his biography. Koulermos was born in Cyprus some 50 years ago. He studied first at the Polytechnic of Central London (PCL), where his training was in the hands of personalities such as Douglas Stephen and Thomas Steven. After graduating, he worked for a number of years in London. However his contacts with Italy increased and in 1960s he moved to Milan, which was one of the most vigorous cultural environments in Europe at the time. There, he took a course in urbanism at the Politecnico di Milano. He also studied the work of the Lombardy Rationalists of the 1920s and 1930s, in particular Terragni and Lingeri, who had first attracted his attention in London. Out of this research came the first comprehensive assessment of the Italian Rationalists to be published in Britain after the war-a strange feat for a Cypriot-born architect, but only really a surprising one for Koulermos.
    While continuing to shuttle between his European bases, Koulermos has become a resident of the United States. Since 1973 he has taught in the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Southern California at Los Angeles and has lectured extensively throughout the United States, Britain, Greece and Italy. His projects have been presented in leading international reviews, including Casabella, Domus, Arquitectura and A+U.
    An international man, Koulermos has sought inspiration from the most disparate cultural sources. Yet his work is unfailingly cohesive, building on his sound training and firm principles of practice. As a consequence, he has progressed unchecked though a period that has been very difficult for international architecture in general-a period of false turns, of wasted energy. By this, I do not mean to say that his experiments and research have adhered statically to their point of departure, unwilling to recognize the changes wrought by time. Quite the reverse: his architecture reveals an evident curiosity. He weighs up the battered rhetoric of ephemeral innovations and passing fashions and extracts from them the elements worth retaining as a stimulus to thought. For this reason alone, Koulermos' projects deserve to be subject of wider attention. Rather like a low-sensitivity film, they capture the best results of the (often confused) architectural research conducted since 1960s. As a whole, his work constitutes a kind of 'critical text' which requires careful reading.
    Koulermos' expressive modes have evolved into a small but steady flow of successful commissions and inventive design experiments. The latter provide the opportunity to research issues more thoroughly than would be possible in a real contract. However, even in the designs produced for pure pleasure, or for the purposes of testing a new morphological hypothesis, we do not see the self-indulgent graphics that make much 'paper architecture' so superficial. Koulermos' designs are always oriented towards construction, and this gives them not only the cohesion which we have already noted, but also a healthy clarity. These features are, I believe, immediately evident in all of his projects, from the Rationalist early schemes in London to the most recent experimental designs in Greece , where the beautiful landscape has formed and natural focus for his research and built work.
    From this point of view, the carrier of Koulermos represents a modern retelling of an ancient tale. He has been on a long voyage, facing many trails on the way, but now he has returned to the land of his birth, a grown man, mature. Or, to put it in slightly different terms, he has returned home laden with precious goods collected on his travels throughout the years.
    His work is accumulative. The Scalabrini Retirement Center in Sun Vally, Los Angeles, which interprets his interests in Rudolph Schindler, the Tradate School, which reflects the design culture of nearby Milan , the 'theoretical' designs for Venice, the projects undertaken with his students in Los Angeles-all have built upon each other to form a design language and practice which have yielded their best results in his recent commissions in Greece.
    The Science Complex for the University of Crete is proof of this. It combines into an articulated narrative all of the issues on which Kuolermos has been concentrating so patiently: the memory of the ancient civilisations of Crete, the lessons of Kahn, the intensive development of elevations, the constantly repeated vertical slots, the shifts within the floor plan that are reminiscent of his experiments in Italy. The result is a firm but open building which is fully aware of its environmental responsibilities.
    While the massing of the Science Complex is richly narrative, Koulermos' design for the Research Center and Administration Building of the University of Crete is more concentrated and explicit-a judicious mix of Mediterranean simplicity and models reinterpreted from his time in Milan.
    These projects demonstrate Koulermos' ability to filter and select. The task of selection is done not only with intelligence and cohesion, but with a moderation that engenders elegance, as we can see in the Nursery School in Los Angeles and , above all, in the twelve houses based on an invented programme for twelve different sites in the Hellenic world. These last works also encapsulate an act of sincerity, for they clearly record the sources of their inspiration and the models they are intended to study.
    It is evident that Koulermos studies as he works. For this reason, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the designs and the finished projects. Seizing every design opportunity, even to the point of creating a fictitious client-himself-he skilfully accumulates the material that he will use in his buildings, selecting everything with thought and care.
    Panos is a prudent and moderate man. Could there be any higher praise for an architect in our times?

Edited version of article published in the catalogue of the Panos Koulermos exhibition, Topos, Memory, and Form, in 1990 at the House of Cyprus, Athens.