|| 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
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
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
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
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.