The Architecture of Panos Koulermos
Gianugo Polesello

       I have, through my work, attempted to be critical and to strive for the transformation of the spirit and the meaning of Modernism; in fact, I consider myself an ‘evolutionary Modernist’.
These are Panos Koulermos’ words1. They express a will that goes beyond the straightforward panorama of the good architect, conscious of his role, who is able to explain his own work in a thorough and constructive manner. By looking more closely at them, I believe we can understand better Koulermos’ intentions.
       What exactly does being an ‘evolutionary Modernist’ imply? At the University of Venice we have worked together on various projects for the city, and have tried to address the discourse on the true sense of ‘Classicism’. How do we define what is ‘classical’ and what is ‘modern’? Or, rather, is it not appropriate to speak of both as one phenomenon? It is in this sense, I think, that we should interpret ‘evolutionary Modernism’, for Koulermos has said: I believe in the modernism which recognizes the significance of history, the city and its forces, and in an architecture that goes beyond satisfying only its functional programmatic purpose; an architecture which is symbolic, spiritual and poetic...
       These beliefs in the value of history and deeper nature of architecture constitute the substance of Koulermos’ work, but they are reinforced by a further element. The poetry of the architecture, the poiesis, is rooted in the memory of the place: Memory-mneme-both collective and personal, plays a significant part in the way I design. Furthermore, Koulermos seeks the connection with a place through formal typological references and associations, raising his architecture above any accusation of superficiality.
       In an essay on the nature of Greek art,2 Emanuele Loevy formulated a series of characteristics commonly found in primitive Greek drawings. He noted that the structures and movements of the figures and their parts were limited to a few typical configurations. The singular shapes were stylised and schematized in images that were linear, regular, or tending towards regularity. Loevy explained this schematization in relation to the role played by memory in artistic creation: ‘As a result of the visual impressions that we have received from numerous samples of the same project, what remains imprinted in our minds is a mnemonic image, which is none other than platonic idea of an object, namely a typical image devoid of any personal or casual attribute.’ Panos Koulermos develops architectural concepts by elaborating and adopting building types which he defines, in a similarly atemporal manner, as archetypes and primary ideas.
       Although I do not think it is appropriate today to speak of architecture in terms of its national origins, I feel we can still speak of its ‘spirit’. In the designs and poetic visions of Koulermos, it is the mneme which characterises the type, which consolidates its character, turning and object into a typical image. As Loevy wrote of Greek art: ‘Among all the aspects, memory chooses the one which presents the object with properties which make it different. Consequently, it chooses the one which makes it most understandable, giving it maximum possible visibility, and exhibiting a wholeness in each one of its parts. As a matter of fact, in almost all cases, this aspect coincides with the wide-ranging viewpoint of the object itself’.
       Memory is history without historicism; an effort to link together ‘Classicism’ and ‘Modernism’, an investigation into the meaning of ‘place’. It is the development of a ‘type’, the will to produce shapes and figures. These concepts evoke all the things that I hope to see in architecture-and all the things that I do see in the work of Panos Koulermos. Regardless of whether the projects are built or unrealized commissions, nature is understood to operate in essentially the same way. In the case of the buildings, nature is seen outside the ‘artefact’; in the drawings, it is integrated by the active process of the mneme.
       This, I believe , is the modern meaning of the search for the ‘classical’. Koulermos’ series of twelve houses in the Hellenic world concludes with a sort of house/ship or house/ark. I venture to think that this is perhaps a key, a clue to possible revelation if we continue further.


1 See page 46 of the catalogue to an exhibition of Panos Koulermos’ work, Topos, Memory, and Form, published in Athens in 1990. Subsequent quotations are taken from the same text.

2 This essay was published in English in 1907, under the title ’Rendering of Nature in Early Greek Art’.

Translated by Yorgo Koulermos.