|| The Architecture of Panos Koulermos
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’
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
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
2 This essay was published in English in 1907, under the title ’Rendering of
Nature in Early Greek Art’.
Translated by Yorgo Koulermos.