Greek Pavilion





As the visitor wanders around the Venice Biennale pavilions, something strange happens when he gets to crossing the bridge over the Rio dei Giardini, the path toward the eastern area of the exhibition. There, the layout of the pavilions of Austria, Poland, Serbia, Egypt, and Romania, with the Greek Pavilion as its southeastern end point, brings to mind the countries’ actual geographical layout on the map of Eastern Europe. Only the central position of the Brazilian Pavilion introduces a weird, surreal disorder to the continental layout. The Greek Pavilion, however, brings us back to the substantive facts of European geography. Behind it, beyond the Canal Grande and the island of Lido, stretches the Adriatic Sea with the Balkans and its six countries culminating in the Helladic peninsula. For centuries, the spread of the Venetian naval empire followed this course to the south. If you travel from Venice to Greece by ship, you possess the intense perception of continuity, throughout the Adriatic passage. By sunrise at Corfu you still feel you are in a Venetian dominion. And even if navigation takes you as far South as Chania, in Crete, the Venetian atmosphere will follow you all the way into the innermost back alleys of town.

The architects of the Greek Pavilion at Venice, M. Papandreou and Brenno del Giudice, in 1934 decided to place on the southeast edge of the Giardini a building of neo-Byzantine style. The tripartition of its portico can also be considered a neo-Palladian reference. These “neo-” styles that still occupy the concerns of contemporary architecture are the very modes that insist on manipulating reality and on the obstinate return of phantoms and monsters, as if they were still alive. Let us remember here the neo-modern style that in recent decades was so venerated in Greek architecture. There is no stronger proof of the escape from the reality of the authentic than the pretence of its return by means of the “neo-.“ Let us allow ourselves here to ponder the idea of “neo-” liberalism as a condition that clearly demonstrates the loss of any relationship with liberty, at least inasmuch as it was originally established in the vocabulary of the French Revolution.

Back at the Greek Pavilion, we can assume that the neo-byzantine façade generates a condition of loss in relation to the experience that unwraps when floating down the Adriatic Sea to the Ionian and then to the Aegean Sea. Here the condition of loss, of an end, is the reversal of the effect of the threshold concept as it is attributed to the ancient Greeks. In terms of the ancient idea of limit or threshold, the limit of the neo-Byzantine façade is not of something terminating, but conversely of something beginning. Looking south, what is it beyond the façade, what is beginning, when sailing the waters of the Mediterranean, when the name of the Adriatic gives way to the name of the Ionian; what evolves when the ship is sailing into the Aegean Sea?

We have had the opportunity to identify, in various ways, this passage in climate, in temper, in culture, and in the endless surprises of the Aegean Sea as a passage to Mediterranean hedonism. This realm, skillfully hidden by the neo-Byzantine mask of the Greek Pavilion, when looking behind the mask to the South and East, is a realm of desire. It is a collective desire that is not “Greek.” It is a desire for Greece, for the land of the Aegean Sea breeze, for the endless summer that is Greece. Someone who traveled and stayed there in his imagination has perhaps best illustrated it: Friedrich Hölderlin.

As the Greek Pavilion’s glass roof has recently been covered, the interior remains dark. This fact makes it suitable to refer to a “dark unconscious,” a region of the repressed, behind the neo-Byzantine mask. Inside there is a region of a lost consciousness. Thus, the desire for the southern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea is intensified outside of the masked black box, in the open air space of the Giardini, where the countries of southeastern Europe meet. Even more, the Venetian summer weather, which is dull, wet, rainy, and warm, accentuates the collective desire for the north wind coming from the Balkans to refresh the Aegean. We could therefore consider the open-air space outside the Greek Pavilion as the site of collective desire for the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean; the axial arrangement of the North-South channel of the Rio dei Giardini points the direction to this sea. Thus, an architectural revisualization of the Greek Pavilion will be sought to enable this triple relationship between the channel, the open space, and the building.

Looking at the Greek Pavilion from a programming point of view, one could conceive it as a terminal for the voyage by sea, from Greece to Venice and back. This program for a “terminal” could implement a variety of ideas for cultural and material interaction throughout the year.

If one visits the exhibition area during most of the year, when the pavilions remain abandoned and shut, one can invoke the idea of a continuous operation with multiple events over the months based on a continuous interaction with the incessant transfer of material goods, manpower, skills, and ideas. For the Greek Pavilion that would mean an open line with Aegean culture, food, and cultural and physical hedonism, a permanent opening to the realm of desire. And because we are especially blessed by the idea of common ground, we note that the “common” should be considered not as a factual condition, in terms of property, but as a concept in the realm of the imaginary: The “common” belongs to the realm of desire. Perhaps this fact cannot be clearly understood today in Europe, where suspicion among peoples, bigotry, and dominance games are in full swing. Europe has failed to establish the collective imaginary of a common desire and continues to mistakenly perceive the commons as a matter of possession and economic dominance. In contrast, the Greek Pavilion, as part of the common garden, always has something to offer, addressed to the realm of desire, the public imaginary, and the interterritorial, diachronic interaction.


Zissis Kotionis, born 1960, is an architect practicing in Greece. He is the head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Thessaly. He has published six books on architectural theory and urban culture. Projects and buildings of his architectural studio have been published, exhibited, and awarded in Greece and abroad. He is also involved in artistic performances and installations and in works of public art. In 2010 he was co-commissioner of Greece in the 12th Biennale of Architecture, Venice (“The Ark”). In 2012 he exhibited his recent architectural research on metropolitan architecture under the title “Multidomes” in Benaki Museum, Athens.


Elia Zenghelis was born 1937. In 1961 he graduated from the Architectural Association in London, where he went on to teach for 22 years. He has taught at the Accademia di Archittetura in Mendrisio, Switzerland, as well as at Princeton, Columbia University, UCLA, and the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie. He conducts workshops all over the world, including Bogotá, Colombia, and the University of Thessaly, among others. Zenghelis is a cofounder, with Rem Koolhaas, Zoe Zenghelis, and Madelon Vriesendorp, of OMA, where he was partner in charge of OMA London and later OMA Athens. In 2000, Zenghelis received the Annie Spink Award for Excellence in Education from the Royal Institute of British Architects.