Dimitris Pikionis ΔΗΜΗΤΡΗΣ ΠΙΚΙΩΝΗΣ
Born 1887 Died 1968
Section 6, Number 44
Imagine an immense art installation that the artist invites you to sit on, lean on, and walk on, - one that fits so seamlessly into its surroundings that it seems to have always been there. If you are a frequent visitor to the center of Athens, you probably have already had this experience. The wonderful retaining walls, benches, trees and walkways that make visiting the area under the Acropolis and the Philopappos Hill such a memorable experience were the inspiration of one man, Dimitris Pikionis. They cover well over 80,000 square meters (20 acres) and function as a beautiful prelude and compliment to the ancient rock itself.
Pikionis was so many things: artist, architect, philosopher, teacher, and writer. His works include sketches, drawings, paintings, essays, unfulfilled town plans which still intrigue, houses, schools, and even a playground in the Athens’ district of Filothei. His career spanned more than 50 years. But, perhaps his greatest legacy is the influence he has on so many students of design and architecture.
Pikionis, of Chiot descent, was born in Piraeus. His father was a talented artist and his first cousin was the poet Lambros Porfyras. Both were major influences in his young life. He would credit his cousin with first introducing him to folk songs, “the poetry of the people” which would strongly influence his aesthetic vision, and his father for training his artist’s eye: my father could not stop in front of a fine ship without stopping to show us its beauty… Often he would stand in front of a house and explain how its proportions would have been greatly enhanced if only it was so many centimeters taller… It was through my father that I became familiar with vernacular architectural terms such as 'garbos' (gracefulness, style) and 'houi' (adeptness, particularity). (1)
In 1906 he began lessons with the painter Constantinos Parthenis. At the same time he took a more practical course and began studies at the National Metsovon Polytechnic University in Athens from which he graduated in 1908 with a degree in civil engineering.
At the urging of Parthenis, he went to Munich to continue his studies in drawing and sculpture. There his work was influenced very much by Cezanne of whom he wrote: Three paintings by Cézanne, whose theory on the third dimension I was already familiar with, eventually led me to abandon Munich. This, I said to myself, is painting - true painting.
A Pikionis work that shows the influence of Cezanne
He went on to Paris to continue studies in drawing and painting at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière until economic difficulties forced him to take employment at the studio of the Architect G. Chifflot while still managing to take a class in architectural composition at École des Beaux Arts.
Upon his return to Athens he continued to develop his own aesthetic.
In Piraeus one day, as I was returning to my father's house, I was intensely aware of the sun scorching my skin; then I stepped into the shade and the coolness caused me to shiver... It occurred to me at that moment that the violent contrasts in the climate of our land, experienced over many centuries, probably helped to explain the sharp antitheses in the character of our race. The ancient Greeks, I considered, had subjected these antitheses to the discipline of their cornices, friezes and architraves. …. These observations led me to abandon conventional learning and follow a free, autonomous course dictated by nature.(2)
In 1923 he built his first house, on Tzitzifies Street in Ilissia for stage director Fotis Politis. Politis praised it in three articles in the Athens daily "Politia".
In 1925, Pikionis married Alexandra Anastasiou. Together they would have 5 children.
In the same year he was given the chair of Professor of Ornamental Design at the Polytechnic University in Athens where he would teach that Greek art and architecture must be both open to outside influences and conceived with the Greek environment in mind just as the ancients had done before him. He often held his classes out of doors and his lectures could range anywhere from poetry to philosophy to Japanese architecture - all part of his theory that all great art was one - and one with nature.
Pikionis could embrace the vision and works of artists such as Ioannis Tsarouchis, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, Diamantis Diamantopoulos Diamandopoulos, Angelos Sikelianos, and Photis Kontoglou because their philosophies were in sync – that art must be open to ‘vernacular inspirations’ from which in his opinion, all cultural forms originated: “Outside of this tradition lies only falseness and the ephemeral” ( Έξω από αυτή τη παράδοση δεν υπάρχει παρά μόνο το ψευδές και το εφήμερο.) (3)
This was a period of great intellectual consolidation and co-operation among Greek artists, something of a golden age in retrospect.
The years between 1930 and 1950 would see many important works of Pikionis completed: a school in Pefkakia, the Experimental School in Thessaloniki, an apartment building on Heydon Street in Athens, and the home and workshop of the sculptress Frosos Menegaki where his Modernist touch is very much in evidence.
Her multi-functional home is still standing
A model of the Menegakis house
The school in Pefkakia.
In the years between 1935 and 1937, Pikionis worked with Stratis Doukas, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, and Takis Papatzonis on the publication of a periodical called The Third Eye. Its purpose was to fill a gap in the cultural life at the time.
Αιξωνή in Ano Glyfada: The Unrealized Dream
Pikionis’ idea was that in an ideal neighbourhood such as this no house would cover much more than about a third of its area and that each house would be open to a wider environment that the householder could partly cultivate and partly preserve. There would be only footpaths; cars would be banned to its periphery. The roads connecting the houses inside the compound would be dedicated to the aesthetic and emotional needs of the humans living there.
A sketch for a house for Aixoni
For a shot video on the Aixoni project, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tero2DIMGII
The Development of the Acropolis and Philopappos Hill Area 1954-1957: Perhaps His greatest Achievement
The Minister of Public Works Constantinos Karamanlis, with tourism in mind, decided to realign and develop the entrance to the Acropolis towards the west and the Philopappos hill. The aim was to promote the area to compliment the Acropolis and the Athens Festival. Karamanlis’ colleague Prokopis Vasiliadis proposed his former teacher Pikionis as the man for the job.
Pikionis made it clear that this would be no ordinary public works project but an artistic endeavor involving hands-on approach that would not be without difficulties because of the historic nature of the site. Modern architectural methods could be used, but with the aim of melding them with ancient artistic techniques and aesthetics. His footpaths would incorporate flagstones, marble, a good deal of spolia from older structures, even rubble collected from sites around the city.
A sketch for the work
In medias res
As well, he would be in charge of the reforestation and planting of the Acropolis Hill, the Philopappos Hill, the renovation and restoration of the small church of Saint Demetrius the Bombardier (Άγιος Δημητρίου του Λουμπαδιάρη) as well as the creation of a tourist kiosk on its north side.
Inside the church, Pikionis took away the newer wall paintings to reveal much older ones.
40 experienced workers along with some 10 of Pikionis’ students undertook the work. He was so involved at every step of the way that one observer said: You could say that he did it himself, simply using the hands of the workers . (Θα λέγαµε ότι το κατασκεύασε ο ίδιος, χρησιµοποιώντας τα χέρια των τεχνιτών.)
Sometimes the plan for a particular area would take form at the same moment it was being created.
The Pathways of Pikionis
They remind one of paintings.
In speeches, Pikionis would stress the mystic relationship between the inhabitants of a given space and nature. Architecture had to respect that if it was to be credible. To make his point, he would often quote the work of the poets Palamas, Sikelianos, even Plato concerning this vital bond.
The question Pikionis would ask himself before beginning any work was “what do I want to say and how can I put this idea I have formulated ‘inside’, out there?” («Τι θέλω να πω;» «Γιατί θέλω να το πω;» Δεν ρωτούσε «τί θα κάνω – αλλά πως θα ρυθμίσω τον χώρο με τα μέσα που έχω, με την ιδέα μου;») His philosophy could be summed up in his own words: a little more humanity, a deeper perception, spiritual sensitivity- and everything changes - something to think about as you explore the pathways he made with such passion and love.
His monument in the first Cemetery is modest in the extreme. It seems to lack the Pikionis touch…
3. Από τη μελέτη «Διαδρομές στο τοπίο με αναφορά στο έργο του Δημήτρη Πικιώνη» Μαριάμ Καψάλη και Μπούκη Μπαμπάλου Βλέπε: http://www.greekarchitects.gr/site_parts/doc_files/erevnitiki.100.2010.pdf