HELADA goes to NAM, er, TAM

The official site calls it TAM. We got to calling it NAM, aka the New Acropolis Museum. Nevermind.

Whatever you call it, the site is really impressive. There have been mixed reactions on the design itself. Some think it's a statement, perfectly styled to the task it undertakes. Others would have preferred something a bit less jarringly modern. Our group thought, no matter which style you prefer, the striking modern exterior somehow blends into the surrounding neoclassical houses.

Inside, displays are well arranged and easy to access. There are some huge sculptures, stored away in waiting for decades, that still bear the coloured paint the entire monument once wore. There are also some old familiar ones. And all the large statuary is within touching distance.  The Kariatides, for instance, can be circled, seen from the better preserved back side, now so close you could tap them on the shoulder. You find yourself, if you're not alert, turning to talk to the person next to you, only to realize, it's marble listening.

HELADA at The Acropolis Museum, 21 July, 2009
Time for a quick group shot as we leave the museum

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HELADA member and architect, Marc Blake introduced the site, compiling information from various official sources as well as his own knowledge. Here are his notes:

The New Acropolis Museum

On 21 July the doors of the New Acropolis Museum opened to the public after a long struggle starting back in 1976, when the first competition was held to replace the ever-shrinking museum space located on the Acropolis (built 1874).

This first competition, together with another held soon after in 1979, were both open to Greek architects, who were given a choice of several building sites. These never came to fruition due to the unsuitability of the building sites.  

Architect's sketch of visitor traffic flow.

The third competition was opened to international firms and, in 1989, a finalist was chosen. The winning proposal from the Italian firm of Nicoletti and Passarelli was a wedge shaped building with a dramatic curved 'eye-shaped' observation window in the dramatic sloping surface of the museum. Excavations proceeded for this structure, but when archeologists discovered a thick layer of artifacts and buildings from 5bc to 4ad, the museum needed to be completely redesigned. So in 1999 the competition was annulled and the 4th and final competition was announced.

Competition invitations were sent out to a select few international firms and, finally, Bernard Tschumi, http://www.tschumi.com/  with Michael Photiadis won the commission. Bernard Tschumi, who formerly headed the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, (HELADA's Christopher Woodfin studied under him) became known for his public architecture after winning the competition to build the Paris Parc de la Villette.

Many deplore the museum saying that it is ungainly, out of scale and uncharacteristic for the Makriani site, while others put the building in the category of the Eiffel Tower and the Pompidou Center in Paris, which were universally loathed after construction but eventually became proud cultural symbols for Paris.

The controversial building is horizontally divided into 3 parts, possibly symbolizing the tripartite classical models. The base which is wrapped in a prefabricated concrete screen, contains the foundations, loading dock, private parking, main public entry, and temporary exhibition galleries. The middle part is the two level gallery containing all the vertical circulation and main collection. The top is the pristine glass Parthenon Gallery, which symbolically sits atop the body of the building at a tilt to mirror the same orientation of the Parthenon on the rock of the Acropolis. The entire building is sitting on columns that are attached to special ball bearing connections, so that the building can move unaffected by earthquakes.

A central vertical circulation core through the middle building is deliberately organized so that the visitor slowly walks upwards in a clockwise direction passing first through the archeological finds discovered in the excavations below the building, then through the archaic period and finally to the Parthenon gallery at the top. When visitors descend, they are meant to again take a clockwise path returning to the entrance through the post Parthenon sculptures. Unfortunately, this is not obvious and visitors tend to wander about on the first level not knowing this intended pathway.

Through the glass floors, visitors are meant to see the ongoing excavations which will eventually be accessible for closer inspection, while at the same time allowing natural light to pass through the structure. Very few electric lights are needed to illuminate the galleries due to the extensive use of special heat absorbing glass and sun control devices, allowing the daylight to naturally illuminate the sculptures as originally intended while protecting them from the sun's rays.

In the evening, the gallery is completely illuminated and acts as a display case for the Parthenon marbles 24 hours a day, thus fulfilling its original purpose to give a place for and herald the return of the Elgin Marbles. - MB

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