Think Public Space
Work title: The Temple of Mnemosyne: Rituals of Cognition
Following the anti-junta uprising and revolution of 1973, Athens evolved into a bustling European city, with extremely high economic growth in the 80s and 90s. The new democratic government had instilled – alongside capitalist policies and investment – an optimistic view of the future of Greece. This view was engraved even further through the rapid and uncontrolled urbanisation of Athens, attracting new residents and visitors alike.
Today, Greek citizens are suffering harshly due to the mismanagement of finances during these times, proliferating through acts of corruption and deceit particularly in high political ranks. An exceptionally high borrowing level has caused international intervention by way of the ‘troika’ – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and Euro-zone countries – lending billions of Euros in order to ease the debt levels and increase investment, putting the country back onto the path of ‘economic growth’.
Extreme austerity measures have followed as Greece scrambles to reach repayment targets in return for further bailouts from the IMF – mainly achieved through the systematic removal of public services.
This project takes Omonia Square as its site, a public square at the heart of Athens and the most important historical gateway, being connected to the port of Piraeus and socially – harbouring the coffee shops, meeting places and public performance which are so ingrained in Athenian life. Since its heydays of the early 20th century, the square has been reduced from its oasis-like inclusive form with public parks and community amenities into a cold, grey, concrete surface.
A running theme of this project has been to explore the changing relationships between the city and its public space. Public spaces have been analysed through the everyday, traditional, visible and invisible rituals and performances of the Athenian people as well as the changing forms of monument.
City as A Witness (pre 2008)
‘Witness’ is the category in which most cities lay. The economic institutions of capitalism affect every part of society, and therefore the city embodies the rituals, performances and monuments in the interests of capitalism. Capitalism controls, recodes, creates and destroys the urban environment. A normalised, hegemonic population exists, witnessing capitalism but resisting individual expression.
City as A Protagonist (2008 – 2017)
In this phase, the city forms a collective, as seen in the December 2008 riots, a collective experience is able to begin a conversation between itself and institutions of power. Thus the collective express the beginnings of individuality or divergence; affecting institutions of power.
City as A Conversation (2018 onwards)
This phase will explore the tangent of the city in how it may evolve to become performers rather than just an audience. Conversation is used rather than ‘performer’ here as it indicates a to and fro, it is an alternating flux of performance and audience.
Crippling austerity measures have reduced Athens into social enclaves and led to the emergence of autonomous communities; as disparities between the social and political fabric of the city widen. Autonomous networks working as collective entities and between the thresholds of the city have begun to repair the societal necessities of food, water, shelter and healthcare.
The Temple of Mnemosyne addresses the need for cognitive space within these communities in dealing with the memories and attachments to the previous austere era.
Observing the key phases of Greek ritual/performance and the ideals of a memory palace, users may memorise, recollect or experience a mental image or process within the changing states, tactile nuances and spatiality of Mnemosyne. These states and nuances are determined by the natural decay of the building materials through several timescales – daily, seasonal, generational – simulating the continuous flux of memory over time.
Intangible thresholds between the collective and individual experiences are made distinct through participatory rituals of water purification and the hulling of barley, both essential proponents within the traditional Greek ritual.
Programmes of the square, metro station beneath and Greek ritual provide layers within the mnemonic process. Transitions in sound, texture/tactility, temperature, weather and scent converge, simulating a rich layering of the senses.