GSAPP Conversations Episode 16

The following text is an edited transcription of GSAPP Conversations Episode #16, a podcast produced by Columbia GSAPP’s Office of Communications and Events in collaboration with ArchDaily.

Third-year M.Arch student Stella Ioannidou speaks with Point Supreme co-founders Konstantinos Pantazis and Marianna Rentzou on the occasion of their lecture at Columbia GSAPP on March 20, 2017. Point Supreme was founded in Athens in 2008, one year before the Greek economic crisis. Pantazis and Rentzou discuss their use of collage as a visualization tool, the relationship between small and urban scale projects, what it meant to launch a practice during an economic crisis, and the importance of addressing local issues in their work.

“The collage allows us to create a new hierarchy between things. We can get away with changing distances or parameters that somehow are not important or should not be accounted for in mathematical terms. … The collage allows you to give different emphasis to the different things according to what their actual experiential importance is.”
—Konstantinos Pantazis, Point Supreme

STELLA IOANNIDOU: I would like to start by addressing two of your most recent projects, the Roman Villa, which was exhibited in New York, and the Totems exhibited in Paris. What I found exciting about these projects is that both of them are abstractions and reinterpretations of your most recent built work, the Petralona House. And it seems that there is an interesting friction between your research and conceptual explorations and your built projects. Could you speak a little bit more about how the two processes inform each other in your practice?

KONSTANTINOS PANTAZIS: These processes are indeed very interrelated. Another project is in fact about exactly that; we call it playfulness of the real. In the first years of our practice we did a lot of self-initiated research projects, mainly dealing with the city of Athens and its problems – especially around the issues of public space and the lack of urban design, and things like that.

We developed a series of ideas and concepts about the city. Later, when we started getting more work that was going to get built, we realized that these formal ideas were infiltrating the projects that we were developing for actual clients. It’s a process that we never really controlled and it was never very conscious. It was a subconscious thing that we started to notice after it had happened. Like you say, these two opposite parts of our work are very integrated in a way that we don’t really control. It’s very exciting to see these relationships for ourselves, as well.

MARIANNA RENTZOU: Also, Konstantinos did his postgraduate studies in urban-scale projects at The Berlage Institute, while I did mine in product design at the Design Academy Eindhoven. In a way these two scales somehow meet in all of our projects. For us an interior can also be a way to think about the city itself and vice versa. And it’s also something that we practiced a lot when we were at OMA in Rotterdam. And it’s so inherent for us now, it becomes evident at every scale.

IOANNIDOU: I’d like to continue discussing your conceptual explorations. In a lot of your research the focus is Athens, and there’s a clear intention for urban critique and reimagining the city through collage. For example, in the Exarcheian Walls you tend to take the city apart to investigate it, and in Athens as an Island you’re collaging pieces together. This technique of collaging seems to be performing on two levels at once: It critiques a fragmented Greek or Athenian reality, creating bold and surreal images of the juxtaposing elements. At the same time, it also hints at a desire to arrive at a synthesis of those pieces that celebrates them; you’re not trying to erase them. Is this collaging technique a tool for you to process a complex urban identity and put forward a new vision of the urban reality?

PANTAZIS: Yes, for sure. The collage technique is very useful for us in that it allows us to bring together the different elements of the city and the characters or objects that are available to the project. What we do is to spend a lot of time obsessively recording and observing the reality of Athens, of the city. We collect things in our minds and in libraries. We make visual libraries of buildings, balconies, public spaces, anything. Like Marianna said, things from all different scales.

The collage technique allows us to bring this together so that we can simultaneously put them all in the same project, such as an image. Then sometimes there’s a lot of decomposing of the reality in order to allow these items and objects, these lists of things to appear. Other times it’s more about synthesizing them. I never thought about it, but you’re right – they are two opposite directions of working.

RENTZOU: Also, a collage gives you the freedom to have ready-made objects in the things that you propose. Sometimes we bring in things that are a little bit far away from the image, but their presence is very important. For example, in Acropolis World we tried to include the relationship between the city and the Acropolis and some things that in a normal rendering wouldn’t be there. But with a collage, we can bring it in because it really affects your perception of urban conditions.

And that’s the interesting thing about our collages: If you really see them in detail, they are very much based on reality. But they can bring all these things closer to each other and place them in different relationships. So they are not utopian in the traditional way, let’s say. They really depend on the existing conditions.

PANTAZIS: The collage allows us to create a new hierarchy between things. We can get away with changing distances or parameters that somehow are not important or should not be accounted for in mathematical terms. And like Marianna said, the collage allows you to give different emphasis to the different things according to what their actual experiential importance is.

IOANNIDOU: And I particularly like the fact that you’re not necessarily introducing new elements. You’re just dealing with existing ones to create a new vision.


IOANNIDOU: I would like to speak more about your locality, Athens, and also the timing of the creation of Point Supreme, because actually you worked abroad for almost ten years, I believe. You chose to return to Greece in 2008, which is a year before the beginning of the Greek economic crisis. Looking back to your work – the built projects and research of the past nine years – how different has your practice turned out to be from what you imagined in 2008? Is it more constrained, more imaginative, more challenging, more polemical, or maybe even more inspiring?

PANTAZIS: All of these at the same time, I think. Definitely more challenging, definitely more inventive – because we had to be. Surely more limited, because of course possibilities and options and opportunities were less than we had expected. It has definitely been a much harder process than we assumed. But so far, so good. I think the work itself developed in a very – I don’t know if I’m allowed to say polemical – but in a very tough way that is I think good for the project.

RENTZOU: Yes, in a way our work has adapted to the new situation and the final result is sometimes unexpected even to us. For example, we did this playground that is just a playground – but the fact that it has these urban dimensions and some other elements, even if it’s small scale, makes it a polemical project in itself.

Actually the scale of our projects has changed. Our urban proposals are not that big, and we are trying to do proposals that are very much based on a real budget – even if they’re not real. It’s quite cheap and affordable solutions, like the playground or the Kotzia Square, where we proposed the water sprinklers. So we adapt. For sure the realized work has changed because we really work hard to find affordable materials.

PANTAZIS: A lot of the work inevitably had to happen through sponsorship. We have developed different methodologies in order to make things possible, such as the playground or the Petralona House. Very often when we do a project, even before having decided on the concept or the main idea, we just go straight out to look for materials or companies that are willing to help the project. Then we change the concept or adapt to what’s available to us.

RENTZOU: I think the other thing which is interesting is that we think that our work becomes more Greek in a way. We look very much in the architecture from cities, from non-architects – like in the islands with all this kind of spontaneous and functional architecture without design. We think what has happened with the crisis is that we became more Greek.

IOANNIDOU: Your work has lately been featured in many international exhibitions, from Chicago to Florence, Paris, New York. And given that a lot of your projects are problematizing but also celebrating Athens, to what extent are you conscious of the fact that you’re presenting an international audience with an idea and understanding of the city – do you feel that there is a different language to be spoken when addressing an international audience versus a Greek one in terms of the perception of Athens and the Greek reality? From my experience, also being an Athenian, I’ve noticed that most people go from ancient Greece and fast-forward to the economic crisis. Yet there are so many more layers that Greeks, including you of course, are aware of. I wonder whether you’re conscious of that when you are addressing an international versus a Greek audience, like how the nuances of your work are being perceived.

PANTAZIS: I’m not sure if we think about it too much. But what I can surely say is that our work in general addresses normal people, non-architects. We always do projects thinking about regular people walking in the street and encountering a proposal, a public project proposal for example. Of course you’re right, sometimes if you exhibit a project like that to an international audience there are different layers of meaning. I’m proud if a project communicates Athens to a wider audience. I guess that happens inevitably because Athens is a big part of the projects – that’s the thing.

RENTZOU: The other thing is that I think we are one of the few offices that deals with its city. We never thought about what that means to an international audience because we feel that it’s an obligation from our part to do something for the city where we live. And actually we really have to think about the urban condition. So for us, it’s strange that there aren’t other international architects doing the same thing with their cities.

PANTAZIS: There are actually some projects that directly do what you are talking about, Stella. And there are a couple of projects that we’re going to show tonight that are direct communication campaigns for Athens, because we also feel that a lot of people lack an understanding of what Athens actually is. It’s a city that’s only communicated through the image of the Acropolis, for example, and the Parthenon. Actually, the previous time we were in New York in the States, a lot of people didn’t know where Greece was. We said we were Greek and they didn’t know what that was.

Some of the projects directly deal with that. They try to communicate the city of Athens abroad, but also to change the perspective that Athenians have about it. So sometimes it’s a very conscious decision. Some other times I think it doesn’t matter so much if it’s for an international audience or not. But I think tonight all of the projects we’re going to show are in or about Athens. I’m very happy to share our understanding, our reading of the city.

IOANNIDOU: Thank you so much for your time and for coming to GSAPP. I’m very much looking forward to your lecture.