Care-First Square

by | Apr 14, 2021 | 2: Publishing process, Greece team | 2 comments

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Αt the edge of Pedio tou Areos, the largest park in the centre of Athens, you can find Protomagias (May first) square. Protomagias square was constructed during the 1980s as part of a master plan aimed at transforming the Military Academy of ‘Evelpidon’ to the main courthouse of Athens. The masterplan included the relocation of Moustoxydi street underground, the building of a parking lot for the courthouse and connecting Pedion tou Areos, the largest public park of central Athens, with the former Evelpidon Military Academy complex. Protomagias sq creates a border between Kypseli and Gkyzi (two of the most densely populated areas of Athens), and Exarheia (renowned for being Athens’ historical core of radical political and intellectual activism). The tunnel to anyone who does not cross it with a motor vehicle creates dizziness and discomfort both because of the high speed that the vehicles have the ability to develop, but also for the deafening noise they created and the smells exuded by the tunnel both because of the frequent urination stops, and the exhaust fumes that get entrapped in it.

The feeling of the square nonetheless creates an idyllic landscape as soon as one moves away from the edges where it leans into the traffic. The square looks like a clearing when you approach it either from Pedio tou Areos or from the densely populated fabric of the city. Due to its openness, Protomagias square offers a view of the hills of Athens, cf. Lycabettus, Turkovounia Strefi Hill, Acropolis.

This square, however, functioned for many years mainly as a passage, but only during daylight, since the lack of lighting exuded a sense of fear. That’s the reason people used the underground tunnel as a passage to go from one side to the other, even if that was also not really safe since there are no sidewalks. So Protomagias Sq. can be viewed as a bridge with its belly as a tunnel for motor vehicles, and it’s back as a concrete square (about 25 acres is its total area), where crowds could gather and hold events.  

Despite the fact that Protomagias square, is located in one of the most central points of Athens, it’s use was quite limited, and it was neglected by both the inhabitants of the area and the management of the Municipality of Athens for years. Apart from a few DIY concerts, some open markets, either institutionally organised or instrumented by communities, Protomagias was a space mainly used by dog owners for their daily walks and by some migrant groups, the younger playing cricket and the older dominoes. 

All this changed when, during the last month of the first lockdown in Athens, people of all ages went out in Protomagias square. Protomagias suddenly gained a crowd that on the basis of the concept of public space found their decompression valve and diodes of care through daily encounters. During the months that followed, the square became a place for socialising: children played games; groups jammed with musical instruments; different people from all ages were hanging out; and, also, became a space where discussions, events and assemblies took place. Children learned to ride their bicycles, their skateboards and their rollerblades on the small ramps in the square, neighbourhood teams created self-organised soccer championships, danced and did boxing training. For the first time Protomagias was becoming an open social space in the centre of Athens, where everyone could meet and use in any way possible.

My involvement with Protomagias square in a more systematic way, as part of the encounters project, exposed a spatial system that understands the square not only as a homogeneous space, but a place with different sides and levels of use. This revelation offers insights on how different communities create a relation between their use of space and themselves. Protomagias sq. can offer the user a sense of togetherness through common activities, while keeping the separateness of the group when desired. Encounters in Protomagias sq. come  not incidentally. The 2020 pandemic brought everyone upon a new reality and a new realisation of the openair public spaces and Protomagias could hold the dynamic of multicultural and  multiethnic gatherings in its grounds. People of different ages as well as different social statuses were met with the possibilities of engaging with each other in numerous situations. This could be either a ball flying across the square, a bicycle riding across the square, bodies dancing and glances meet.

However, encounters in this square are inevitable not only because of the cricket ball that transgress the boundaries, or the bicycles that cross through the different sides of the square,  but also because people gather in Protomagias square to leave their (restricted during lockdowns) personal space of their houses,choosing to be out in the open space, and with each other. 

2 Comments

  1. Mattijs van de Port

    Crying out for a social life! “To let your dog meet another dog, let your kids talk to other kids” — that kind of sums it up. I could easily see this video slowing down, allowing the viewer to just hang out there a bit, then to take in some comment – the pace of the video requires me to pay attention to what is being said (which is interesting enough!), but I’d love to just join the people who want to do the social thing on the square. There are some very nice, surreal, edits in the beginning, which take you out of ‘realism’ – pity they then disappear … But loved the video, Andreas!

  2. Deniz Kirkali

    I really enjoyed the video and reading about the square! This made me think of a video work by artist Serra Tansel called Split Square. The video observes a day in Şişhane Square, in the very center of Beyoglu, Istanbul. Unlike many squares that are immediately thought as social gathering spaces, this one does not really allow for gatherings but rather through its design makes it possible to spend time there in crowds. According to Serra who records skaters trying to move across this very peculiar space, divided by naturalistic elements, the square raises negotiations, collisions and slaloms between both the space and its occupiers and between the occupiers.

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