The Greek National Opera (GNO) and the National Library of Greece (NLG) in Athens were struggling with outdated buildings and a lack of space. On the initiative of the charitable Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) established by the eponymous shipping magnate, a new cultural and education centre was built. In their new location, both institutions form part of a metropolitan park for games, sports, and education. The foundation covered the entire construction costs for the centre, which opened in February 2017, and is initially ﬁnancing the relocation and running of the facilities, which shall then be taken over by the Greek state.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC) is located in southern Athens, in Kallithea, the »beautiful view« which is actually an extremely built-up city district. There is an eight-lane expressway running between the plot of land and the sea in the southwest. The site was previously occupied by a race course and a parking lot laid out for the Olympic Games. The entire plot of land covers a surface area of 210,000 square metres.
In 2008 a competition by invitation was held for the planning of the cultural centre, from which the design submitted by the Franco-Italian firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) emerged as the winner. The two main buildings in the complex – the opera house and the national library – form a large block, into which a south-eastwards-facing courtyard is cut, the »agora,« which serves as a joint point of access. The two institutions’ glass façades overlook the courtyard and an extensive esplanade, along which a water basin measuring over 400 metres in length and 30 metres in width was built.
To the northwest and northeast, the structures are built into a 32-metre-high hill, which marks the furthest point of the new public park. At the top of the hill stands the »lighthouse,« the library’s reading room. With windows on all sides, the room affords a sweeping view of Athens and the sea. An extremely slender 10,000- square-metre roof provides shade in the reading room. It is entirely covered in solar panels, which produce 1.5 MW of power – sufficient for the opera house and the library.
The opera house has a large (1,400 seats) hall for classical performances and a smaller one (400 seats) for experimental formats. In the library building there is also a recording studio and facilities for children and young people. Broad-based accessibility is the cultural centre’s overall concept, and this also applies to the park, which comprises a playground, running track and tennis court. Alongside regional shrubs there is also a vegetable garden and corresponding gardening courses, while kayaking and sailing courses are held on the large water basin.