The urban transformations shaping Athens during the past 150 years have been fundamentally entropic. Neither planned nor public, locally controlled, motivated by populist politics and constantly checked or rerouted by private interest, they have played out against the geological, historic and public field of the Attic landscape like a domino-carpet of contention, negotiation and emergency. Decay has been followed by avalanche, rifts by burial, erasure by cover-up; short spells of great motivation or uprising have been muffled by twice-as-long periods of lull and regression; then, cyclically, by decay. A ‘drifting city’ pattern emerges: the city grows on top of itself, in forgetful layers, coming apart at the seams between localities and at its edges when shaken (1999), stretched (2004), burned (2007, 2009), wrecked (2008) or depressed (2010). The urban landscape encrusts and retraces its old veins (streams and rivers) with new ones (roads). It congests its valleys and creeps up its hills, setting up geometric alignments among elevated monument and open space nodes, over a web of undecipherable, depressed routes. It whips up public spaces in a rush, at excess cost, as after-thoughts; then uses these spaces to negotiate new emergencies.
As this cycle closes and opens, its main vectors and operations are found at the juncture between entropy and emergency. In Athens both provide occasions for change; ineluctable and one-directional, carrying the city past points of no return, catastrophically forming its spaces into states of equilibrium wherefrom it is impossible to return. Entropy is a level, long-term process of disorganization, unnoticed in the present but blatant in the past; it is uncountable; it brings indirect, predictable, effortless change. Emergencies are intense, short breaks in urban time, disrupted processes, fault-lines on the urban landscape; countable and finite, they always look ahead, wringing direct, intentional, difficult change.
Athens absorbs the above in a palimpsest of historic residue, native dirt, living pollution and a hypermediated democracy. Here urban transformation, unlike in other Mediterranean cities, is read mostly in plan and eventually becomes invisible. Athenian historic sites and public spaces cannot be curated or sequenced in montage; they become a horizontal register of collapsed information marked in traces, impressions and delineations. New analytical and design tools are required in order to work in this context, activating the palimpsest by combinations of motion, local knowledge, global scanning and broadcast; even though the very process of working in the city means writing over, often erasing, the very information one is trying to activate.
Ultimately, two cross-working pairs of vectors-and-operations have been responsible for most of the mutations of the Attic urban landscape over the past decades: water, traffic, landfill and the antiparoche. These are acutely present—in conflict, overflow, rift, convergence, deviation and collapse—more than anywhere else in Athens, at the Bay of Faliron.
Once upon a time, the seaside fringe of land at the Kifissos and Ilissos River estuary used to be a Delta: a landscape of dynamic interchange between Attica and the Saronic Gulf, soft, variable, alluvial, in daily, seasonal, centennial flux.
Later on, this Delta became a Bay: a human valve regulating urban and maritime, human and natural, cultural and diluvial flows.
In the past fourty-seven years, Faliron has been neither Delta nor Bay: a cluttered, harrowed tumulous of urban flotsam, rear-ended by a raised highway, clotting and dissipating, weighing down against the shore. An artificial, inaccessible, unintelligible and fundamentally interesting non-place, impounding flows and debris, attracting and projecting the longing of contemporary Athenians for a future city and a new identity: a place yet-to-be realized.
The repeated attempts at recovering Faliron have been partially successful. Their fundamental design tenets have not always faced facts: what is simply there, now, instead of what is remembered or wished for. The built or unbuilt regeneration projects at Faliron bay have so far labored under an inflexible, overweight, static politics and architecture. They have understood space as neither field nor process; they have provided for neither entropy nor emergency. Stubbornly seeking to ‘solve’ the collision of car and water, the collateral flourish of urban flows and the shrinking of public space – they missed the fact that these three issues do not need solution, but redefinition.
Redefinition can be founded in times of crisis. It separates reality from memory and wishful thinking, then recomposes all three. Following an emergency, it can account for the most productive period in a ‘drifting city cycle’: the spell of motivation.
The 2nd Summer Workshop of Princeton and Patras Universities attempted to redefine, in Faliron, the problematic relationship between the city and the sea. It listened carefully to experts and organized a think-tank for architecture, ecology and the city. It produced a series of architectural arguments, developed between students and architects – a series of structured ‘what ifs’ for the site; and, building on those arguments, six speculative proposals for different parts of Faliron bay.
The proposals ultimately understood Faliron as an integral part of the Athens basin; they dealt with ways that water, traffic, landfill and exchanged ownership may form a landscape in crisis. Connecting local critical points, crossroads and zones to affiliate points in the greater Athens area, they envisioned new types of cross-city flows (mineral, alluvial, visible, buried, symbolic, iconic, historic, illegal, private, public, political, cultural, narrative, commercial, territorial, technological, ecological). As movement generates nature, capital, public space, life, those flows may ultimately regenerate Faliron, making it less of a desert and more of a living island, defining new relationships between city and sea:
Artificial landscapes, carved out of, flooding, extending and returning landfill to the water, making it as accessible to the public as the underwater to a bather; a series of surreal, floating leisure platforms operating as stepping stones from the land to invisible marine networks; a farmer’s market-dock feeding Syggrou Avenue with fresh Cycladic produce; a drive-in urban beach, effecting a hybrid of the two main, ubiquitous Athenian-yet-not-Athens’ public spaces (the highway and the beach); a narrative ribbon folding and unfolding an infrastructural story on the landfill; communal gardens remembering Kallithea’s patterns of habitation toward the water; a glorified, transparent Poseidon Avenue as overpass; a linear park running the Ilissos bed, through and around the site, producing income out of movement; energy-generating port machines; large objects energized by collaged urban context and an unexpected schedule; sail-and-rigging structures reflecting waves toward the urban fabric.
Faliron’s current and inevitable future state are a fifty year project. They contain, in embedded layers, the cycles of entropy and emergency that have been driving the Mediterranean urban landscape and Greek public space from Modernity to the present: and, further below, a Mythical Saronic Gulf, now almost forgotten. The current crisis, global and local, may transform the face of Athens and invent for it, in Faliron, a much-needed, new urban identity—hybrid, fantastical, hypermodern, with no more getaways to the countryside or to a different way of life. Alternately, it may just bury all of the above under new layers of dirt, pollution, and democracy. The actual course of events will be decided during our next emergency. Until then Faliron remains the nearest-archipelago to a drifting city.
Published in: Pidgin Magazine, v.9, 4/11, Princeton University, School of Architecture
 The quid pro quo system whereby ownership of a plot can be exchanged with future ownership of an apartment or apartments in a building erected in the same plot; without having to sell out, owners came to private agreements with contractors thus facilitated the development of almost every available empty lot in Athens over the past 50 years. Much of the land excavated during the building boom of the 1970s ended up as Faliron’s main landfill.