New Farsala Square – This work belongs to a series of competitions we did in 2021, during the first year of establishing Oikonomakis Siampakoulis architects, and it was about the redesign of the town hall piazza in Farsala, a small provincial city in central Greece. Because the project was about the most important public space of the city, we particularly focused on imagining a place with a unique character and an extraordinary design. We always look at what exists and what it can be, and in this particular case, we were inspired by the history of the place envisioning a public space that could express the character and spirit of the city, and offer a strong sense of inclusiveness and belonging.
Architizer chatted with Ilias Oikonomakis and Angelos Siampakoulis, co-founders and directors at Oikonomakis Siampakoulis architects, to learn more about this project. Ilias Oikonomakis and Angelos Siampakoulis have worked together since 2009 and formally established their practice in 2021. Oikonomakis Siampakoulis architects is a design studio based in Athens, Greece, operating within the boundaries of architecture, urbanism, landscape design, interior design and object design.
Architizer: What inspired the initial concept for your design?
Ilias Oikonomakis & Angelos Siampakoulis: In all our projects we look carefully at the history and the mythology of each place, and in this case we had a very interesting context to get inspired from. Throughout its 4000 years of history, Farsala has diachronically been an important passage between the north and south of mainland Greece, thus facing multiple military conflicts as a battlefield for Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans. The area is also considered the birthplace of Achilles, the mythical Iliad hero. Achilles’s figure is not only the epitome of the unbeatable heroic warrior but also a symbol of the turbulent transition from the old era of heroes to the upcoming era of the city-states. Inspired by this historical and mythological background of the city, we employed the concept of ‘conflict’ and depicted it in the paving design of the new piazza.
What do you believe is the most unique or ‘standout’ component of the project?
We always try to create moments of surprise and give extraordinary character to our work; in this particular case we focused on the paving design. We used the notion of ‘conflict’ to create a design that stands out and gives a unique identity to the piazza. Multiple clashing square-shaped parts, whose geometry affects one another, shape the form of the paving that initiates from the entries of the square and leads to its center. There, we repositioned Achilles’s statue alongside the central floor fountain. The initially square-shaped parts are each time reshaped because of the clashes between them. These reshaped parts consist of a zone of exposed concrete at their perimeter, while their inner segment of sequential parallel zones of local stones and marbles. The flowerbeds and the floor fountains follow the same design logic as the paving and complete the holistic design of the piazza.
What was the greatest design challenge you faced during the project, and how did you navigate it?
It is in our philosophy to design cozy and warm spaces based on complex geometries, and it was a great challenge to apply this logic to a public space. We managed to overcome this design question by focusing on the stone and marble paving, and by facilitating extensive landscaping at the circumference of the piazza. In addition to the lush vegetation, we have used warm materials such as timber and brass to create a cozy and comfortable atmosphere that in parts it resembles a domestic garden. In addition, multiple floor fountains, placed at key points in the piazza and the garden, offer moments of play and surprise. We concealed the floor fountains in the paving and designated the drainage areas with brass ribbons. Water surprises the visitor by jumping out from the nozzles, and it either creates an ephemeral shallow pond, or drains directly using the nozzles drainage system.
What drove the selection of materials used in the project?
Material selection began from what already existed on the site. Our proposal was to reuse the stone covering the old retaining wall to construct the new paving and complete it with local stones and marbles from mines nearby. We decided to add fine brass details as a counterpoint to the hard grey stones and marble. This look and feel is also a historical reference because these materials have been used for thousands of years to create both buildings and objects in the area. Most importantly, we have reduced the carbon footprint of the project, by specifying natural and recyclable materials from local sources.
What is your favorite detail in the project and why?
The retaining wall at the south of the site is one of our favorite details. Between the town hall building and the piazza there is a 4-meter height difference that divides the site into two levels. An existing austere retaining wall covers this height difference. In order to bring closer the scale of the retaining wall to the scale of the piazza we chose to break down the wall into cubical parts with different heights. These cubes receive trees and vegetation creating two stairs and a ramp between the lower and upper part of the piazza. We covered the skin of these cubes with white cast-in-place undulate concrete with colorful gravel from recycled stones and ceramics. In the end, these cubes with their strong materiality, texture and green elements turn into a moment of surprise that is revealed gradually as the visitor approaches the town hall.
How important was sustainability as a design criteria as you worked on this project?
We perceive sustainability as a design challenge that is embodied in each project, rather than as a ‘checklist’ element that should simply be satisfied. All our design choices, from the selection of recycled material to the height and type of the trees were made to achieve a bioclimatic design for the new piazza. This was necessary given the local climate circumstances and particularly due to the many hot summer days. Trees and vegetation surround the central part of the piazza forming a garden, which aims to advance and enrich the microclimate. This green zone, apart from the deep shadow during summer offers an acoustically more comfortable environment as well, protecting the visitors from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding streets. Water reuse is also important here; permeability allows for rainwater collection and reuse, both for the landscape and the fountains of the project.
How do you believe this project represents you or your firm as a whole?
We like to work with complex geometries, strong structural materiality, extensive presence of landscaping, and carefully design every fine detail of a project. In the design for the new town hall piazza of Farsala we have managed to fully express all these characteristics of our work. Probably the most crucial component that ties together the design of the space is the strong reference to the history of the place. To achieve this, we designed the paving having in mind the traditional stone pavings that still exist in rural Greece. The design complexity and materiality of this paving refers as well to the work of Dimitri Pikionis and of Aspassia Kouzoupi and Nella Golanda, and the public spaces they have designed across the country.
Is there anything else important you’d like to share about this project?
Architecture competitions for public works are always a great opportunity for young practices to express their identity and showcase their work, while, historically, it has been proven as the most effective way to promote the best possible design solutions. However, the current framework in Greece does not encourage young practices to participate in the design of public spaces and public buildings – at the same time, it seems challenging to see radical ideas win and get realized as works that are rather conventional, are usually endorsed.
Renderings: Oleg Stathopoulos
For more on New Farsala Square, please visit the in-depth project page on Architizer.