How it all started!
1982 | in the beginning
I will not suggest, in setting out, that the journey toward architecture began with an obsessive indulgence in Lego bricks or an astute ability in drawing. But I can state, with some confidence, a definite interest in geometry, whether in the form of mathematics or its description through technical drawing.
I must have still been at elementary school when a formative experience occurred. A small event that made me think. It was summer and I was visiting a friend’s house for the first time, not far from my childhood home. The house I was visiting was similar, on the exterior, to ours but the courtyard did not follow through.
The shutters had different colours, the railings were of a different design. I could never have imagined that upon entering the house I would be met with exactly the same layout, the same proportions, the same dimensions as at home. Even the decoration was of a very similar nature. I was shaken. The house I was growing up in, that exclusive refuge of each individual childhood, was not, I realised, unique to me. We so need the space in which memory and character forms to be a world unto ourselves, not just one of an infinite number.
By the time I found myself in the last years of school, at the Lyceum I had decided that I was aiming to study Architecture in Greece. The circumstances were such in those days that studies in Greece were the only option available. There were, however, but ten places available to Cypriot students. The exams revolved about still life drawing as much as technical drawing. The option for private lessons just did not exist. As if by divine intervention, a few days before those exams my technical drawing teacher, Iakobides Psaltis, handed me a plastic folder containing previous exam questions. ‘Try these’, he suggested, ‘they might help’.
And they did.
a definite interest in geometry overwhelmed my childhood, whether in the form of mathematics or its description through technical drawing
1989-1997 | following on…
The pluralistic knowledge that I gathered as a student at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, especially in reference to Anastasios Kotsiopoulos, professor and mentor, both at the theoretical and the applied, visualised level was further enriched in my later studies at the Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) under Peter Cook.
In the first year, during the very first lesson in composition the question of ‘what is architecture’ was placed before us. Even today, referring back to that moment, I can recall the awkward silence, the frozen terror of that moment as the collective realised they had never even thought about it. One or two of the braver individuals among us suggested that it was a discipline between the arts and science.
During that first year, in 1990, the Architecture School of Salonika had organised a symposium including fabled figures of contemporary Greek architecture, Aris Konstandinides and Konstandinos Fines. These are the names I retained. That day I finally understood what Architecture, in capital letters, was,… not just through the buildings they designed and built but their very persona, the entirety of their character and the projection of it.
My architectural studies and investigations during the 1989-1997 period played a very influential role in the approach and development of both the architectural and professional worlds I now inhabit. Greek Modernism was a major influence. Within this sphere the work of Takis Zenetos proved especially tantalizing. The daring, bold geometries of his designs for houses at Kavouri and Glyfada remain firmly imprinted upon my mind.
1998 – today | extended…
Architectural studies tend to raise a series of questions regarding the subject itself and one’s self. The experience brings you in contact with ideas and proposals that are initially difficult to comprehend in their entirety. It tends to be a question of blind faith in the early stages. Sometimes it is just a question of fitting in, of being ‘in’. Slowly, one comes to terms with these peculiar elements. A sense of understanding and coping with it settles in.
I am aware that any attempt to verbally describe the application (practice) of architecture is fraught with danger. Therefore I will not attempt to develop theories that I would never manage and do not desire to analyse within the constraints of this text. Let me simply propose that the approach to an architectural issue need be infused with method, it must include aesthetics and it ought to suggest that the design is both composite and an article unique unto itself.
When all has been said and done, what does an architect do? The architect creates space, out of nothing, he forms spatial experiences. Within the context of the intangible he inserts material and purpose which transforms itself into the built environment.
The practice of architecture involves routine by default but also an endless array of mental patterns and processes that never tire of requiring revision. After years of study and professional practice, I might dare to suggest that architecture is autonomously and spontaneously defined as the all capital ARCHITECTURE. It is absolute and yet, at the same time, ever changing. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty said, it is “the purpose of Architecture is to make how the world touches us visible”.
Architecture revolves around man. Architecture enables man to see the world, the society in which he lives, with its given social and environmental conditions. It also permits him to better comprehend the past. Architecture reflects any given society through the built environment while, in turn the construction and nature of the built environment reflects upon the people that inhabit it.
The discourse between globalisation and local identity is inherent within its dialectics. My opinion revolves around the concurrence of the two. It is not wise to avoid the international conversation in architecture these days, the technology, the tendencies and developments of form and typology. Simultaneously, though, one must still identify and respond to the context, the genius loci in which the given object of Architecture is to be located.
Leon Battista Alberti went on record as having said, “…I consider an architect him who with certainty and marvellous logic and method, knows simultaneously, how to suggest with his own mind and action, whatever might be most fitting to the honest needs through the arrangement of masses and the composition and accumulation of volumes, while also being able to realise the resulting construction …”
The practice of Eraclis Papachristou is one of the most established architectural offices in Cyprus. This is mainly down to the number of completed projects and their differing typologies, especially over the last decade. The practice was formed in 1998 by Eraclis Papachristou and since then has seen a large number of projects realised. The continuous participation in competitions, in tandem with the professional practice has resulted in an ever evolving architectural language which adapts to and adopts social, technological, economic and environmental trends.
The Eraclis Papachristou Architectural Practice
The early days of the practice saw it established through architectural competitions. To date we have actually received 26 awards, of which ten were first prizes. This at the Pancyprian, European and international levels.
In December 1998, at the age of 26 I was the recipient of the first architectural competition winning prize. This was in collaboration with my uncle and colleague, the architect Chrysanthos Chrysanthou, which came as the result of our third attempt at competitions. The design was for Students Halls at the University of Cyprus and was completed in 2004. It is still what I consider a founding stone and landmark in the years that followed in the field. The photograph of the finished item featured on the Architectural Themes (edition 41, 2007) cover. The back cover of that issue featured the noteworthy Cultural Centre in Naousa by my mentor, Tasos Kotsiopoulos. A coincidence not without significance, to my mind.
The practice of Eraclis Papachristou has enjoyed a continuous growth and development, from the early days of the ‘one man show’, all the way through to the current day with its 25 employees. The collective, the ideas and the characters within the whole have always been an important part of the success and growth of the practice.
Each member contributes to the reputation of the practice and shares in its vision. It is a process of constant searching, designed to allow the collective abilities to better be able to respond to the competitive nature of the field with confidence, at all levels. What I feel confident in is that we have established a respectful and professional approach to each and every architectural issue.
This is coupled with the intention and desire to create a worthwhile contribution to architecture each and every time. My personal involvement at all stages of these processes of both design and implementation is something I believe is important and still practiced. This is a process that ensures a constant conversation with the many opinions and ideas my colleagues bring with them.
With reference to some of the formative moments and experiences, I would make reference to the invaluable and positive experience that both public projects and larger scale, more complex designs have provided. To render this more tangible, it is the experience of analytical and extensive detailing, specifications and the total handling of economic, technical and other factors that provides this positive understanding and eventually knowledge.
Experience has been gathered from more specialised projects, many of which have since been built. These include educational spaces (university facilities, colleges and private schools), wineries (four in number, of which two have been seen through), sports facilities (internal and external in nature), student accommodation, hotels and tourism facilities, offices, residential complexes and individual residences.
The last years have seen the practice intensely engaged with the design and realisation of high buildings. In fact the office undertook the licencing of the first ever such structure on the island and is currently involved in the later stages of completion of two such projects. One is a residential tower measuring in at 170m, the tallest such residential design on the island. The second is a mixed use design measuring in at 100 meters.
The office is currently involved in various stages of the designs for residential, office and hotel towers, which measure between 100m and 180m in height. This group of constructions enjoy very specific challenges and require appropriate detailing that deals with composite issues such as structure, firefighting, wind loads etc.
The future starts now. As an architect and a professional one must work with imagination and efficiency, in the present, so as to ensure that one has a future. Continuity has always been a notion that fascinated me. This requires a constant updating of information through keeping in touch with the latest developments of both ideas and systems in an ever more complex environment, from which one must be able to still extract the required designs. It is not just to do with design and the theories that support it. It is increasingly about a wider spectrum of awareness incorporating issues such as new technology, materials, spatial organisation, firefighting, bioclimatic considerations, environmental concerns and an ever increasing collection of other aspects. Creativity and inspiration, which I identify as being close to art these days, is an open ended process that constantly updates itself, enriches and matures through design and its implementation.
Finally, the power of the unexpected continues to fascinate me. I am not sure if we can really continue to expect the morphology, the form and geometry of volumes to move us. The search for new typologies does however, to my mind, provide ample material for architectural exploration. A new typology that offers a new experience to its user which is no longer found within the morphological language of the design but in the doubt injected regarding the mechanism of anticipation of any given architectural programme.
Our aim and dedication resides within the creation and production of spaces that transform place, urban or rural, enrich the spatial experiences and are points or reference at this point in time and, equally, in the future. These ingredients and their interpretation come to define the notion of timeless architecture, or design.