Athens is poised to rise again with the Ellinikon, a groundbreaking urban redevelopment initiative along the city’s picturesque coastline. Zaneta Cheng gets a sneak peek of the €8 billion project ahead of its first phase of completion scheduled for 2026
Athens has seen its fair share of highs and lows. At its peak during classical antiquity, the Greek capital was the major urban centre with cultural achievements during the 5th century BC that formed the foundations of Western civilisation. At one of its lower troughs, roughly a decade ago, it became better known for the sovereign debt crisis crippling the nation. Greece has since worked its way out of that particular moment, having grown GDP to two to three times more than its lowest, and on top of its current agenda is a plan to redevelop a stretch of coastal land, a part of which was once the Athens airport. Covering 650 acres – three times the size of Monaco – and costing an estimated €8 billion, the privately-funded project, called the Ellinikon, is slated to be one of the largest of its kind in Europe with Greek firm Lamda spearheading its development.
Who is Lambda? The company was listed on the Athens Stock Exchange in 2001 before building the
first two malls in Greece – one in Athens and the other in Thessaloniki. In the years between the malls and 2014, when they were appointed for the Ellinikon after submitting a tender, the company developed venues across almost all sectors of real estate including offices, marinas and residential projects in Greece and abroad. Given the tight ties between the project and the nation’s prospects, the fact that a homegrown developer is leading the charge seems apt for the Ellinikon’s ambitions to drive tourism, employment and foreign investment.
Construction on the site has started. Roughly a 20-minute drive from the Acropolis and the centre of Athens, we sit in a hangar in a more developed part of the site called the Experience Centre. Opened in 2022, the space is dedicated to showing the public what Ellinikon will be upon completion.
First on the list is the transformation of four kilometres of coastline into sandy beaches. One of the more curious aspects of the Greek capital is the relative lack of public access to any beach. Most are privatised and any other stretch of coastline is somehow rendered inaccessible. The Ellinikon vision is to transform the area into a model for the future of sustainable development which can encourage innovation, jobs and investment as well as build resilience, sustainability and wellness.
The term is “a 15-minute city” where residences, offices, sports locations, the park, schools and just about anything that is part of modern urban life is within a 15-minute walk or bike ride away. “Imagine yourself, depending on where you’re from, being in Hyde Park or Central Park or anywhere in Asia or Europe,” says Odisseas Athanasiou, CEO of Lamda, at a press briefing. “To then have your house just around the park, not having to view it from kilometres away while you’re going about your day, and to have schools there, the university there. Everything is going to be built as a smart city from scratch. Even fibre optics will be a part of the infrastructure. The walls of the houses are going to have 5G fibre optics. Everything has smart-use and sustainability designed into it. Why? Because we have the opportunity to design everything not within a city that already has its own characteristics and infrastructure built, but because we are building it from scratch.”
The plan is to build a sprawling 2 million square-metre park where leisure, entertainment, living and work spaces will all be close together with landmark buildings like the Foster + Partners- designed Riviera Tower, which will become the tallest building in Greece. The 45-floor residential block with 200 apartments will rise 200 metres above sea level and aims to create a landmark along the Mediterranean seafront.
Riviera Tower is one of 12 architectural landmarks and apart from Foster + Partners, the Ellinikon will
be home to buildings designed by a host of respected and renowned architectural names. Japanese architect Kengo Kuma is responsible for the Riviera Galleria, a destination for luxury retail, dining and leisure to be built overlooking the Marina.
Bjarke Ingels Group, one of the names to make their mark out of a new generation of Danish architects, has been tasked to design the Ellinikon Park Rise building as part of Little Athens, a residential neighbourhood comprising over 1,000 high- and low- rise homes. Renderings of the Ellinikon Park Rise show it to be a dynamic and eye-catching building. Beijing-based architects Aedas are designing a Commercial Hub which is set to be the largest “mall” in Greece and Southern Europe. At over 185,000 square metres, the new retail destination has ambitions to become “the shopping centre of the future.”
A strip of residences along the waterfront are set to be designed by prominent Greek architects Bobotis+Bobotis and ISV Architects. American firm Sasaki will design the landscape of the park and for tourists, a Mandarin Oriental Athens will stand by the waterfront with a luxury resort and branded residences.
Progress-wise, much of the finicky back-end work has been completed. Funding has been secured as have the requisite permits for a project of this magnitude. “Very, very important – it took us many years but now it is done,” says Athanasiou.
While the full project will take 25 years to complete, the first phase is due for completion by the end of 2026. As of now, public and consumer interest seems high with over 1 million visits to the Experience Park just last year. With a commitment to sustainability where GOLD level and LEED Gold certification is being achieved across residential and commercial complexes, and a self-sufficient irrigation, waste and electricity system, Athens might once again show the world how to take civilisation forward.