The Architectural View
She is a true child of the city center. Born on Gounari Street, next to the Roman ruins, she now works on Nikis Avenue and lives in Ano Poli. She says Thessaloniki never sleeps. Through its contradictions and rich history, the city keeps you interested. Morpho Papanikolaou took a break from her architectural plans, tracing paper, precision pencils, compass and scales and talked to View Thessaloniki City Guide about everything she loves and everything she loves to hate about her city. The renowned architect told us about her inspiration, favorite spots for morning coffee, favorite parks for a picnic, as well as her favorite walks in the city.
What is so charming about Thessaloniki?
I am not sure where Thessaloniki’s famous “charm” lies. What we find attractive is very subjective. What animates me a lot is this city’s capacity to transform, to change faces, to absorb and emit the vibrant colors of the sunrise and sunset, to lose itself in the mist, to sway under the spotlights at night. So I am mainly drawn to the way the city alters its identities over time.
Which part of the city do you find more inspiring and why?
The city center, perhaps because I grew up on Dimitriou Gounari Street and we work on Nikis Avenue. Personal experience aside, I like the center for its metropolitan vibe. It has continuity. It has so many different uses, from homes to nightlife, for almost 24 hours, every day of the year, in a countless variety of meetings, exchanges, practices and in so many individual spaces with different uses.
Which of its buildings stands out architecturally in your opinion?
The Rotunda. It embraces every visitor that steps into it in an emotionally dense spatial experience: A majestically empty space, where the light surprises you, the silence is eerie and the beauty minimalistic. I think that visitors take this experience home with them forever.
Do you consider Thessaloniki a beautiful or an ugly city?
For visitors, it is a very interesting place because in its contradictions there is a certain attractive balance. Despite the ugliness that has happened to it, Thessaloniki has a dense historical timeline and optical escapes that decongest and relax.
Together with Rena Sakellaridou, you have received dozens of awards with SPARCH. Which one is more important to you and why?
Clearly, architectural creation is a process of criticism and constant evaluation. That is why every piece that receives acclaim fills us with joy and motivates us on our next endeavor. It also gives us the opportunity to take part in the wider debate on architecture and the city.
If you had to recommend an architecture tour to a visitor, which buildings would you suggest they definitely visit and why?
I’d suggest they start at Ano Poli – the Upper City – and walk downhill towards the center. Along the way they will discover exciting Byzantine treasures; hints and traces of the Roman city; brilliant buildings from the inter-war years. Finally, as they follow the optical escapes vertical to the sea, they might even discover an ephemeral watercolor painting.
Which Thessaloniki museum do you prefer and why?
Recently, the city has started functioning better, using its museums as a network rather than as individual attractions. I like that a lot more. I think the next logical step that Thessaloniki deserves to take is a contemporary art museum in a new building, designed to be an emblematic representation of our era.
If you had to take a visitor on a tour of the city, where would you take them and why?
I won’t try to be inventive – the sea is still the most important urban space in Thessaloniki. I’d suggest we take a stroll in direct contact with the water, following the colors of the sunset. I recommend a walk that offers spots with many different optical escapes: From the new M2 building of the Thessaloniki Concert Hall to the gardens of Nea Paralia promenade, to Zongopoulos’ “Umbrellas” statue, to the piers.
Who is she?
Architect Morpho Papanikolaou splits her time between Athens and Thessaloniki. She studied at IUAV (University Institute for Architecture of Venice), where she also did her postgraduate research degree. She has years of teaching at that very university as well as the Architecture department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki under her belt. Morpho has also delivered lectures at the IUAV International Workshop (2005, 2006), IUAV Winter Workshop (2014) and Ecoweek Thessaloniki (2015). She runs architecture firm Sparch in Athens and Thessaloniki together with Rena Sakellaridou. Their work has received important architectural awards and distinctions, including many first prizes in dozens of international competitions.