In Greece, between heaven and earth, we are often prompted by the rocky surface of the earth’s crust, which to architect Christos Papoulias’s eyes appears, with its sinuous cracks, as an endless city—partly visible and partly invisible. Papoulias has consistently responded to this city—notwithstanding the potent example of his teachers in Venice: Manfredo Tafuri, Carlo Scarpa, and Aldo Rossi—and to the humble dwellings found upon this particular and demanding earth, between trees and rocks, and against the infinite horizontal line of the Mediterranean Sea.
Early on, Papoulias, born in Athens in 1953, made his mark with a proposal for a museum on the Acropolis. Living just across the way, on the slope of the hill, he noticed that the infill between the Parthenon and its supporting wall covered an archaic foundation. Indeed, thanks to this intuition, he was able to recover the archeological records and to locate a wall, built with Cyclopean stones, against which he proposed to exhibit the Archaic sculptures. It is not surprising that this project was never realized.
If Sir John Soane believed that the art of architecture “is the art of invention as difficult as it is painful,” Papoulias’s architecture is as much an exhibition of pain and difficulties as it is a great invention. Sempre iniziare (always begin anew) is his motto. From one project to another, you can see his innovation, for example, in the house of artist Brice Marden, or those of the Arte Povera artists, such as Jannis Kounellis, both on the island of Hydra, or the gallery Minus Objects for Michelangelo Pistoletto. And yet, Papoulias always returns to the earth and the elements, to concrete materials; getting closer to the conscious mind without which, he says, nothing comes to be in our lives. The word for “truth” in Greek is alitheia, meaning “that which is uncovered.” We are constantly reminded in Papoulias’s projects of the earth itself being uncovered. How else could we maintain our fragile balance between the past that is no longer and the future that is not yet, unless we are able to anchor ourselves in the earth as we reach out to heaven? This is at the heart of Papoulias’s oeuvre. Again and again, he puts himself in the position of an absolute beginner. As if nothing is known and nothing could be taken for granted but the bare encounter between sentient beings and the brute materiality of the world from which, and of which, architecture is fashioned.
—Yehuda Emmanuel Safran