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Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre

Stavros Niarchos
Written by Roma Publications

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC) is a multifunctional arts, education and entertainment complex located in Kallithea, 4km to the south of central Athens. The SNFCC comprises the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera in a 170,000 sqm landscaped park.

The site upon which the centre now stands was previously a car park left over from the 2004 Olympic Games. It has now been transformed into a cultural destination of standout beauty that has restored a lost connection between the city and the sea. A proposal to build the SNFCC was first announced in 2006. Renzo Piano Building Workshop was then appointed then appointed to design the development. Excavation works subsequently began in 2011 ahead of an extensive construction process that took 5 five years to complete.

The two main facilities – the opera and the library – are combined in one building with a public space, known as the Agora providing access and connections between the two. The opera wing is composed of two auditoria. The first of these boasts 1400 seats and is dedicated to classic ballets, symphonic music and traditional operas. The second is a smaller and much more intimate venue with 450 seats and is aimed more at experimental performances, ballet, opera for children, theatre and music.

The larger auditorium has been designed to enhance the opera experience for both performers and audience members. Upon opening it immediately became one of the best of its kind in Europe with its world-class acoustics, mechanical capabilities, flexible staging and stunning design. The second auditorium is similarly significant in that it allows the Greek National Opera to strengthen its community engagement through lectures, seminars and other events. It can help attract a younger audience and inspire a new generation of performers.

The library has been built to act not only as a place for learning and cultural preservation but also as a public resource truly accessible to the public. Amounting nearly 85,000 sqm, the state-of-the-art building is flexible in its design to respond to the changing needs and challenges of the digital age. A particular standout is the entirely glass-walled library reading room which sits on the top of the building. The transparent box offers 360-degree view of Athens and the sea. A tree-lined pedestrian Esplanade and a canal are aligned alongside the building. The Esplanade is suitable for outdoor activities such as running and biking.

The design of the SNFCC features a number of connections, both visual and physical, to water. Kallithea was one of Athens’ earliest seaports and it was important throughout the design process that the site re-establish a relationship with the sea. In order to do that, an artificial hill was created to the south end of the site, which offers breath-taking views. The canopy roof provides essential shade and has been topped with 10,000 sqm of photovoltaic cells, enough to generate 1.5 megawatt of power for the library and opera house. This field of cells allows the building to be self-sufficient in energy terms during normal opening hours. Wherever possible, natural ventilation has been used.

The hill also forms an important part of the third element of the SNFCC, the Stavros Niarchos Park. The park makes up approximately 85% of the site and is an important addition to Athens – a city lacking public green spaces. The Stavros Niarchos Park includes a wide variety of trees (1440 in total), 300,000 plants, water fountains, paths, playgrounds and open spaces. The open, sunlit Mediterranean Garden is a celebration of horticulture in Greece. The garden is a place of variety and colour with colours changing every month and plant combinations varying every season. At the centre of the park is the Great Lawn, an open space that can function as a venue for concerts, festivals and films.

The SNFCC was also the first structure in Greece to achieve LEED certification. To find out more about the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, please visit

Stavros Niarchos

Image Credit – © SNFCC – ph. Yiorgis Yerolymbos

Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Founded in 1981, Renzo Piano Building Workshop is an international architectural practice with offices in Paris, Genoa and New York. The practice has completed award-winning projects across Europe, North America, Australia and East Asia.

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