Athens' image-opsis: the asperity of Attica's marble
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Athens insists on representing white marble as the material embodiment of the city, and consequently white marble is persistently present in mythologies of the city. This thesis argues that in perpetuating these myths that make consistent appeals to idealised ‘white places’, the reciprocal and mytho-poetic relationship between marble’s materiality and the Athenian metropolis is progressively over-simplified. The result of this particular, reductive historiography is that today the contemporary opsis (architectural surface and image) of marble stimulates an emotional (pathetic) perception of the material that, by extension, fosters a marble-image of Athens that is truly pathetic. This pathos is clear if we consider the violent gestures that accompanied a series of recent anti-austerity riots in which rioters deliberately tore marble veneers from numerous modern and contemporary urban edifices. Despite the apparent senselessness of this act of dissent toward the superficiality of the current Athenian politico-economic apparatus, these actions in fact exposed the superficial manner in which the material has been employed to re-present Athens as an imaginary place. This thesis regards the perceptible absence of marble brought (inadvertently) to the surface during these riots as an opening to a deeper understanding of marble’s materiality. ‘Following’ the agency of marble’s matter, this Architecture by Design thesis presents three potential ways of re-instituting what matters in Attica’s marble. Firstly, the thesis advances a theoretical argument for the mutually constitutive relationship between marble and Athens, where obsolete illustrations and a priori dogmas regarding notions of matter and materiality, image and opsis, landscape and ecology are challenged (Vol. 1). Secondly, the thesis presents a re-presentational visual archive as an expressive essay of both marble’s opsis and of Athens’ marbleimage (Vol. 2). Thirdly, the thesis evokes the poetics of marble as discourse along with a portfolio of architectural design as it materialises a series of speculative design propositions that are placed in specific charged contexts across the broader Attic (metropolitan) landscape, and which address practices of marble concerned with the marble-image of Athens (Vol. 3). Read in conjunction (or in disjunction), these three means of re-situating marble’s materiality within its inherently aesthetic and, by extension, political ground mobilise the material’s asperity. In this way, the material’s intrinsic textures, tensions and differences are projected into the making of marble’s opsis —an opsis that in turn re-informs and enriches the making of Athens’ imageries.