beyond cultures of privatism For-A-Day?
‘new era’ for Hellinikon
In June 2021 the shares of the public limited company Hellinikon SA were transferred to the private company Lamda Development SA, along with the delivery of the first instalment of the share acquisition price to the Greek state and a deferred payment bond to the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF). According to the private company’s announcement, this was a ‘historic’ timing that marked a ‘new era’ for the urban redevelopment of the former international airport of Athens, described as ‘Greece’s largest investment’ and the ‘largest urban regeneration project in Europe’. Over the last decade, during the period of Greece’s debt crisis and under the ‘economic adjustment programmes’/bailout packages, this large piece of public land in the city’s south seafront entered processes of privatising state property that would, allegedly, deliver partial debt relief, attract foreign investments, increase the country’s GDP and mobilise the construction and tourism sectors. The announcements about the shares transfer to the investor were accompanied with enthusiastic statements on the ‘reopening of the Greek economy’, a ‘growth boost’, a ‘re-positioning of Greece on the global investment and tourism map’ and so on.
In this ‘new era’ for Hellinikon the site of the former airport is planned to be redeveloped as a major urban center which will include touristic, leisure, residential, and commercial activities and a wide variety of services while incorporating ‘cutting-edge technologies and modern design and architecture principles’. A prime goal is the ‘creation of a modern, digital, and environmentally friendly city, a model of sustainable development, reflecting Greece’s cultural heritage’. Yet, what does this ‘new era’ refer to from a perspective of critical urban theory? How may the new patterns of urban living, leisure, working, gathering, consuming, shaping urban identities and urban lifestyles etc. both reflect processes of privatisation as well as cultures of privatism?
And, in turn, how may an art intervention such as the project Museum-Of-Modern-Art-For-A-Day (MOMAFAD) in the East Terminal of the former Hellinikon International Airport even momentarily disrupt and challenge dominant perceptions, discourses and norms?
Processes of privatisation
For more than a decade, the Hellinikon project has exemplified the introduction of ‘new’ ideas on the city concerning modes of urban development and governance predominantly through multiple processes of privatisation. Aspects of these processes include: firstly, ‘new’ concepts and typologies of urban development and real estate products such as the secluded, and potentially gated, residential neighbourhoods of luxury housing, tourism and recreation offering privileged proximity and access to the Metropolitan Park or the seafront as well as a series of high-rise buildings as urban ‘landmarks’ again for high-end housing and tourism; the development of a casino resort in the vicinity of residential areas; medical tourism and luxury rehabilitation units. Secondly, ‘new’ relations between the public and the private sector, with the investor being the prime instigator of urban development. At times various administrative and institutional tensions between the investor and the public authorities have brought up issues of competence for example, who will be in charge of the potential archaeological findings during the construction works and the management of the archaeological sites? Who will be in charge of the preservation, restoration, or management of modern cultural heritage and architectural monuments? Who will delineate issues of the protection of the natural environment and possible forested areas? Thirdly, ‘new’ urban management and governance models with the direct involvement of the investor, such as that which concerns the maintenance works in technical infrastructures, streets, parks and the development of the first ever fully private Metropolitan Park in the country raising issues of threats to the openness, accessibility, and inclusion of public space.
The Hellinikon project as a mode of urban development is dominated by large-scale investment and construction capital as well as large-scale private real property that is subsequently divided into plots of land and sold or leased. The land is sold or leased mainly with the intention of extracting maximum profits from the land and real property development with the support of legal regulations, financial, and banking instruments. The implementation of this mode of urban development rests on processes of privatisation, both in terms of public resources (e.g. land, the landscape, the seashore, open spaces, infrastructures and natural and cultural heritage), as well as in terms of public processes (such as administrative procedures, competences, public-private partnerships, challenges of public consultation.)
Cultures of privatism
Further to the processes of privatisation, the Hellinikon project supports and is in turn supported by media representations and dominant discourses on ‘new’ urban experiences
and consumption opportunities such as ‘development’, ‘economic growth’ that will ‘trickle down’, ‘adjustment to international standards and good practices’ and ‘job creation’. These representations get intertwined with narratives of devaluation against public authorities and institutions, urban and environmental movements, opposing local communities and ‘obsolete ideological positions’ on the protection of the environment and cultural heritage, collective memory and identity. The dominant discourses and media representations normalise both Hellinikon project itself and broader neoliberal shifts in ideas and popular perception around the city. They set up a field in the public sphere particularly suitable for micro-politics and social manipulation as well as allowing space for the diffusion of ‘new’ concepts and ideas across society.
From the theoretical lenses of neoliberalism (namely, the discourses, policies, and regulations that constantly and increasingly push towards privatisation, marketisation and commodification in all spheres of social activity,) political theorist Wendy Brown has examined how neoliberalism tends to ‘remake’ the state and the subject. By drawing on Michel Foucault’s biopolitics work, she argues that processes and governmentalities of ‘economisation’ and ‘private property absolutism’ that are key in neoliberal thinking tend to saturate political life and erode democratic imaginaries and collective cultures. On the level of the city, such qualitative changes can be understood as cultures of privatism; namely as a spatial conceptualisation and a cultural condition creating new urban divisions, secessions, enclosures, exclusions, or even dispossessions stemming more or less from ‘rights’ to private property.
Similarly, sociologist Saskia Sassen writes about a ‘systemic transformation’ in the pattern of land ownership and new social divisions of people in the city, such as through the development of urban areas with less social mixity and more segregation of the rich. From a global analytical perspective, she names mega-projects and the large-scale corporate investment redevelopment as a major threat that ‘kills much of the urban tissue’ and alters the historic meaning of the city as ‘what was small and/or public is becoming large and private’. In light of these critiques and in line to Sassen’s thesis, the processes of privatisation and the ‘new’ cultures of privatism around the Hellinikon project urge us to wonder: ‘who owns the city?’
Modernism legacies and international experiences in question
The building of the East Terminal of Athens’s former Hellinikon International Airport itself (one of the late designs of Eero Saarinen and Greece’s modernist gateway since the 1960s) highlights both the current stakes around the city and a series of contradictions on the prospects of the city’s cultural heritage as stemming from dominant processes of privatisation and cultures of privatism.
The ‘new era’ for Hellinikon means that certain modernist individual buildings or complexes are legally protected as ‘listed monuments’ by the Greek Ministry of Culture while others, evaluated as less significant, are due to demolition so as to give way to the new tourism, recreation and residential developments. One common thread that brings together the East Terminal with some of these 20th century buildings is their connection to the city’s international modernism legacy. Amongst others, this includes the post-war modernization processes for the development of Athens’s seafront, the country’s opening-up to international tourism and the introduction of modern cultures and lifestyles for the local population. In particular this legacy can be seen as more or less inspired by post-war architectural and planning cultures under the influence of the international modern movement along with novel ideas on art, architecture and planning. As can be noted, these ideas were directly connected to a welfare state, a ‘common good’, equity, and the provision / distribution of public amenities to large parts of the population. As the Charter of Athens’s concluding point would have it, one century ago (1933): ‘private interest will be subordinated to the interest of the community’. From a broader perspective, this may also refer to intangible aspects of cultural heritage, including the post-war international experiences of travelling, visiting, and hosting etc., shared between the local population and the visitors / tourists. This wider exposure of the city and the local population to international flows has changed both the cultures and lifestyles of the local population and, arguably, that of the tourists / visitors.
Although the modernist East Terminal of Athens’s former Hellinikon International Airport has luckily survived there remains the question, how may this fit into the ‘new’ era and the ‘new’ architecture and urban planning principles of the Hellinikon project that seem substantially remote to those of the modern movement? And, how do collective memories and international shared experiences from the past get appropriated by ongoing processes of privatisation and cultures privatism?
Momentarily cracks and potential ruptures
In October 2020, just a few months before the privatisation act of the transfer of the shares of Hellinikon SA to Lamda Development SA, the project Museum of Modern Art For A Day (MOMAFAD) momentarily – ‘for a day’ – intervened inside and around the East Terminal. The aim of the project has been to ‘initiate a curational and philosophical inquiry into the symbolic ramifications of temporary ownership and cultural occupancy’.
As part of the MOMAFAD project, a silk green carpet goes up or down the monumental staircases of the East Terminal reflecting on the city’s historical ‘cycles’. A series of sculptures, paintings, video projections and performances refer to personal and collective experiences and memories of travelling, arriving, departing, anticipating, observing, or contemplating; living and gendered experiences of hospitality, place and collective memory; spatialities of domestic memory, spatial perceptions and appropriations; materialities and architectural elements of the modernist built environment and landscape; infrastructures, equipment, furniture and consumables of the airport facilities; cultural symbols of past times; marble sculptures as ancient deposits probably uncovered during the construction works; archaeologies of modernism, its iconic buildings or key figures; political, social and cultural aspects of Greek ‘Metapolitefsi’ (the country’s post-military-junta era) bound with processes of social integration and economic prosperity; while also the fear and anxiety stemming from current uncertainty and social crises; the recent and still ongoing refugee crisis; as well as power relations and representations attached to the redevelopment of Hellinikon project, along with political, micro-political and geopolitical aspects of the ‘new era’. Each of these installations and performances, both separately and as a ‘common art project,’ may mobilise a series of diversified reflections on: architecture and cultural heritage; art and collective memory; personal and common experiences; public space and urban development; social uncertainty and politics in times of accelerating crises.
MOMAFAD takes place for-a-day by occupying Athens’s former Hellinikon International Airport East Terminal at a particular point in time; the site’s privatised transition. The intervention of MOMAFAD momentarily destabilised a given condition and instantly disrupted ongoing processes of privatisation. As a non-commodified art project we may conceptualise this as an ephemeral potential creation of a ‘common space’. Namely, a space instantly open to collective use beyond the public-private ownership dichotomy, as a set of spatial relations produced by practices of ‘commoning’ and constituted by processes that elude overarching authorities. But, we must also reflect on this as a project that revisits the tangible and intangible aspects of the former airport’s cultural legacy as shared international experiences and shares them back to a global audience as a potential ‘global common’.
From this perspective, we may understand this as a momentary crack that for-a-day disrupts norms, dominant discourses, and representations beyond cultures of privatism. Such cracks (where others will come from the past while others are to be anticipated in the future) may in turn contribute to cultural and power ruptures and produce ‘threshold places’ to enter a horizon of alternative possibilities.
MOMAFAD takes place at a given time and a given place. The content of many of the contributions as well as the overall project ipso facto get interwoven with the stakes of the redevelopment of the former airport along with the social, cultural and spatial stakes of the current conjuncture. At the same time, MOMAFAD as a concept, an ephemeral process, a ‘common art project’, a ‘curational and philosophical inquiry’ and a ‘political intervention,’ show how contemporary art may disrupt dominant discourses, ideas and representations and potentially constitute ‘commons’ both of a local and global outlook, For-A-Day or even more.
 Dr. architect planner, academic fellow School of Architecture, Technical University of Crete.
 See: https://thehellinikon.com/transfer-of-hellinikon-sas-shares-to-lamda-development/
 See: Pinson, G. and Morel Journel, Ch. (2016) ‘The Neoliberal City – Theory, Evidence, Debates’. Territory, Politics, Governance 4(2), 137-153.
 See: Brown, W. (2015) Undoing the Demos. Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. New York: Zone Books.
 Sonia Hirt (2012) has elaborated this concept of privatism as a set of trends in urban space in cities of Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and during the so-called ‘post-socialist transition’. See: Hirt, S. (2012) Iron Curtains: Gates, Suburbs and Privatization of Space in the Post-socialist City. Malden: Wiley.
 See Sassen, S. (2018) ‘Who owns the city?’ In R. Burdett, and Ph. Rode (eds.) Shaping Cities in an Urban Age. London: Phaidon Press, pp.148-155.
 For a detailed documentation of the modern monuments in the area of the Athens Hellinikon Airport and Aghios Kosmas coast, see: Urban Environment Lab and History and Theory of Architecture Lab (2016) Modern Monuments of Athens Hellinikon Airport and Aghios Kosmas Coast. Report on the Historical, Architectural and Technical Documentation of Buildings and Facilities. Athens: National Technical University.
 For instance, while the core of the building of the East Terminal has been listed, much of the rest airport infrastructures – buildings, technical facilities etc. from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s some of them linked to Olympic Airways and the tycoon Aristotelis Onassis, or linked to the legacy of the 2004 Olympic Games – are to be demolished, or already have. The former American Girls’ College from the 1930s was demolished to give way to the casino complex. The National Sports Youth Centre of Aghios Kosmas – the popular sports complex designed in the 1960s by the renowned planner Constantinos A. Doxiadis – will be demolished so that the privatised land will be divided and sold for the development of luxury villas by the seafront.
 The international legacy of Modernism has come to the fore once more due to the pandemics of covid-19. In 2021, Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the European Commission, announced the ‘New European Bauhaus’.
 See: Congrès International d’ Architecture Moderne (CIAM) (1946) La Charte d’ Athènes or The Athens Charter, 1933. Transl. J.Tyrwhitt. Paris: The Library of the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University.
 Nikolakakis, M. (2015) Representations and social practices of alternative tourists in post-war Greece to the end of the Greek military Junta. Journal of Tourism History, 7(1-2):5-17.
 The concepts and wording of this paragraph refer to the work of Stavros Stavrides on ‘common space’. See: Stavrides, S. (2016) Common Space: The City as Commons. London: Zed Books Ltd.
 See: Dardot, P. and Laval, Ch. (2019) Common: On Revolution in the 21st Century. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.