Expert article
Edit 22 December 2023
by Chiara Lucchini

Detours, corrections, deviations

El Alamein area
As the four urban regeneration areas take shape and the building sites proceed in their making, the pathways and development trajectories of the initial layouts evolve into something different. Bureaucratic and administrative issues, the interaction with a variety of technical perspectives, unexpected conditions found on the sites and unpredictable findings laying underground for centuries, intercept and condition the construction process, causing deviations and detours from the initial plans. Producing at times generative effects, framing delays, stops and corrections in the urban design process, can offer a good perspective to retrospectively frame critical issues under a different light.

The tangible dimension of the project

Cultural H.ID.RA.N.T. intertwines its intangible components (water commons, community engagement, new emerging culture related to water and sustainability, etc.) with the physical regeneration of four concrete and specific spots in the territory. These have been appointed to become “complex” places, gathering activities, people, networks and relations, spreading cultural capital throughout the city along with the water supply. The creation of a new water infrastructure intertwines with site specific urban transformation projects, that will bring to the realization of 24,000 sqm of new public spaces, and the planting of 14,800 shrubs and 180 trees. The interventions within the urban fabric include Gyftopoulou street area and a portion of the the Remathia stream banks; the Hadrian aqueduct reservoir and roman wells in El Alamein street (including the realization of a new underground water tank to collect water); the Kodrou & Antistaseos Street area with the realization of the larger underground reservoir, Eptanisou Street with the construction of a new green park. On top of this, the construction of approximately 5 km of new water network system (pipes) combines with the urban regeneration project realization, overlapping with it in a number of specific points (i.e. where underground pumps and reservoirs connect to the pipe system). Finally the procurement of 2 mobile water tank trucks complete the frame, as means for distributing water in those areas that will not be in direct connection with the new water infrastructure.

As explained in Journal no. 2 the foreseen scheduling for the public procurement process went through a number of interruptions and delays related to the (failed) attempt made by the Municipality to introduce specific content and more strict evaluation principles in the tendering process. Among other reasons, this was related to the interest of the Urban Authority in using the tendering as a way to grant for the quality of the building process, and to make sure to select a building contractor holding the sufficient experience and capacities to implement the foreseen urban, architectural and technical solutions. Designed by TPA – Thymio Papayannis Architects, the proposals for the four public spaces incorporate a number of characterizing features: 

  1. The valorisation of the visible elements of the Hadrian aqueduct (tank and wells) as historical monuments;

  2. The valorisation of the invisible underground route of the Hadrian aqueduct through architectural and landscape elements;

  3. The integration of pumping stations and infrastructures for the exploitation of the water resource in the design for new public spaces;

  4. Increasing greenery and the existing offer of outdoor spaces  thus contributing to addressing the consequences of the greenhouse effect by introducing mitigating elements;

  5. Water as playful and interactive element in the new urban spaces;

  6. Lightning as an innovative element characterizing the new public spaces.

As the tendering process was under preparation, the foreseen solutions were presented to the technical departments of the City (in particular to the Public Works and to the Environmental departments). Described with a preliminary project, the solutions were also part of the overall information provided to the bidders participating to the public procurement tender, as useful documents functional to the formulation of the economic offer.

new hard surfaces
New public spaces taking shape

 

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On site

The contract signature with the winning bidder took place in early February 2023, and from May on the building sites officially started. Operating under the responsibility of the contractor (Tekal), the building process takes advantage of the support of the technical departments of the City of Halandri, and of the consultancy of TPA. After the first phases in which building sites were prepared and needed demolition took place, the intense part of the building process took over, with the excavation works in the El Alamein street area (the most complex one, and the one hosting the most relevant portions of the Hadrian Aqueduct to be incorporated in the new design), in Kodrou area (the one hosting the large new water tank, serving the water trucks) and along Gyftopoulou street (including in the building site the Remathia river banks). Being the site along Eptanisou Street the least complex, its construction started later (and are actually entering their most intense operational phase). 

The Eptanisiou street building site
The Eptanisiou street building site

 

The excavation works, digging approximately 5 to 6 meters deep in the proximity of the old Hadrian reservoir, brought to life unknown built structures: at the end of July 2023 a decision was made by the Ephorate of Antiquities, to interrupt the building site, in order to study these structures and provide information about their former function and historical value. The study of the findings is still ongoing nowadays, and the initial design of the water tank is being redefined in order not to affect the presence of the archeological heritage while granting the same capacity for water collection (without undermining the initial concept).

roman structures
The excavation in El Alamein area 

 

Here the demolition works brought to light the presence of an unknown (rather recent) well, and a more recent structure related to the existing water infrastructure that could only be seen after the elimination of all the built elements of the site. None of the found structures seems to have any historical value, but in any case, they required extra time for being investigated, necessary reflection and  technical effort to be solutioned and safely incorporated in the initial design.

kdrou
EYDAP staff working in the Kdrou site

 

Currently the most advanced building site (completion is foreseen for February 2024), this portion of the urban regeneration project was the stage for the main discussion concerning the identified technical solutions between the building contractor, the city’s technical department and the designers. In fact, as the architectural solutions imagined in the preliminary project were brought to the implementation phase a number of criticalities emerged. Doubts concerning the correctness of the imagined solutions were advanced, so further research and development of the design solution was put in place; skepticisms were expressed by city’s technical department about its capacity to effectively manage the new public spaces in the long run (i.e. having the necessary skills and competencies to operate maintenance and replicate the solution in the future). These arguments - still in negotiation - are bringing to a partial redefinition of the initial constructive idea, leading to technical simplification, adjustments, changes but, at the same time, stimulating the designers to imagine a solution capable of granting anyway the main values proposed by the initial concept (i.e. physical continuity of the paved surfaces, use of specific materials, etc.).

gyftopoulou
The new public space along Gyftopoulou street

 

Dealing with the unforeseen

What is currently happening in the four building sites where Halandri’s urban regeneration projects will take place is very common: detours, deviations, changes and adjustments happen in urban design processes along the pathways from inception to construction, and may be caused by a number of different factors and actors (technical, political, bureaucratic, etc.). Some of them may be taken into account from the early stages, or at least expected when the imagined solution is framed; some others are unpredictable, as contextual conditions, technical misfortunes, rearrangements in action (and more), may occur. The lesson learnt offered by the Halandri case in this sense relates to the capacity of the actors on the stage to make sense of change, adapting "on the go" and redefining their trajectories for actions accordingly… finally  finding new pathways. Far from evidencing lack of capacity to control the process , this ability to react consistently to change has been associated to the capacity to  improvise, as a skill related to expertise and even mastery: to reframe current conditions combining the old with the new, creating continuously (new) relevant order. The resources in place are rearranged into patterns bearing little or no resemblance to the original model, or using alternative models as the basis for inventing new trajectories (1). The final output hence, will inevitably be different from the initial proposed solution, but most likely much more consistent with the individual’s past experience, dispositions, and local conditions. 
 

surface
Bulding the new technical solution for the hard surface in public spaces 

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(1) This approach to improvisation relates to the work brought about by the renowned organizational theorist Karl Weick (see Weick K.E., Sutcliffe K.M. (2007), “Managing the unexpected. Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty”, John Wiley & Sons).

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