Discover more from The Usonian
The modern ruins at Porto Rafti
The saga of C.A. Doxiadis' demolished architectural masterpiece
On November 1, 2011, perhaps the most important work of global architect and city planner Constantinos Doxiadis (1913-1975) was reduced to rubble. That was the day when the architect’s house at Porto Rafti on the east coast of Attica, part of the Apollonio complex was demolished. The house at Porto Rafti was the culmination of Doxiadis’ lifelong goals as an architect, constructed with urgency in the last years of his life as a testament to his design ideas.
The building’s 2011 demolition did not go uncontested, leading to a strange limbo situation that was eventually exploited by the current landowners. The story of the remarkable building at Porto Rafti, as well as its untimely destruction, are the subject of this entry in The World Planner.
The construction of a masterpiece
Many famous architects of the twentieth century have come to be identified with a signature project that demonstrated the facets of their design philosophy. Le Corbusier had the Villa Savoye outside Paris, a house designed as a “machine for living”; Frank Lloyd Wright had the Jacobs I House in Wisconsin, the first Usonian house that realized Wright’s ideal suburban house (forming the namesake of this publication).
Constantinos Doxiadis, on the other hand, concentrated his efforts in city planning. “If we want to think about architecture we cannot think merely of buildings isolated in the countryside,” Doxiadis wrote in his 1963 manifesto, Architecture in Transition. “To think of isolated buildings is really to evade the main question related to architecture, for architecture does in fact lead towards the formation of cities.”2 Doxiadis’ focus was usually in planning for functioning cities, rather than designing flashy architecture. But that did not completely dissuade him from crafting a monument of his own, albeit in the service of community-oriented architecture.
Toward the end of his career, Doxiadis’ evolving design philosophy began pointing to a desired “entopia.” A utopia, as coined by Sir Thomas More, referred to “no-place.” For Doxiadis, the proper word in Greek for a perfect city that could be achieved would be called “entopia,” a utopia that could be achieved.
In 1958, Doxiadis and his wife Emma visited the east Attican coastline. This experience inspired him to build a house in Porto Rafti, one of the coastal villages in the region, not far from present-day Athens International Airport. Eleven years later, in 1969, the project began in earnest.
Doxiadis began developing symptoms of ALS in the early 1970s, the disease which finally claimed his life in 1974. In his final years, he set out to complete two projects—four “red books,” which would form the final iterations of his planning ideas, and his own literal version of entopia—the Apollonio development at Porto Rafti.3 For Doxiadis, the typical Cycladic village, with its pedestrian-oriented streets and intimate modest dwellings, formed the ideal urban pattern for the Aegean context.
Doxiadis had built modern iterations of island villages before, such as the Aspra Spitia village near Delphi, Greece, but at Porto Rafti he sought to construct a masterpiece. Investing much of his finances into the project, Doxiadis threw his remaining energy into a project that would, he hoped, form a seaside community for creatives, complemented by his own house, chapel, conference center, and amphitheater. He named the development the “Apollonio,” an evocation of Apollo, god of light. His Delos Symposia were held at the mythical birthplace of Apollo, and in the name he perhaps sought to connect this project to the earlier effort.
The ensuing product was a marvel that evoked the traditional Cycladic island village. It was the fullest encapsulation of Doxiadis’ design ideals, built in a modern version of ancient and traditional building forms, a style that invoked the example of his collegiate mentor, Dimitris Pikionis, whose work is best known through the cobbled walkway around the Acropolis.4
In Building Entopia, Doxiadis cited the example of the Apollonio community as a realization of the entopia concept. At the conclusion of that work, published posthumously in 1975, Doxiadis wrote, "We have an exact diagnosis of our disease and begin the therapy, not by nervous and uncoordinated magical solutions, but by properly conceiving and trying to build the Entopia we badly need.” Triumphantly he proclaimed, “We are on the proper road for the best harmony that humanity has ever achieved.”5
Demolition, a protracted struggle, and limbo
Doxiadis’ dream of entopia at Porto Rafti was realized in terms of what was constructed, but several factors limited the success of his aspirations. For one, the high cost of living in the Apollonio community, as well as the community’s expensive membership fees, ended up excluding many of the artists-as-residents whom Doxiadis hoped to attract within its walls. Instead, the development became a popular resort community for wealthy Athenians.6
In 1981, faced with the high expense of paying the Apollonio community dues, the Doxiadis family sold the Porto Rafti house to a new owner who suggested they would retain the property as designed. For many years that promise was upheld, but in this time the building was never listed as a protected monument.
In 2010, the municipality of Markopoulo Mesogaias issued a permit to demolish the house under the pretense the structure was composed of “old two-story and ground-floor buildings” of no architectural importance. This allowed the contemporary owner, named in court documents as Alexandras Gryparis, a descendant of the second owner, to begin demolishing Doxiadis’ house within the Apollonio complex.
Euphrosyne Doxiadis, one of the architect’s daughters, was informed of the demolishment on the third day. She immediately filed an application to the Council of State (the Supreme Administrate Court of Greece) to ask for a stay of demolishment. The stay granted, the demolishment was halted on the fourth day, with the foundations and multiple sections of the house still standing.
The Council of State subsequently overturned the municipal permit, leading to the site’s unusual status—ruins from which, as I understand it, nothing could be built, and nothing could be further demolished. It was a state of limbo.
For several years, the partial remains of the house survived. I visited the ruins at Apollonio in 2018. At that point, the chapel and amphitheater remained intact. The rubble, frozen in time, was a disquieting sight. The upturned stone could have been from any previous century, the ruins of a building of much older vintage, if not for the knowledge the demolition occurred in 2011.
However, in 2019 a new house was built on the demolished site by exploiting a technicality regarding historic places. Though the greater Apollonio community survives, its centerpiece, the house and conference center as conceived by Doxiadis, has been stripped away and replaced with new construction. The destruction seemed complete, but Euphrosyne Doxiadis has pursued further legal action against the landowner, with the aim of one day restoring the house to its designed specifications.
Doxiadis amidst the ruins
Ruins loom large in the writings in Doxiadis. They factored into the situations he witnessed as a Greek growing up in the shadow of ancient monuments and a Greece ravaged by World War II and the ensuing Greek Civil War. It also factored into the work he conducted rebuilding Greece as Undersecretary of the Ministry of Coordination during the implementation of the Marshall Plan in his home country.
On February 19, 1952, Doxiadis gave a lecture at the University of Chicago. In that speech he told a story of the Second World War. During a cold winter night in 1941, he was heading back on a mountain path to avoid the advancing German forces, when he sought shelter in an affluent village. Doxiadis recalled being confused when he arrived, because he could not find the white houses of the village anywhere. Thinking he had taken a wrong turn, he suddenly came to the horrifying realization that the village, or what was left of it, was right before him.7
“It was in ruins. Nothing was left standing. Here and there were stark, black heaps, among which moved emaciated shadows of men, in the pale light of the moon. ¶ I gazed silently at this grim sight. I could not bring myself to speak to anyone, to ask for food or for water from the ruined spring. ¶ Everywhere around me was desolation. The people seemed like ghosts, and the whole impression was of devastation wrought by an earthquake.”8
In the morning, he said, a loud noise awoke him. He emerged from the cave and encountered a little boy with an injured leg who asked Doxiadis if he would carry him into town. Doxiadis obliged.
When they arrived, Doxiadis was amazed to find the village in working order. Makeshift stalls had been erected, and a church held a service in a damaged church. The boy whom Doxiadis had carried loped into the ruined schoolhouse for his lessons. As Doxiadis told his audience at University of Chicago, the moment gave him an epiphany: “In that moment, I understood why the picture of the village had changed and how the face of Greece could be altered.” In so many words, it was the Greek people who were the key to recovering the village from the rubble.
Doxiadis often cited this moment as a critical one in his development of his design philosophy of ekistics. For his finest work at Porto Rafti to be rendered into ruins seems like the rhyming verse of a cruel poetry.
This is the third essay in The World Planner series, chronicling my biographical investigations into the life and times of Constantinos Doxiadis. These pieces take longer to write than the other posts, so they’ll appear on an intermittent basis.
If there are stories you would like to share about the Apollonio house or Doxiadis for inclusion in my work, please write to me at doxiadisbiography[at]gmail.com.
H. Blackman (2022). The Demolition at Porto Rafti: Retracing Doxiadis’ Remarkable Life and Contested Legacy. [Special Issue] Ekistics-related research - A Critical Approach to the Ekistics Legacy. Ekistics and the New Habitat, 82(1), 91-94. https://doi.org/10.53910/26531313-E2022821464.
Constantinos Doxiadis, Architecture in Transition, New York: Oxford UP, 1963, p. 19.
These included Anthropopolis: City for Human Development; Ecumenopolis: The Inevitable City of the Future (coauthored with John Papaoiannou); Building Entopia; and lastly Action for Human Settlements.
Kevin Malawski, “Pikionis’ pathway: Paving the Acropolis,” The Architectural League New York, 2017. https://archleague.org/article/pikionis-pathway-paving-acropolis/. See also Kostas Tsiambaos, From Doxiadis' Theory to Pikionis' Work: Reflections of Antiquity in Modern Architecture. Routledge, 2017.
C.A. Doxiadis, Building Entopia. New York: W.W. Norton, 1975.
This section draws from my recent publication in Ekistics and the New Habitat. See citation in footnote 1. Also see A. Kyrtsis, Constantinos A. Doxiadis and Alexandros Kyrtsis, Constantinos A. Doxiadis: Texts, Design Drawings, Settlements. Athens: Ikaros, 2006., pp. 440-442.
This section is re-worked from a passage I wrote in my undergraduate thesis at Princeton University. H. Blackman (2017). Planning for Ecumenopolis: Constantinos A. Doxiadis' Quest to Design Postwar Athens, the United States, and the World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/dsp018p58pg544.
Constantinos A. Doxiadis, “‘The Greek Problem’ Lecture at the University of Chicago, 19.2.52” (University of Chicago, February 19, 1952), Articles - Materials / 15051, Constantinos A. Doxiadis Archive.