The astonishing new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre has opened in Athens, but despite the huge excitement it generated, the building remains empty.
The center designed by the Genoese architect Renzo Piano combines an opera house, a national library, and boasts the slenderest concrete roof ever made. But it is impossible when appreciating this momentous structure not to query the wisdom in producing a vast cultural acropolis, that cost over €600 million to construct, at a time when Greece is experiencing ever-increasing levels of national debt.
When the center was first envisioned it was at a time when Greece was still riding high, in the afterglow of the 2004 Olympic Games. But while many institutions are having to close due to budget cuts, this new center is being presented to an already beleaguered State. Opening last weekend to terrific fanfare, there is still no official opening date and some way off down the road stands the similarly completed National Museum of Contemporary Art, which also remains unopened.
The site takes up more than 20 hectares and the white temple structure on top is—according to the Guardian journalist Oliver Wainright—four and half times larger than the Acropolis. Despite its emptiness, its ambition and scale are a shining light for Greece, bringing with it upwards of 900 new jobs. Perhaps this is just the sort of structure to help kick start Greece’s surge into the future. With the country’s unparalleled heritage and history, investment in its cultural infrastructure—including the new national library and opera house—keeps alive one of the nation’s strongest sources of income, that of cultural tourism.