Completed Theses

Platon Issaias – Beyond the Informal City: ‘The Lump City’ of Athens and the possibility of an urban common


1 Athens as Paradigm-Planning and Architecture in Athens, 1834-1929.
2 Planning Through the Unit – Taxonomies of the Polykatoikia Type, 1929-2009.
3 The Absence of Plan as a Project – A postwar reconstruction strategy for Athens, 1929-1990s.
4 War within Four Walls – A City in Crisis and the Collapse of the Domesti­c Archetypes, 2000-2010s.
5 Beyond the Informal – Property, Domesticity and the Premises of an Urban Common

Platon Issaias (Athens, 1984) graduated from the Faculty of Architecture of the Aristotle University, Thessaloniki – Greece. He holds an MSc in Advanced Architectural Design from GSAPP/Columbia University and a PhD from TU Delft. His research focuses on the recent history of planning in Athens and the relation between conflict, urban management and architectural form. He is currently a Teaching Fellow at the MArch in Urban Design, The Bartlett School of Architecture/UCL.

City and Urban Infrastructure Lab

The thesis attempts to discuss the “informal” urbanization that characterizes the contemporary Greek cities as an immediate derivative of a complex political project, displayed primarily by architectural and urban typologies and protocols. As a case study, the Greek cities and particularly Athens, offer a possible critique on the recent conceptions regarding the distinction between “informal” and “formal” urbanism. These two dialectically opposite categories wish to distinguish two types of planning, which supposedly represent equally opposing political processes in the establishment, the formation and the development of cities. Nevertheless, the argument of the thesis is that in the Greek case, what appears to be a spontaneous and un-planned urban typology is the result of a precise institutional and regulatory framework, a particular technology of governance and administration.
The consecutive failures or absence of conventional planning mechanisms, like zoning regulations, or the lack of large scale planning proposals, marked what could be seen as a gradual retreat of public institutions from a comprehensive project for the city. Instead, the state and its administrative authorities produced a legislative frame, consisting of complex laws and decrees of various exceptions and particularities, which addressed instant and immediate issues. These were meant to control the small scale of the urban environment, i.e. the architecture and the building construction rather than the physical and urban form of the city in a larger scale, eventually promoting and formulating distinctive building practices.
These practices established a condition of uneven development within the urban territories of the country, where the smallest scale of the city, the housing unit itself, built and formed the city with an apparently accidental and fragmented pattern. Most importantly, the small-scale construction industry was gradually conceived and institutionalized as the motor of capitalist development, becoming eventually the platform upon which class struggle, and the aftermaths of the various conflicts, social desires and antagonisms could be read.
The ambition of the thesis is to trace the evolution of this pattern of urban development, within various historic events and political decisions. Ultimately, the research addresses the latter in an effort to discuss how the promoted architectural objects and machineries replaced conventional planning as devices of bio-political control and management of city and its population. The thesis focuses on the characteristics of this peculiar architecture, as this evolved strategically through time.
The originally urban and bourgeois “polykatoikia” residential type and the self-building practices for both the high classes and the poor represented initially alternative methods to fulfill the housing needs of different social subjects. Eventually, these two systems merged and established a common architectural language, a unified and unifying building knowledge and technique. In the case of Athens, the result of the above is a rather continuous urban horizon, where the monad, the pixel of the city prevails. This homogeneous space of urbanization spreads throughout the landscape, overcoming occasionally the historic, physical and administrative boundaries of the city.
The research investigates a specific historic period, all along which the Modern Greek cities were formed and developed with an unprecedented fashion, while it also attempts to establish a genealogy of this project since the very foundation of the Modern Greek State in the mi-19th century. The thesis focuses on the last sixty years of urban development in Athens, when the city acquired a paradigmatic role in the post-WW II reconstruction policies deployed in the country. Along this period, fundamental elements of the regulatory framework and the political/ideological mechanisms reached their higher sophistication. The thesis aims to problematize the structure of the contemporary Greek city, especially within this era of economic and social collapse.

Posts by Platon Issaias

An overview on the first year series of seminars and discussions within “The City as a Project” PhD Program