Partial refurbishment of a typical Athenian house of the first half of the 20th century, characteristically built in segments.
Due to the pronounced incline of the plot, the first two units, built in 1929, were both excavated on the hillside and are partially underground, albeit at different heights from street level.
Later, in 1953, new units were added on top of the initial ones, creating a house comprising four independent living units on three levels, organised around a central, open-air courtyard situated at mid-level.
Its layout contributed to a happy communal living history, with previous tenants developing a strong emotional bond with the house. The new ownership resulted from a happy tenancy.
The basis for the design was to embrace the complex spatial identity of the house and preserve its communal atmosphere while enhancing existing features, so as to increase natural light and ventilation, organise units according to their altered uses, as well as address repairs, thermal insulation and damp issues.
This was achieved through a multitude of ‘surgical’ interventions within and around existing features, leaving the building seemingly untouched.
The main intervention areas are situated at mid-level, at the heart of the house, where the new owner’s quarters will now encompass both units either side of the courtyard, respectful of the original spirit of shared exterior spaces.
This allows for the open-air courtyard to become the main transitional area between the front and the back of the building, dividing activities between day and night according to each section’s daylight exposure.
Natural light admission and penetration was enhanced through the enlargement of existing and creation of new openings.
Versatility is increased in the front section by merging two of its three main rooms, enabling occupants to reconfigure the space according to their occasional needs and interchange activities between spaces. Leisure, work and dining areas and a pop up spare bedroom can be reshuffled at will, by using a simple system of floor-to-ceiling hand-drawn curtains.
Kitchens were completely redesigned in both units, front and back.
The partially buried back unit houses the owner’s sleeping quarters, a self-sufficient mini apartment comprising a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchenette.
A large, glazed, sliding-door opening facing the courtyard allows for more natural light and facilitates the newfound dialogue between the units framing the open-air space.
This part of the house, along with the ground floor facing the street, presented serious humidity control issues. It had to be completely stripped back to the stone loadbearing walls and its floor excavated in order for damp-proofing and thermal insulation layers to be installed.
Also part of the owner’s quarters is the roof terrace above the front unit. It has been waterproofed and thermally insulated and a new concrete floor was poured. To compensate for the extra thickness of on top of the floor slab, protective railings were installed.
Ventilation management required a combination of systems to be fitted in semi-underground spaces: decentralized HRUs with heat recovery and centrifugal fans.
Materials and paint were carefully researched, so as to allow for better ventilation and breathability. Both street and side elevations were stripped and re-rendered using a cement-free, hydraulic lime and eco-pozzolan mortar system.
The solid marble jambs either side of the street entrances were discovered during render removal.
All exterior walls were painted with a natural lime wash.
Colour was used to either unify or underline the different volumetric identities of each of the building’s units as well as to create a signature identity for the whole.
Construction was planned so it could be undertaken in stages.
The whole of the interior of the ground floor unit facing the street, destined to become a workspace, as well as the utility room at the very top of the building, are to be completed at a later date.