Maria Kaltsa

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As a practicing architect for over 20 years, Maria Kaltsa shared Greece’s “2005 Award” for the central archaeological promenade in Athens and now a first prize for Thessaloniki’s new landmark.
Until recently, Kaltsa served as General Secretary of Planning and Urban Development at the Greek Ministry of the Environment, where she established a department of architecture, initiated a new national green building code, two Biennale participations, and several architectural competitions. She actively supported regulatory plans and frameworks for the sustainable development of metropolitan regions, as well as anti-urban decay policies, and managed public–private partnerships for the metropolitan project designs at Faliro, “RE-THINK ATHENS”.
Maria Kaltsa holds architecture degrees from Cooper Union and Yale University.

Date of presentation

8 Apr, 2014

Review - Architecture as Process

Maria Kaltsa – Athens. The title of the fourth lecture in the department series could not be more precise in its simplicity. Athens, which has fascinated architects since the rediscovery of ancient Greece in the 18th century, continues to offer questions and opportunities in our globalised world today, most recently in the city’s role as a protagonist in the midst of an economic crisis. Maria Kaltsa’s career is intertwined with her native city and surprising. She did not become the theoretician originally intended. Instead, she has been exploring the dependencies of politics, socioeconomics and architecture on a trajectory that must have been imagined in the mind of the late John Hejduk, her mentor, trying to reconnect the worlds of theoretical architecture and practice.
Maria Kaltsa’s perception of architecture was significantly influenced by her studies at Cooper Union, which was at the forefront of narrative architecture throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Later on, she studied architecture put into practice at the Yale School of Architecture, culminating in the realisation of her first project in Athens on time for the Olympic Games of 2004. Since then, most of us, or at least everybody who has visited Athens, must have walked on the spine connecting six of Athen’s archeological sites, composed of carefully selected gneiss schist cobblestones and recycled marble slabs. Referencing the grande promenade of the 19th century, the entirely hand-drawn project deals with the chaotic parts of the city and, with a minimal aesthetic approach, weaves together the city’s facade with the ancient monuments and the beauty of the landscape. The carpet of natural pavement both protects the site while making it accessible.
This first practical experience as an architect negotiating between different political bodies is prototypical for her career, She raises the importance of invisible conditions and dependencies that shape and determine our work within the public domain, significantly opening the scope of our profession. Since 2009, she has switched sides and is actively taking part in policy making, becoming Greece’s general secretary of urban planning, regional development and architecture. For her, policy making is an underestimated design tool, which in her understanding is architecture as process, maybe even a way of putting theoretical architecture into practice. She is convinced that policy is too often in the hands of bureaucrats and not of architects, with the authorities mainly being concerned with the big picture. Maria Kaltsa therefore formulates her goal as creating room for what was left out of the picture, namely architecture.
In her primarily political role, Maria Kaltsa has spearheaded interventions on an architectural scale, which include the design of a new green building code, the rehabilitation of the central coastal area as well as the New Athens Regulatory Plan that reorganises Athen’s city center. She continually recognizes the significance of the small scale and has supervised both technical and architectural studies to safeguard this aspect. The effectiveness of this work can be seen in the resulting project proposal by a Dutch office that is low key and highlights the existing fabric of the city – in a similar way to Maria Kalta’s project of 2004.
As an architect and member of the public administration, she describes her dedication to Athens, a city in crisis, as an attempt to make this city a role model, turning negative aspects into opportunities. And as a committed European she persuades us of the importance of collaboration between educational institutions and political entities on an international level. She gives us a glimpse of her latest collaboration with ETH Zurich, Reactivate Athens, that has brought us architects, once again, to Athens and Maria Kaltsa to Zurich.

Lex Schaul

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