I wanted to design a park that would speak Greek

Deborah Nevins, photo courtesy of Elle Decor.

“How did a girl like me, get a project like this?”  This was the first question Deborah Nevins asked and answered at her talk  “The Making of a Green Oasis in Athens”  for the Garden Conservancy. Nevins has been flying under the radar for years. Her public persona may be undisclosed, yet her  reputation as a go-to designer for high-end projects has expanded exponentially over the years. Renzo Piano choose Nevins to work on the The Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center.

Began in 2008 and finished in 2016, The Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center located in Kallithea, 4 km south of central Athens, includes a 170,000 sq. meter landscaped park designed by Nevins.

Photograph from Robert McCabe. Greece: Images of an Enchanted Land 1954-1965.

Nevins is a landscape designer. She is also a landscape historian. To introduce the audience to the magic of the Greek landscape, Nevins showed this photograph by Robert McCabe. Pinus halepensis (Alleppo poine) is native to the Mediterranean region and was used extensively by Nevins at the  Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre. This pine, unlike the umbrella pine has a conical shape and a longevity of 150 years or more.

The park features: 310,000 Mediterranean shrubs and perennials, and 1400 trees. Under Nevins direction, one of the green roofs is planted with 164,000 grasses, cultivated from seeds, collected in the hills of Attica, resulting in a roof which looks like those hills.

Nevins methodically described the challenges of the site. The project required the importation of large quantities of fertile soil and the resolution of complex planting and drainage issues above the new structures. Many of details, like the canal has an ecological and technical function. The canal acts as a catch water basin in a storm, as well as, an underground retention basin.

The landscape’s lower plantings are generally evergreen, indigenous and fragrant. The plantings  include Coronilla, CistusPistacia lentiscus, Artemisia, salvia, oregano, thyme, lavender, rosemary, roses and Euphorbia.

Originally this sloping landscape was composed porous gravel paths. The park is not only a park, it is also a concert venue.  In order to offer cultural events, such as concerts, large trucks, stages, electrical equipment needed to be brought into the space.  The porous pathways could not stand up to the traffic and have been replaced with concrete pathways.

The complex includes new building for the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera, both designed by Renzo Piano at a cost 566 million euros. The complex is LEED Platinum.

Cypress, large old olive trees and pines including Pinus pinea and Pinus halepensis add a sculptural quality to ground covers of perennials which seamlessly blend into one another. Nevins workmanlike presentation included the technical details of planting  1400 trees on the site.  Many of the trees were over the course of 8 year project and held at various nurseries. Nevins described the air pot system used to keep the olive trees healthy until they were ready to be planted.

Air pots are used so that the trees keep their healthy root system, instead of the typical girdling that occurs when large trees are kept in pots over a period of time.

The Labyrith designed by Nevins is one of many features: an outdoor gym, a running track, and a children’s playground.  There are several fountains and the 400-meter long  canal.

There was a Q&A after Nevins finished her presentation.  The most interesting question was asked by a man who identified himself as Lebanonse. “I have a curvilinear mindset. I have a problem with all the straight lines and angles in your plan.  Nevins answered:  “There were a number of considerations in making all the pathways straight lines.  One was the steep ascent.  The use of the diagonal mitigated the incline.  I have found that creating circular path in large public space kind creates a kind of fear.  You can’t see what’s around the corner.” in Meze, France. Nevins introduced the nursery to the audience. Pipiniere Flippi

Seeing around corners is something Nevins excels at.  This multi-layered project is extremely complex.  Asked how many times she went to Greece, she just smiled … that smile indicating it was more times than she could remember.

Deborah mentioned a nursery in Languedoc (France) specialist in drought tolerant plants.  Below is the link for anyone interested.

I was researching Deborah Nevins and came across the following article written by Nevins in1985. Although not relevant to this project, I think its interesting.–Magazine%20Antiques.PDF

“In terms of fame and influence in their time, women landscape architects were far ahead of their sisters in architecture, no doubt in part because women and gardening, as opposed to women and building, were naturally connected in the public mind.  It was all right to give a woman a commission for a garden but women were not supposed to know anything about construction….It was not only professional women who made a contribution to the American garden. The amateurs of the time wrote some of the best books and cultivated an ever- expanding collection of plants, which added to the sophistication of American gardening.  A prejudice against physical contact with the soil persisted into the twentieth century, but there is undeniable evidence that many women did work among plants.” The Triumph of Flora:  Women in American Landscape Design.  Deborah Nevins, 1985.








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