ADS10: Savage Architecture: Building Common Knowledge

Alexandra Orfanou

Tourism has been Greeces’ primary driver since 1970s. 

Tourism is a fast, myopic and voracious economy that concentrates capital in specific places, short time plans and few hands. For the most part the rest is neglected.

This condition is at the root of Greece’s fragile economy, of its chronic lack of industry and infrastructure, of its wild uneven urbanisation and its disproportioned concentration of population and wealth in Athens. 


Yet, since the post-Olympic financial crisis of 2009 Greece has experienced an exodus from the urban areas and a return to the rural territory of the islands, fostered by the dramatic level of unemployment and the need for a lower cost of living. This sudden and unprecedented de-centralisation produced alternative forms of occupation and has raised awareness on the poor management and unequal distribution of infrastructural facilities in the country. However, as this re-appropriation of the rural territory has started, the population and the consequent need for support from the State to the islands has increased exponentially, leading the local administrations to search for alternative sources of income, mostly related to the exploitation of natural resources.  


The project addresses this emerging condition by assuming infrastructure as an architectural project that could combine the rational use of natural resources with a poetic consideration of the landscape and the engendering of social and economic value for the territory. The proposal revolves around the seawater desalination plant and its by-products, as instruments to construct an alternative economy and produce, exchange and preserve knowledge and techniques of production.First of all the desalination plant tackles the lack of potable water in the central Archipelago of Greece and its expensive supply by boat. Secondly the desalination produces salt, which can be traded as commodity. Finally, the same process produces a residue of brine, which cannot be disposed back into the sea and constitutes the main deterrent for desalination plants. However, brine has been used in the production of Sorel cement, which is later cast into concrete tiles and panels and can form the foundation for a school for alternative building materials. The processes feed into one another into a yearlong set of collective activities that, differently from tourism, can generate a sustainable economy. The monolithic coastal architecture produces functional and poetic spaces that elevate infrastructural needs of the islands to instrument of political and economic autonomy.

MA Architecture

ADS10:Savage Architecture-Building Common Knowledge

Tutors:Gianfranco Bombaci, Matteo Costanzo, Francesca Romana Dell'Aglio & Davide Sacconi


Personal Website

ADS10: Savage Architecture

Degree Details

School of Architecture

I originally come from Athens, Greece, which I left to study Architecture at the University of Nottingham, completing my Barch (Hons) in Architecture in 2017. Having missed the buzz of a big city, I moved to London to follow all the latest events and projects in Architecture and Design, before joining the RCA in 2018 to pursue both. I have been involved in organising fundraising events for the organisation of Article 25, and concurrently with my studies, produced illustrative work for the university.

I am trully interested in developing an architecture,which responds to the existing and utilises forms of infrastructure,by introducing new programmes that aim in revitalising communities.

Oblique Axonometric Showcasing the life of the Building — The project is an active response to the current re-appropriation of rural territories in the Greek archipelago. It proposes the rediscovery of the natural resources as an incentive for an alternative economy, that balances with the development of emerging collective knowledge and techniques of production. The proposal begins with a desalination plant that sits on the island of Ios, at the centre of a line currently undervalued as a non-productive portion of the archipelago. A cut on the edge of the coast acts as a frame that develops around the repetition and dissection of a grid, which articulates both the interior space of the school and the saltscape at its centre.

Building Common Knowledge
Savage Architecture

The Entrances — If approached from land, the building appears as a monolithic coastal architecture, while a stair that sinks into the water welcomes passengers on boats. This different language formalises the dichotomy around which the project is developed: the roughness of the material against the landscape clashes with the beautiful white imagery typical of most Greek islands, while confirming the main premise of the proposal that combines natural resources and new building techniques. The desalination tower acts like a lighthouse and the only vertical element of the project.

Cast Models of the Portico — The dual nature of the project delves into the formal investigation of the archetype of the portico through a series of casting models. Beginning with the analysis of the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro designed by Alfonso Reidy, the interpretation of the portico develops into a structure that while framing a central space, can be constantly repeated. The portico became a portal or a gate that simultaneously frames and divides.

The Programmatic Cycle — The desalination plant is the main premise behind the school. This natural process responds to the lack of potable water in the central Archipelago of Greece and its expensive supply by boat. It produces a residual brine, which cannot be disposed back into the sea, and becomes the foundation for a school of alternative building materials. This generates a yearlong set of collective activities that, differently from tourism, can generate a sustainable economy.

Plans — The building is articulated into three sides connected through a main corridor that guides the visitor through a journey. The overall design follows a rational grid that frames the saltscape and echoes the regularity of the desalination process: at the ground floor there is a school dedicated to the production of building materials that explores the different combination between brine and cement; an enfilade of rooms dedicated to the production of salt and the actual desalination plant with the tower. The upper level is open to the public and hosts a gallery and a learning centre.

Pan of Section — All activities in the building depend on the desalination plant. This is a monumental gesture that celebrates the supply of clean water and produces the main element of research for the school. The water enters the desalination tower, the only visible vertical element, while the salt essication, production and the further research stages conducted in the school are distributed along the remaining sides.

Perspective Section

The school entrance — The main design principle of the project revolves around a sequence of framings. The portico constantly frames rooms and passages, corridors and courtyards. The entrance, as well, acts as an exceptional portal that interrupts the continuous concrete wall of the elevation and reveals the fragmentation of the vertical grid and the saltscape, that from its central position, becomes a permanent presence.

The School Workshop — The rough tone of the concrete is echoed in the internal rooms: the workshop at the ground floor evokes the same atmosphere of a typical Greek craft space, where handmade work is preferred over technological methods. Simple moulding machines and natural light calibrated through timber shading panels, appear as the only working tools.

Framing the process of salt making — From the continuous monumental line on the edge, the external wall starts losing its linear surface and gradually becomes a naked structure that faces the saltscape. This gentle sequence of openings is readable in the transversal section of the building that almost shows an inverse process of construction: a structural grid slowly decomposes and melts into dust.

A corridor of salt — The framing process becomes even more visible in the long corridor that connects the three sections of the building-frame. Here the portico seemingly becomes a series of portals that open on learning and production areas, and it is followed by an uninterrupted skylight. This passage acts both as an interstitial space enriched by a dramatic shadow sequence, but also more practically, as an infrastructure for salt and people.

The Savage Natural Elements — The friction between the concrete roughness of the construction materials used and the savage nature surrounding the building, becomes evident in the details of the project. Occasionally the building seems to be overtaken by this savage nature: salt crystals expand almost until they absorb the concrete slabs. The structure falls into the water blurring the edges of the artificial material and the natural environment.

The backdrop Elevation — The harmonious clash between water, concrete and landscape becomes evident when arriving from land. The poetry of the territory encounters the austerity of the project and fully reveals the series of contradictions that the project faced from the beginning: the infrastructure finally becomes an architectural project that combines the rational use of natural resources with a poetic consideration of the landscape and the engendering of social and economic value for the territory.

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