architect. | Para-City | A Student Housing Complex in Athens

Para-City | A Student Housing Complex in Athens


– Mention (“Top 50 Submissions”) in an International Architectural Competition for the design of a “Student Housing Complex with a viral development strategy” in the area of Metaxourgeio in Athens.

Design Team: Aristides Dallas & Stavros Martinos

Statical Study: Nikos Rossis



Our vision is a city made of ‘tree houses’ right in the middle of the existing urban space, clearly defined by tall enveloping walls on the property limits. These walls open up space for the landscape to spread into the depth of the building plots as a parasite and restore the enviromental order in the city center. By ‘landscape’, we understand both public space and natural elements (soil, vegetation, water), which we formulate into horizontal curved strips. This primal gesture extends life into each plot’s residual uncovered space, and activates it as a backyard. The horizontal landscape extrudes as a green core in the heart of the building, shaping into a flexible mass, a vertical landscape. The latter is made mostly of deciduous crawling plants supported on a system of light girders, and may grow to the extents of the whole building. Its shape and dimensions vary and adapt to the irregular pattern of each plot and its specific program requirements.

The ‘tree houses’ are cubes that float over the horizontal strips, get attached to the vertical core and are supported upon and in-between the enveloping walls. The cubes are made of a rigid material, and have a standard shape and size. What may vary is the size and position of the openings, according to the types of housing units included inside each cube, as well as the surface color and / or texture. Each cube is meant to appear as freestanding as possible; for this reason, their structural system must always be hidden inside the enveloping walls or inside their own mass. The overall appearance of the development will look like floating cubes caught up inside a mesh of vegetation. Such elements as street fronts or facades will disintegrate into fragments and deep recessions, that will be sharply opposed to the solidity and opacity of the preexisting neighboring buildings. The landscape parasites on the empty plots, and the cubes parasite on the landscape. This para-city of cubes and landscape, feeds on the existing city’s resources and spreads in KM like a virus, that will eventually transform the character of the whole area.

Program – Gradations of Privacy

The articulation of spaces at the development is understood in gradations of privacy, from the individual bedroom to public facilities that may open up to the entire city.

Each housing cube is initially divided in two levels. On every cube level, there are two individual bedrooms respectively housing two flatmates. In the presented solution for plot #29, each bedroom is designed as a cabinet of 2.40×3.10×3.15m, equipped with a single bed, a study desk, closets and shelves, and in certain cases there might be also room for a sofa (4 different types of such cabinets have already been studied). The two flatmates always share a WC with shower, and an open air space accessible through their rooms (usually, a semi-open space of 1.80×2.50m that might extend into a balcony, or the terrace of an underlying cube). Shared storage space for each flat is placed on mezzanines over the bathrooms. In certain cases, each cube level might include a small kitchen for two or / and a sitting room, instead of the semi-open space. Moreover, the ample height of the rooms may allow the housing of two people in the same room if that is desired, at a reclining second bunk bed. The size of the cubes allows other configurations , with cabinets of varied dimensions (both in layout and in height), in order to accommodate mezzanine floors whithin each room, double beds etc. according to specific requirements, but that would be the object of further study.

In-between the cubes runs the ‘vertical landscape’ that houses common uses (shared kitchens / dining, multi-purpose common rooms etc.) and the vertical circulation (staircase and an elevator). The common uses are organised on open-plan decks between the flats, and are accessible to all the tenants of the building as a vertical extension of the common entrance level, instead of being confined to each floor. Selected areas of the decks are cut out, and this results in one free-shaped vertical void, running uninterrupted from the basement to the highest point of the building. This kind of spatial organization is proper to a self-regulating community, where people tend to use facilites rather than own them, and a sense of intimacy and security is achieved through the crossing gazes of people familiar with each other, rather than some sort of impersonal surveillance.

The buildings at the largest Oliaros properties may include programs open to the whole tenant community, or even more, to the whole city of Athens: KM is a neighborhood vibrant with art venues, experimental theatres, smart bars and restaurants, and is now becoming home to an increasing number of creative industries. A young neighborhood such as the one envisioned by Oliaros would certainly become an enclave of innovation in Athens, and it is well understood that certain spaces in the development should own up to that specific character, by their size, placement and accessibility, whithin the emerging landscape.


The layout of each floor and the open plan of the decks in – between the cubes allows for great flexibility in the case Oliaros wish to explore uses other than student housing. Two cubes with their space in-between can be easily converted into a condominium occupying a whole floor, by placing a door in front of the vertical access exit at 1.50m from the elevator, and by framing the atrium with light moveable panels for privacy. Appartments may also extend vertically and occupy two floors. Such simple modifications might even accommodate uses other than housing, whithin the body of the building (and not necessarily on the ground floor). Such closed configurations are perfectly compatible with the uninterrupted open character of student housing, on other floors.


All areas of the development are accessible to people with impairments. The curved surface of the ground level can be equipped with a discreet mechanical reclining lift attached to the enveloping wall that runs along the strip, whenever an access ramp is an imposition. All areas of the buildings are accessible by elevator. Among the housing unit types, there are also specially designed flats to accommodate disabled students: there is an adequate entrance hall in each such unit to allow wheelchairs to take the necessary turns, and flats are equipped with a proper disabled WC / shower, together with an accessible kitchen. Two disabled students would better not share the same flat, for reasons of easier circulation. Furthermore, the visually impaired will be able to perceive objects such as handrails etc. if they are painted in appropriate colors.

Bioclimatic Design

The articulation of the buildings in floating cubes and deep horizontal and vertical recessions makes them naturally bioclimatic. The vertical landscape becomes a natural cooler in the summer, when its deciduous plant surface, combined with the proper angle of the girders, keeps intense sunlight from reaching the inside of the building. Air from the north is allowed to circulate freely both inside the core and through the private rooms, and the water pool in the backyard may intensify the cooling effect. At winter, the effect is inverse: the deciduous plant is left barren, and the sunrays from the South West penetrate through the girders and keep the whole interior warm, by introducing a desired greenhouse effect into the vertical landscape core.


Car parking is not a top priority; the Oliaros properties are at close walking distance from two Subway stations, and KM is a rather offbeat, bicycle-friendly neighborhood. Bicycles may be easily stored at the sheltered area in front of the backyard exit, or even inside rooms, hanging from a wall or left out in the balcony, for security. In case Oliaros want to construct an underground car parking at such a narrow plot as #29, access might be possible through a car elevator platform on street level, placed where the reclining soil surface is, to the right; a ramp would waste too much space. A large parking for cars would be easier to construct at bigger, neighboring plots, and serve the whole tenant community.

Annex – Cube Number & Public Area Calculator

To calculate the number of cubes to be assigned to each individual plot, find their optimal configuration and consolidate the dimensions of the vertical core, according to the building codes, we came up with a math system of two equations:

(1) Ebuilt = Σ[Ecube] + Σ[Ecore]     (where Ebuilt=2.2*Eplot)

(2) |Σ[Ecube] – Σ[Ecore]|< Eplot/l

Equation (1) merges the Gross Building Area allowed by the building codes with our own architectural solution (cubes for housing plus core for public uses).

Equation (2) involves programmatic decisions on the balance between housing and public uses. The latter may vary from mere circulation to a simple dining area or common room (approx. 20m²) or even larger programs, such as a study hall, a library, a gym, a cafeteria or restaurant etc (maximum Eplot/l), where l is the number of levels (incl. basement) for primary use in each plot, according to the building codes.

Each cube has two levels. The value of the variable u is the number of all such levels in the plot (by definition, an integer). The area of each cube level (Ecube), has a standard value of approx. 30m², so Σ[Ecube] = 30*u.

So the only unknown factors are u and Σ[Ecore].


Example on a theoretical plot where 500m² of GBA are allowed:


(1) Ebuilt = Σ[Ecube] + Σ[Ecore] ⇒

⇒ Σ[Ecore] = Ebuilt – Σ[Ecube] ⇒

⇒ Σ[Ecore] = 500 – 30u (3)


(2) |Σ[Ecube] – Σ[Ecore]|< Eplot/l ⇒

⇒ |30u – (500 – 30u)| < 500/5 ⇒

⇒ |30u – 500 + 30u)| < 100 ⇒

⇒ |60u – 500| < 100 ⇒

⇒ -100 < 60u – 500 < 100 ⇒

⇒ 400 < 60u < 600 ⇒ 6.67 < u ≤ 10 ⇒ 7 < u ≤ 10


the value of Σ[Ecore] will depend on the choice of value for u, according to programmatic requirements (maximize u for housing, minimize for public uses).

So, if eg. U=10 then Σ[Ecore] = Ebuilt – Σ[Ecube] ⇒

⇒ Σ[Ecore] = 500 – 30u = 500 – 300 = 200m²