The focus of the project was the seaside town of Mati in Greece. Located 30km from Athens, it served as a summer retreat destination, attracting visitors with its lush pine forests and quiet atmosphere. Settled in 1940s and 1950s on originally agricultural land, it quickly became a popular city getaway, compared by many residents to a paradise. In summer 2018, the town was nearly destroyed by wildfires that ravaged the area. An uncontrollable fire took over 100 lives and caused an enormous damage to property. Two years later, traces of the catastrophe are still visible in the city, as no comprehensive plan was adopted to help citizens cope with their loss.
This fifth-year design studio focused on developing a master plan that would outline strategies for rebuilding the town safely. Using lessons learned in Paradise, California, as well as other places, students embraced principles of fire-resistant urbanism, architecture and landscape in their design. In addition, they explored solutions which would enhance Mati’s renewal by providing resilience, accessibility, and a sense of place. The main goals of the project were developing a master plan for the town guided by principles of resilience to wildfires and other consequences of climate change, outlining solutions with respect to architecture and urbanism that mitigate these disasters and create beautiful places allowing for human flourishing, and preserving the character of the town by incorporating landscape features and architecture which would support the master plan.
The studio began in August of 2019 with an initial visit to document the site. After staying in Mati, team of nine students traveled to two Greek towns of Nauplion and Spetses to observe and learn from exemplary regional urbanism and architecture. In October 2019, the studio returned to Greece to hold a series of workshops with local residents and professionals. Students used the expertise of engineers, architects and botanists to help resolve fire safety and prevention, retail, and other socio-economic issues in their design. During the two trips the design team assembled site information which consisted of transportation, utilities, site features and other critical data. Additionally, meetings with local residents, public officials and business owners provided students with knowledge about the character of the town, as well as features of the site worth preserving. All the material gathered in Greece helped satisfy residents’ requests and improve the final design.
During the semester, the studio prepared two schematic master plans to be presented to the community: a realistically achievable five-year plan, and a more aspirational seventy-five year plan. The major aspects of both designs included fire defense zones on the vulnerable north and west sides of the town, new fire station with lookout tower, cisterns for water capture, denser urban fabric along the major streets, enhanced visibility of the footpaths to the sea, and coastal infrastructure, including piers, which would facilitate evacuation in case of an emergency. Along with solving safety concerns, the studio sought to preserve the architectural and urban character of Mati. While many residents wanted to preserve the rich pine canopy providing the magical sense of place, a more restrictive vegetation plan introducing more resistant species was necessary in order to limit fuel and prevent future fires. In addition to landscaping, the studio sought to bring back the local vernacular style in architecture, as a way of assuring that the character of Mati is preserved and tied to the Greek traditional build environment.
The project has been noted in several national Greek newspapers as well as CNN Greece. It received support of the Greek Prime Minister through the Technical Chamber of Greece. The project has been presented to representatives of Mati residents on August 10th, 2020.
Project Team Members: Jillian Ahern, Katarzyna Baczynska, William Marsh, Diana Neacsu, Austin Proehl, Andrew Seago, Zhuofei Tang, Alessandra Turi, Amali Wijesekera