BY Darcie Imbert

Uncovering Spaces to Breathe in Athens with the Cloudaway

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People say Athens is becoming a creative hotspot, but Athens always was – and always will be – a cultural capital.

City dwellers are surrounded by people whose lives fold neatly into the compact apartments above and below them; they share their small slice of the city with housemates and overlook neighbours in the absence of space. After years of building up and pushing nature out, architectural trends are shifting and cities are slowly rewilding. Across the globe, biophilic design is punctuating the cityscape with breathing spaces – offices with hydroponic farms, high rises studded with plant life in the form of living walls, rooftop parks with mini allotments – creating everyday encounters with nature and reconnecting urban communities.

The reedition of the Cloudaway – designed by On for the modern explorer – led us to Athens to uncover spaces that breathe, part of the global move towards reviving traditional ways of living with nature, using non-traditional architecture. When it comes to social values, being close to nature now scores much higher, and changing urban environments reflect that. From above, the concrete architecture of Athens crisscrosses around ancient ruins and pockets of green. Long before becoming a sprawling metropolis packed with towering apartment blocks, Ancient Greece was built to uphold its resident’s penchant for outdoor living; houses were for sleeping and public spaces were for living. As part of the city’s revival, architects are looking to the past to create a more sustainable future, and despite its density, the city has started to breathe again.

Uncovering spaces to breathe in Athens with the Cloudaway overlooking Athens
Uncovering spaces to breathe in Athens with the Cloudaway

People say Athens is becoming a creative hotspot, but Athens always was – and always will be – a cultural capital. The city’s architecture has been shaped over twenty-five centuries, its time-warped facade crumbling under the weight of too many civilisations. Athens is where democracy was born along with a catalogue of other big ideas about human life and minds that have been borrowed (and bent) by the rest of the world. This is a city that is constantly reinventing itself, its culture being pushed forward by a cohort of creatives in art, design, architecture and philosophy. Athens is a creative cornucopia that reveals itself to the adventurers who look hard enough in search of new landscapes, cultures and experiences. Athens isn’t the new Berlin, Athens is the new Athens.

Most of the year is temperate, but summer in Athens is hot; the city sweats in forty-degree temperatures and everyone flocks to nearby islands or in search of greener spaces that are less stifling. In the place of abandoned lots that morphed into makeshift landfills over time, now stand pocket-sized-parks packed with flora and fauna, the Government’s response to rising pollution, designed to prop up living standards, cultivate communities and support the city’s ecosystems. Over the past decade, pocket parks have popped up in major cities across the world like Paris, London and New York, to offer locals a place to breathe and reconnect with nature. Follow the marble-paved streets of Kypseli, Kolonos and Pangrati and you’ll find them in their verdant glory, normally filled with locals chatting on upcycled benches. Athens’ pocket parks are small but smart; durable trees and plants were chosen for their long bloom yet low maintenance, and sustainable materials have been used where possible, think solar panel systems that provide light after dark and footpaths paved with innovative concrete.

From almost any point in the city, you can see Lycabettus Hill, a limestone mound that reaches beyond the concrete labyrinth up into the sky; an urban anomaly where locals and visitors drink beers with a backdrop of the city and watch the sun sink into the landscape. According to Greek mythology, the Goddess of Athena dropped a rock whilst trying to help build her grand temple, the Parthenon, and so Lycabettus Hill was formed. Start walking up the pine-clad foothills in the well-heeled neighbourhood of Kolonaki and continue zig-zagging until you reach the top; the Cloudaway was designed for wandering the streets as soon as day breaks, and hiking up hills for a 360-degree sunset – or sunrise.

Uncovering spaces to breathe in Athens with the Cloudaway
Uncovering spaces to breathe in Athens with the Cloudaway

Most streets lead to something unexpected in Athens; walk down a basement (and back a hundred years) into a tiny taverna or turn a corner into an urban oasis filled with classical sculptures. Take Latraac, which sits on a semi-derelict, post-industrial street in Karameikos – an iron shutter opens onto a 19th-century courtyard, reimagined into a community space focused around a skate bowl designed by architect Zachos Varfis.

“Large empty downtown plots were wasting away and it seemed cool to put all this together, plant trees and build a cafe and the bowl, bringing together a wider creative community.”

Latraac is a cafe by day and bar by night with a revolving roster of DJs serving up genre-bending sets well into the early hours. Latraac is about community and creating space for subcultures to thrive; bigger names like Larry Gus and multi-disciplinary record label PAN play alongside new faces, and in between day-to-night specials and art shows, they host skate classes for young refugees. All of Zachos’ projects are tied together by the intangible sense of intimacy they create, between communities and with nature; the space itself was created using repurposed materials and although rewilding wasn’t their initial intention, plants now climb around the plywood skate bowl and create a shaded canopy overhead. Similarly, the natural world provides the starting point for most of On’s designs; made from sustainable materials and futuristic technology, the Cloudaway has a wave-like sidewall in the shape of a mountain and leaves a sustainable footprint with a 3D map of the brand’s native Engadine Valley embossed onto the sole.

A staple silhouette for unconventional city breaks, the Cloudaway is designed to explore a new urban architecture that breathes, taking you from sunrise to sunset, and making sure you look good while doing it.

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Article by: Darcie Imbert

Photography: Spiros Kay

Producer: Martina Piazza

Production Manager: Evelina Evangelia Stoltidou

Stylist: Elizabeth Karatsoki

Photographer Assistant: Laurentiu Sarjan