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6 Modern Buildings in Athens You Shouldn’t Miss

Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities. But hidden among the ancient ruins and all-purpose apartment blocks, you’ll find plenty of cutting-edge buildings.

What makes a city —besides its people, flavours, sights and sounds— are its buildings. Beyond the ancient monuments and modern landmarks like the Acropolis Museum and National Library, you’ll find plenty of hidden treasures for design and architecture lovers in Athens. The editors of local architecture blog, Archisearch, select six modern buildings that you should check out in Athens.

Acropolis Museum

Designed by Bernard Tschumi Architects, glass, cement and natural light rule in this long-awaited museum beneath the Acropolis. Home to a remarkable trove of antiquities displayed in chronological sequence, the museum is split into three floors whose open-plan galleries guide you seamlessly through history. More than 100 concrete pillars support the building, which hovers over remains of ancient Athens that were uncovered during excavation (visible through the reinforced glass floors, they are also partially accessible on foot). The top floor rotates to align directly with the Parthenon, which is visible through the glass walls. A rectangular core in the centre serves to display the Parthenon frieze, placed in the exact same arrangement as it once stood on the temple itself.

Find it: Dionysiou Areopagitou 15, Acropolis, 117 42

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC)

Star architect Renzo Piano’s mission was to give Athens an accessible new landmark with a low energy footprint. After the SNFCC was completed (in record time and at record cost), some locals grumbled that from certain angles this vast cultural and sports complex looks like a bunker. The criticism stopped as soon as people started visiting the magnificent site. Piano created a sloping hill, with a planted roof, and slotted the soaring glass buildings beneath it. This artificial elevation creates a feeling of lightness and restores the connection between the city and the sea. Piano’s vision is “to save the world through beauty” and it seems to be working.

Find it: Syngrou Avenue 364, Kallithea, 176 74

Onassis Stegi

It took nine years to complete the building that stages the most exciting and experimental performances, exhibitions, and festivals in Athens. Designed by the French architecture practice Architecture Studio, the interior is characterised by glossy surfaces, while the exterior is clad in bands of opaque marble from the Greek island of Thasos. During the day, the facade reflects the strong Athenian sunlight. After sundown, the artificial light inside reflects through the glass, creating an intriguing peep show.

Find it: Kallirois Avenue & Amvrosiou Frantzi, Koukaki, 117 43

The Cycladic Café

The Museum of Cycladic Art’s gift shop, atrium and café were redesigned in 2013 by Kois Associated Architects. Their inspiration came from the simplicity and clean lines of the early Bronze Age Cycladic figurines that form the core of the museum’s stunning collection. Even the colour spectrum is inspired by the earth tones of the Cyclades. Lush with vegetation, it’s a peaceful green oasis where the constant hustle of the city comes to a standstill. The floating white canopy on the ceiling filters the famous Attic light, casting beautiful shadows across the space. Marble benches and geometric lines are a counterpoint to floor-to-ceiling plants.

Find it: Neofytou Douka 4, Kolonaki, 106 75

The Benaki Museum: Pireos 138

Envisioned as a treasure chest, this post-modern outpost of the Benaki Museum was designed by Kokkinou Kourkoulas Architects who are known for their uncompromising modernity. The structure —a huge, brownish-red box made entirely of Iranian marble and wood— takes up an entire city block. Inside is a large atrium with transparent walls, giving those entering the feeling that they themselves could be artworks on display. From the atrium, you can see the other visitors walking up and down the internal stairs and ramps. Three of the internal walls are lined with wooden blinds that play with the natural and artificial light.

Find it: Pireos & Andronikou 138, Tavros, 118 54

National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST)

In the late 19th century, this was the site of the FIX brewery, a popular brand of Greek beer. Back then, the now-covered Ilissos River flowed freely nearby and the brewery had an unobstructed view of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Redesigned in the 1950s in the modernist style, the building was abandoned for decades from the 1970s. It was partially demolished for the construction of the Metro line that passes beneath it. After several false starts, it was eventually converted into Greece’s first National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST). The new entrance on Kallirois Avenue is a dramatic departure from the industrial mid-century style, with beige marble cladding, a bright red staircase, and a water feature. Indoors, you will find a series of vast white cubes connected by escalators that move parallel to Syngrou Avenue, and great cityscapes from the roof terrace. 

Find it: Kallirois Avenue & Amvrosiou Frantzi, Koukaki, 117 43

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