Heralded as the largest regeneration project in all of Europe, The Ellinikon is poised to become a new modern landmark in Greece’s capital city. On a recent visit, Prestige got a first-hand look at the many things the developers behind this massive “smart city” project have planned.
(Hero image: An architectural rendering of The Ellinikon’s futuristic ‘Commercial Hub’)
Athens is many things to many people. For some it’s the cradle of Western civilization. For others, it’s the birthplace of the modern Olympics. For others still, it’s the first stop one makes when travelling to glamorous Greek islands like Mykonos, Santorini, and Corfu. Whatever the case, it’s easy to see why this ancient Mediterranean city remains such an exceedingly popular tourist destination.
Adding to its list of attractions is The Ellinikon, a massive “smart city” construction project which is expected to see a significant portion of its development completed by 2026 (and full completion in approximately 20 years). The land – all 6.2 million square metres of it – is located smack dab in the middle of the ‘Athens Riviera’, a scenic stretch of coastline that begins at Piraeus Port, the largest passenger port in Europe, and ends at Astir Vouliagmenis, home to such fabulous resort-style hotels as the new Four Seasons Astir Palace.
And while it’s a bit too soon to remark on something that is, in certain areas, just a vast construction site at the moment, the sheer size and scope of The Ellinikon is nothing short of incredible. When complete it will be a veritable “city within a city”, home to hotels, shopping arcades, schools, healthcare centres, office space, state-of-the-art sports facilities, and an estimated 10,000 residential units (many of which are freehold title) that span a mix of price points from high-end luxury, to investments tailored to the local Athens market. In addition, the plans include a massive two-million-square-metre outdoor space known as Ellinikon Park, and connecting it all will be an extensive path network – exceeding 50km – with walkways, bicycle routes, and light traffic roads. In short, it’s going to be an urban utopia with a sunset view.
The land itself was once home to the Hellinikon Athens International Airport, which opened in 1938, was expanded in 1969 and later in 1995, and finally closed for good in 2001 – although it resumed operations briefly during the 2004 Olympic Games. Since a newer airport had been built further inland, the decommissioned oceanfront airport remained dormant, until the land was finally put up for tender in 2013 (due to the financial crisis, and other factors, privatisations were becoming more commonplace in Greece at that time).
In 2014, Lamda Development, a Greek-based holding company specialising in the development, investment, and management of real estate, won the tender with a successful bid, although it wasn’t until 2021 that all the bureaucratic fine points were settled and Phase 1 of the €8 billion project finally began in earnest. At a press conference for international media, Odisseas Athanasiou, CEO at Lamda Development, explained that one of the major factors supporting The Ellinikon is tourism.
Based on projected estimates, he noted that The Ellinikon is expected to bring between a million and 1.5 million more tourists to Athens than before. This “build it and they will come” strategy is in line with cities that have become stronger tourist destinations after creating landmark developments. Singapore is a good example, with Marina Bay Sands, and Bilbao with the Guggenheim Museum is another.
Other exceptional aspects of The Ellinikon include the approximately 85,000 new jobs it will create upon completion, and the architectural breakthroughs it promises, such as erecting the first true high-rises in Greece. Before The Ellinikon was granted special permission, the maximum height for new buildings was restricted to roughly 16 to 24 metres, depending on the location and other parameters. At Ellinikon, five high-rise buildings are planned, with the luxurious Riviera Tower set to rise 200 metres above sea level.
Designed by the British architectural firm Foster + Partners, the Riviera Tower will feature a collection of one- to five-bedroom residences, plus a few penthouse units, offering residents spectacular views as well as easy access to the beach and the upgraded, 400-berth marina (capable of welcoming superyachts). Also nearby will be the first integrated casino resort in Europe, a sleek new marina hotel and branded residences, and the Riviera Galleria shopping and lifestyle arcade, to be designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
This, however, accounts for just a portion of The Ellinikon’s full, 3.5-km sea-facing frontage. At the other end – past the kilometre-long, redeveloped public beach in the middle – will sit a cluster of custom-designed beachfront homes known as Cove Villas, over 100 apartments and duplexes that make up the Cove Residences, and one more beachfront hotel and branded residences. And all this oceanside development is, in turn, just a fraction of The Ellinikon’s vast total area.
The full project extends inland from the coast roughly 2.5km, all the way to Vouliagmenis Avenue, which is close to where the very futuristic looking Commercial Hub building, designed by the Hong Kong-based architectural firm Aedas, will be built (home, incidentally, to what will become the largest mall in Greece). And while there are many, many more aspects worth mentioning, the heart and soul of The Ellinikon is, without a doubt, Ellinikon Park, which lies at the centre of the entire project. This bio-diverse park – the first part of which should be completed by the end of 2025 – is almost twice as large as London’s Hyde Park, and offers a much-needed injection of green space into Athens as a whole.
The park is also key to The Ellinikon’s focus on sustainability. With an aim to drastically reduce the general reliance on cars, virtually everything one needs is placed within a 15-minute walking (or cycling) radius of the park’s midpoint, with pathways, bike trails, and an extended tram line connecting to residences, shopping, offices, the theatre, the subway, the sea, and dozens of other lifestyle necessities. If you choose to live here, you might not have too many reasons to leave.
Sustainability, working hand-in-hand with new technologies, is what qualifies The Ellinikon as a “smart city”. And because it’s all being designed and built from scratch – not retro-fitted – it can implement these innovations early on, easily incorporating any recently introduced smart city technology. Recycling and repurposing are also of paramount importance, and as such builders will reuse 100 precent of the material excavated during the demolition of the airport – one example being park benches created from the cement.
During an afternoon hard-hat tour we were shown just how far the construction has proceeded, and just how much of the old airport has been demolished. One structure, however, that will be spared the wrecking ball is the old airport’s famous east terminal, designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, a pioneer of the 1960s neo-futurist style. Dating back to 1969, this building has been deemed a significant landmark and will now be repurposed as, most likely, a restaurant and entertainment venue.
To get a bird’s eye view perspective of the whole undertaking, we were also taken to The Ellinikon Experience Centre, housed in a converted airplane hangar. Open to the public earlier this year, it reveals, via video presentations, scale models, and interactive displays, both the scope of the project, and some of the tech-enabled innovations being employed – such as nifty solar powered phone chargers built into the armrests of those aforementioned cement benches.
Widespread 5G, public Wi-Fi, and ultra-high-speed, fibre-optic internet connectivity will create a strong digital network within The Ellinikon, while a bespoke IoT (internet of things) platform will provide access to powerful apps for visitors and residents alike. In addition, an advanced power grid will prioritise the use of integrated reusable energy, smart lighting technologies will ensure the most efficient use of electric light (with minimal light pollution), and smart water management and an optimised irrigation system will keep water consumption to a minimum. There’s even plans for water drones to clean the coastal seafront.
The team at Lamda have certainly spared no expense to make their vision come to life. All the buildings have secured LEED certification, while the park is SITES certified. Accessibility is also being addressed, and that entails taking care of citizens with mobility issues and other disabilities; which is why special features have already been incorporated in the master plan, like ramps, the dimensions of the paths, and so on.
So can anyone, even those outside the EU, buy into this city of the future?
Odisseas assures me it’s open to all, and that that buying a house in Greece is free of restrictions. In fact, he says there are provisions that if one makes an investment of a fixed amount of money – €250,000 and above – one is able to have a residence in the country for five years. And with a much more business-friendly government now in power, even more provisions have been made in the past two years that promote foreign ownership of assets and living in Greece.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the idea of settling down in this green oasis by the sea has generated a lot of investment interest. According to Odisseas, all the residential developments that have been brought out to the market – which includes units in the high-rise tower on the coast, some villas, and some condos – are already sold out.