New Project – Disability and Historical Reconstruction
The following is for a contribution to an upcoming, group project on disability and architecture. Virtually every project or text on disability and architecture is envisioned in either a medical context or brings a medical sensibility to existing spaces. This has two important effects: This makes disability into something that is seen as a clinical condition versus a category of thought – a way of seeing and being seen in the world. This also has the curious effect of eliminating the presence of disability from a deep and longer engagement with history, particularly the history of architecture. Disability, while a modern term, is not a contemporary category absent from pre-modern life.
The official text and imagery follows. Thank you to Victor Hadjikyriacou for continuing to collaborate with me on these projects.
Reconstructing the Acropolis Ramp
David Gissen 2013 (renderings by Victor Hadjikyriacou)
The path to the summit of the Acropolis might be one of the most famous in the history of architecture. The arduous climb up a winding walkway has been written about by architects from Le Roy to Le Corbusier.
In the 19th century, various poets, artists and philosophers praised the difficult walk up as an act of personal and historical discovery. The acropolis ascent achieved its significance at this time because it embodied the aesthetics of Romanticism, which simultaneously celebrated the discovery of ruins and sensations of physical duress. The pressures of historical time and the lived time of a perceiving subject became conjoined.
In the 1950s the path was remade into a marble-stone lined walk by the Greek architect Dimitris Pikionis – a construction that related to the revived nationalistic ambitions of the post-war Greek state, rooted in a return to Hellenism.
Other, more minor paths have spun out of Pikionis’. Of these, the most recent is a special route for the disabled. Responding to repeated criticism of the inaccessibility of the site, the organization that oversees the the Acropolis built a wheelchair accessible path to the north that terminates in a modified construction elevator. The elevator accommodates one person and scales the side of the Acropolis, going up to the summit.
We would like to enter into this three-hundred year consideration of the Acropolis ascent by proposing another route to the top – a reconstruction of the original path to the top that existed here from the 6th century BC to the middle-ages. In the 6th century the government of Athens funded the construction of a massive ramp that connected the outlying areas of the Athenian Agora to the northwest to the top of the Acropolis. The original ramp was constructed of earth with large retaining walls to its north and south. The ramp, which is a significant object in transforming the Acropolis from a feudal bastion to a religious site, enabled the entirety of the polis to ascend the Acropolis. If we take surviving depictions of the processions to the top as evidence, we see elderly and very young joining a procession that includes people on horseback and in carriages. The now-destroyed ramp is a significant aspect of the history of the Acropolis but unknown to virtually all who come to the site today.
If Pikionis route positioned a nationalist figure within this robust ascent, a possible remade Acropolis ramp represents the reconstruction of a different, but no less historically constituted public. In contrast to nationalism or romantic athleticism, we see the ramp as a reconstruction of different subjects, of a commons yet to be fully configured – one evocative of the origins of Western concepts of urban citizenry, city space, architecture and its history, but which simultaneously refers to more recent concerns of self-hood.