Ten Towers for Thessaloniki
The Greek harbour city of Thessaloniki is the proposed site for a surprising, gigantic urban development project named Oculis. Ten tubular towers would give the city a distinctive new appearance.
Attractive, traditional Greek stone walls wind their way through the city. Well-preserved ancient watchtowers rise sporadically above the cityscape. And on the seaward outskirts of the city, between the port and the exclusive residential district, you can enjoy a walk along the waterside promenade.
Oculis and its (overly) spectacular design
It’s not so astonishing that Thessaloniki is a popular holiday destination for those wanting some sea air while still enjoying a certain urban feel. With a little over a million inhabitants, the city is somehow pleasantly large without being uncomfortably huge.
But it is precisely these factors that make the Oculis project so unexpected. This is the name of the remarkable design that was submitted to a competition to find a new visage for the Greek harbour area.
In a nutshell: Ten gigantic towers situated directly behind the large port form a kind of gateway to the city. Admittedly, even just the look of the organic structures is spectacular. But whether they would be a good choice for the ancient city is a matter of debate.
Before we take a look at the ten towers, let’s first try and understand how the designers were motivated to develop this mega-project – on paper, at least – for the coastal city. In 2020, the city council of Thessaloniki launched an international competition to redesign the city’s harbour district.
The invitation specifically called for innovative ideas for the development of the western waterfront. Consideration was also to be given to the creation of a new central business district. The criteria communicated to the participants included high standards of energy efficiency and many sustainability aspects.
Design to give city a new visage
According to the invitation to tender, the design needed to redefine the position of Thessaloniki on the international map while welcoming both citizens and entrepreneurs in a unique manner.
“The design consists of ten towers of striking and innovative design that compose an iconic skyline at the entrance of Thessaloniki, to highlight the new Central Business District,” according to the project developer. In view of the spectacular design, they’ve certainly succeeded here. The redeveloped tract of land also acts a bit like a demarcation line between the city and port, though.
But this may well be intentional. After all, the architects speak quite deliberately and not without pride about an oversized “podium” that literally joins the ten towers of Oculis together. “It is a podium designed at the lower levels as a fluid and vivid zone of a wide programmatic range,” they write.
A podium that both separates and unites
So, while the adjacent city district and waterfront are separated from one another, they are also intentionally connected at certain points. The developers explain: “Through a sequence of public plazas, the proposal opens up and connects to the city at the North boundary, while it creates a public path throughout the project site.”
Integrating the port
The idea would be to create a “green buffer zone of natural beauty and vitality” between the city and commercial port. In order to connect the development with the water without interfering with the operation of the commercial port, the coves would be extended landwards to meet the site. Additionally, parts of the existing port would be developed so as to integrate them as logically as possible into the overall landscape.
In any case, this podium literally forms a platform on which the ten towers will majestically sit. “The design should compose an iconic skyline at the entrance to Thessaloniki, to highlight the new Central Business District of the city,” write the architects. All of the towers are designed as tubes that rise up into the sky, with each serving a different purpose. The designers believe that this will allow everyone to always know what is available in which tower.
Each tower has its own function
This means that one tower will only contain residential accommodation, the next will be made into an office block and another a shopping mall. You could almost conclude that Oculis is simply city districts developed vertically rather than horizontally (like this “vertical city”).
But the tubular shapes are particularly advantageous when it comes to the intelligent use of ventilation and incoming sunlight for controlling the indoor climate. Over-hanging greened roofs, on the other hand, are intended to provide shade where it’s important.
These vertical city districts are connected via greened ramped surfaces, creating a flowing, uninterrupted landscape that allows pedestrians and cyclists to move through the development unimpeded.
While the conceptual design of Oculis is certainly spectacular, it looks a bit like something out of a science fiction film. And it’s hard to imagine the city wanting to evolve into a kind of surreal-looking futuristic world.