Eleftherios Ambatzis and Irini - Aimilia Ioannidou
On June 2012 the first swapping bookshelf in Greece was installed, in the area of Kifissia. It was an initiative of the architects Eleftherios Ambatzis and Irini-Aimilia Ioannidou, who designed and managed to bring the project into life. The reception from the citizens to the idea so far has been more than overwhelmed! We met the two architects at the Onassis Cultural Centre of Athens where recently, they installed their second swapping bookshelf and they talked to ek-mag about their project and their future plans.
How was the idea of the swapping bookshelf born?
Irini: The idea was born spontaneously last Christmas while having a coffee in Kifissia, discussing about similar initiatives we had encountered during our travels in central Europe. Thus we decided to bring the concept of the swapping bookshelf to Greece, adjusting it to the local environment and public space.
Eleftherios: So, in this way we designed a public furniture, where anyone could offer and swap his book anytime he wanted without control, for free.
This is the first time that a public swapping bookshelf is designed by architects. What makes your project different compared to the ones abroad?
Irini: The use of this public furniture as well as a set of its design elements where clear from the beginning. Bearing these in mind we revisited the entire design from an architectural point of view, in terms of materials, sustainability, but also reducing the need for maintenance to the minimum.
Εleftherios: Because of its position - placed in the very centre of Kifissia- the design of the bookshelf had to adapt to the surrounding environment while at the same time attempt to reform aesthetically and functionally that particular public space. An important difference between our bookshelf to the ones we have seen abroad, is a placement of a solar panel on its top which collects solar energy during the day and releases it as light - LED placed inside the shelves - glowing at night hours.
Do you believe that the concept of the swapping bookshelf found fertile ground into the current condition of economic crisis we are going through?
Εlefterrios: Our initiative did it fact stepped on fertile ground due to the current economic and social conditions in Greece. The idea of swapping though does not only hold onto our times but is timeless. We want to believe that initiatives concerning any type of promotion of culture can flourish anywhere and anytime.
Irini: Books are to be swapped and to be read by many. Maybe this is the reason why our idea of a public furniture becoming "the house of the book" was widely received by the public.
Do you believe that swapping bookshelves help to reevaluate the relationship between citizen and public space?
Eleftherios: Definitely the swapping bookshelf attempts to reform the relationship between citizens and their surrounding public space. Adding an extra activity concerning culture which attenuates the connection between the reader, the book and a public furniture.
Irini: It is interesting to examine the way a public furniture is perceived and the ways it can stimulate action and participation around it, due to its function and use. Thus, intriguing citizens to relate and re-approach public space in a different way than they were used to.
There is big interest in spreading the idea of the swapping bookshelf project. Are you planning to expand it?
Irini: It is true that there is great interest in spreading the idea of the swapping bookshelf project. We envision a network of swapping bookshelves so that books not only change hands but regions or even cities. It could be ideal to swap a book from the Kifissia bookshelf and exchange it in your in another bookshelf placed in the center of Athens or Thessaloniki. Social interaction can be achieved through books in a large scale.
Eleftherios: Following the success of the bookself placed in Kifissia last June, the first swapping bookshelf of Athens was placed at the entrance of the Onassis Cultural Centre just a few days ago. Also another bookshelf will be placed at the courtyard of IME due to TedxAthens conference taking place on the 24th of November. This bookshelf later on and following an action of “Atenistas” about the free book swapping will be placed at Agias Eirinis Square in the center of Athens. Finally, we are under negotiations for expanding our bookshelves network even more inside and outside of Athens.
How did your cooperation with Onassis Cultural Centre occur and how important do you consider it to be?
Eleftherios: Totally random. We received a phone call from the Onassis Cultural Centre approximately one month after the placement of our first bookshelf in Kifissia. Everything happened really quickly and with great pleasure we invite you to visit it and swap your books free without control anytime you want, also at at the entrance of the Onassis Cultural Centre in Suggrou Avenue.
Irini: It is very important to be supported from an institution such as the Onassis Cultural Centre in this endeavor. On the one hand, because of their confidence in our design and on the other, because of their support in our overall idea and initiative. It’s really great for us that the swapping bookshelf network is now expanded from Kifissia to Athens.
In a period of economic crisis such as the current one do you believe that Greek design can evolve and expand abroad?
Irini: Creation is a need. Each designer with this need will find a way to create and produce any time and under any condition. The current condition -crisis- requires a redefinition of what 'Greek design' is about and how it can respond to stimuli the demands of the times.
Eleftherios: The crisis provides fertile ground for change and space for additional activity in a wider context of social and economic structures. It is difficult for a designer to create in such a negative environment and therefore special maneuvers and rapprochement are required. It is essential to maintain our appetite for creativity and effort!
Which famous designers have influenced your work?
Eleftherios: In terms of design and surprise, studio job, the Campana brothers and Arik Levy.
Irini: In terms of function and innovation Charles and Ray Eames.