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The Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles; their essence and their absence: An exploration of their theories and philosophies of the past

Part 2 Dissertation 2005
Pinelopi-Zoi Antoniou
Edinburgh College of Art | UK
This dissertation attempts to provide a solution for the design of the blank spaces in the upper floor gallery of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, which will be positioned directly opposite and underneath the Acropolis. “The Parthenon Gallery” is conceived as an appropriate space to house the remaining Parthenon Marbles in their entirety. Almost half of the Marbles reside in the British Museum and the British government is not keen to return them.
The paper investigates into how these blank spaces should be treated; how they should be designed in order for the museum to function properly, and at the same time express the Marbles’ loss devoid of defeatism. One would expect that the Museum’s architects, Tschumi and Photiadis, would have taken this fact under consideration and therefore include it in their design. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Their design, beautiful as it is, is not informed by this important issue which, apart from anything else, is a matter of political importance and national integrity.
The first part compares the different display manners of the Marbles, since their acquisition from the British Government in 1816, as well as their casts; a collection of which is owned by the ECA. It also offers a concise history of the design decisions in the New Acropolis Museum (completion 2006).
The second part approaches the empty spaces of the absent Marbles philosophically. It analyses the concept of ‘void’ and that of ‘non being’ through Semiology, and attempts to apply these to the design strategy of the New Acropolis Museum. Finally, examples from architectural history are given, where the use of the same concept of ‘void’ are obvious. This reinforces the argument that ‘voids’ have effectively been used to express loss which can be experienced by the visitor.
To conclude, the dissertation shows that a philosophical exploration of the concept of ‘void’ in architecture can provide both a statement of objection about the Marbles’ absence from the New Acropolis Museum, as well as a contribution to its design and presentation.

Pinelopi Antoniou

Pinelopi-Zoi Antoniou

The student visited all the institutions she discusses, and used her first-hand knowledge of the cast collection at ECA. She considers how cultural attitudes influence collecting and museum displays. From this she argues for the restoration of the Parthenon Marbles - failing which she presents an architectural solution that will remind visitors to the new Athens Museum that they remain absent.
The breadth of her enquiry, ranging over a wide field of knowledge and using subtle comparisons and well-selected evidence was very impressive. She has effectively shown how contemporary architecture can be enhanced by wider historical and philosophical fields of enquiry.

Margaret Stewart
Lecturer (Cultural Context)

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