The Aegean islands are known for their great and dramatic beauty. Significantly, this beauty is the result of the interaction of natural and human agents, both in its creation and in its perception and representation: the white chapel on top of a hill, the traditional village overlooking the sunset, the golden wheat-fields overlooking the sea. These elements were not constructed with any attempts or notion of the picturesque; however, they are the result of self-organizing systems of structures and processes developed over millennia.
The Cycladic landscape is a synthesis of the physical (structure and process) and the cultural (perception and representation). These aspects of landscape are completely interrelated, as culture is formed by the land on which it develops and in turn forms the land in continuous dynamic cycles. Like most landscape patterns, those of the Aegean are characterized by emergence, i.e. the formation of complex forms from simple rules of behavior, which result in non-deterministic spatial patterns at small scales but recognizable distributions and tendencies at large scales.
The Cycladic landscape of the last millennia is a man-made equilibrium, diverse, attractive but also extremely fragile, sustainable only as long as the economic and cultural practices which formed it continued to operate. Its historic structure, process and culture were shaped by an economy of agriculture and pasturage. This historic structure disintegrated between the 1920’s and the 1980’s, to be replaced starting in the 1960’s and 70’s by a new economy, that of tourism.
Ironically, this tourist economy is based on the perception of great beauty and visual value of the region’s historic landscape structure. It is visual identity as product, a picturesque understanding of what used to be a functioning landscape economy. In these terms, the Aegean is now its own product. At the same time, tourism introduces new structures and processes which are the region’s new reality. These displace the historic structures and processes which gave the Aegean its picturesque appeal. This new tourism reality is destroying the very product on which it is dependent.
These new dynamics require a new dynamic equilibrium. While return to the old ways is no longer possible, and probably not desired, the destruction of the historic structures and processes is not appropriate since they form not only the aesthetic backbone of the tourist industry but also the spatial backbone for local ecosystems and the historical backbone of local culture.
The problem now is integrating two different structure / process systems, each of which needs the other to exist. What is required on the part of both systems is adaptability, the ability to accommodate each other, to learn and to change. The model requires the two to merge forming a new system which balances the sum of structures and processes in an open, sustainable, dynamic equilibrium.
Issue: How to preserve a site’s dramatic picturesque qualities while changing its function, from agricultural vestige to high-end holiday residential. The strategy developed consists of analyzing the historic structures and processes of the site, identifying the contemporary needs and capabilities, and combining them into a new integrated structure and dynamic process.