Industrial Architecture in the Aegean

1. Historical retrospection

A particular form of industrialization was developed in the Archipelago from the middle of the 19th century until World War II.

Craft units of traditional know-how, like the pottery of Sifnos, or of local products processing, like the tomato canning in Santorini, are mostly found in the small islands of the south Aegean, whereas the shipbuilding industry played an important role in the whole Aegean area. Since the middle of the 19th century, both Greeks and foreigners were engaged in mining, investing in the islands’ rich subsoil. Cases in point are the Milos sulphur mines, the Naxos emery mines and the Serifos iron mines.

A particular case of capitalist development in Greece was Ermoupoli in Syros, which, towards the end of the 19th century, prospered on account of industry and steam navigation. The city’s industrial zone was predominated by textile factories and machine shops. The historic Neorio (shipyard), one of the oldest machine shops in Greece, played a leading role.

During the same period (1880-1912), under the favourable conditions created by a state policy of incentives, the basic body of industry was established in the Ottoman eastern Aegean. Lesvos, Samos and Chios were adequate in size, population and raw materials to systematically organize the leather processing, the olive treatment, the tobacco industry, the soap industry, the wine industry and the shipbuilding industry. Furthermore, they had the advantage of a direct link with the industrialized areas of Asia Minor and the markets of the East and the Balkans. In 1920, 47 tanneries operated in Karlovasi, Samos, while in Lesvos, which constitutes a unique model of intensive industrialization in the sector of olive treatment, 162 industrial shops were registered.

In the aftermath of the interwar period, the situation changed dramatically for the industry of the Archipelago. The first to have been affected were the islands of the eastern Aegean, which belonged to Greece since 1912. Being isolated from their natural hinterland in Asia Minor, they were incapable of competing with the industries of “old Greece”. Gradually, the businessmen from the islands moved to the city of Piraeus, which met the requirements for a new dynamic industrial development. World War II and the subsequent large internal migration resulted in the decline and abandonment of the majority of industrial activities in the Aegean.

2. The architecture of industrial buildings in the Aegean (1880-1920)

In rational architecture of industrial buildings, form follows function. For example, the tampakika (tanneries) in Karlovasi, Samos, are of rectangular ground plan and oblong form, so that, lined as they are across the coast, they all have access to it from their narrow side. The ground plan shape allows a linear succession in leather processing. The initial stages of processing, demanding large quantities of water, took place on the ground floor; the final shaping, the drying, the selection and the packaging of leather took place on the upper floor.

The large soap factories were usually structured in two levels. The offices, the storerooms, the saponification boilers and the final product packaging room were on the ground level. The dryers were located on the upper levels. The numerous oblong windows, typical of these industrial buildings, were necessary for the solidification of the soap’s liquid mass.

The majority of the buildings constructed at the peak of industrial development (1880-1920) have influences from the architecture of English industrial buildings and neoclassicism, as they were assimilated and reproduced in the form of simpler models in the greater Aegean area, Asia Minor and the Balkan Peninsula. Sometimes they were constructed by foreign civil engineers, based on designs drafted abroad, like the Neorio in Ermoupoli (1860); the companies, which supplied the designs, further provided the machinery.

Common morphological features of this architecture include the strict geometrical form, the use of symmetry in the treatment of the façades and the saddleback roof with pediment and arched or circular skylights. The constructions are robust and meticulous. The external stonemasonry was made of local stones, which were usually left unplastered. The frames of the openings and the corners of the buildings were made of carved stones. Solid bricks were widely used for the pediments as well as for prominent parts of the masonry. Usually, blast furnaces are also made of solid bricks. The roof, the window and door-frames and the floors were made of high solid wood.

This typological and architectural discipline is occasionally disrupted by local constructional particularities. In neoclassical Ermoupoli, the arched openings and marble façades, typical of urban houses, sometimes appear also in the factories. In Lesvos, an area prone to earthquakes, a common “loan” from traditional architecture is the masonry reinforcement by means of timber frames, and the use of tsatmas, a mixed construction of wood, stone and plaster, containing kourassani (a mixture of sand and baked clay), for the building of the upper floors.

Since the 1980s interventions have been conducted in Greece to preserve and exploit the historic industrial complexes. The restoration programs inaugurated in 1984 in olive oil factories and soap industries in Lesvos are considered pioneering for the Aegean area. Since May 2000 in Ermoupoli operates the Industrial Museum, aiming at the preservation and documentation of the local technical civilization.