10 years ECOWEEK: Changing habits, changing climate - Interview with President Elias Messina

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10 years ECOWEEK: Changing habits, changing climate - Interview with President Elias MessinaFrom Aegina to Copenhagen and from Agios Nikolaos to Singapore: Interview by Elias Messina founding chairman of NGO ECOWEEK

Elias Messina is an architect and environmental consultant. Elias teaches architecture and design for over 25 years. He is a graduate of Athens College and Bezalel Academy with a Master from Yale University. He completed his PhD at NTUA. In 2005, after attending a Master interdisciplinary program at NTUA on ‘Environment and Development’ with Prof. Dimitris Rokos, he founded NGO ECOWEEK in Aegina. Since then he coordinates its activity.

NGO ECOWEEK was born in Aegina, but made its presence felt when it invited Al Gore to the Athens Concert Hall. Today, what is the activity of ECOWEEK?

ECOWEEK is a non-profit organization with the mission to raise environmental awareness and to promote the principles of sustainability. Its main activity is to organize international conferences and sustainable design workshops in Greece and abroad, in order to inform, educate and bring sustainable design and green buildings closer to young architects, engineers, designers, architects, landscape and mainly to students.

In the first 10 years of activity ECOWEEK has spread its activity in more than 15 countries in Europe, Middle East, Asia and Australia. For 2017 we intend to expand our activity to the United States and Africa. The ECOWEEK members network spreads today in 54 countries.

ECOWEEK started its activity in 2005 as a week for ecological awareness in Aegina. Then we developed environmental awareness programs in public and private schools and for the general public throughout Greece and in 2007 we invited Al Gore to give his famous slide show on Climate Change at the Athens Concert Hall. Later on, we assisted the Larnaca Municipality to organize an ecology week and then we organized our first sustainable design workshops in Italy, Serbia, Poland, Turkey and Kosovo, reaching as far as Copenhagen and London. Last year we helped organize a design contest for young designers in China and participated in an ecological festival in Australia. Next year we plan sustainable design workshops from the Netherlands and Sweden to distant Singapore.

In recent years we held conferences and workshops in Athens and Thessaloniki, and this year we are planning for the first time, an ecological week in Agios Nikolaos in Crete. ECOWEEK 2016 in Crete takes place on July 3-10 in cooperation with the G & A Mamidakis Foundation, the Bluegr Hotels & Resorts group and the municipality of Agios Nikolaos. We expect that ECOWEEK in Crete will be the environmental happening of the summer. It was already included in the partner events of the Green Week 2016 organized by the European Commission, and it is already communicated across Europe.

Tell us briefly what is ECOWEEK?

The idea of ECOWEEK was conceived in 2005 in Aegina, as an ecological festival, hence the name “Eco” (ecological) “Week”, which was open to the general public. The festival focused on three main topics: energy saving and renewable energy, recycling and composting and green buildings. Since 2008 the idea of ECOWEEK evolved into a week dedicated to sustainable design and green buildings, with lectures and workshops, that also address issues of energy and waste. During the last 10 years, ECOWEEK has invited international experts in the field, such as Shigeru Ban, Kengo Kuma, BIG, Michael Sorkin, and others, while the main beneficiaries are students of architecture, design and landscape architecture and young professionals in these areas.

Why ecological building?

Architecture and construction have great responsibility (and potential) with regard to sustainability. Buildings consume 40% of produced energy and a significant proportion of raw materials - wood, minerals and water. Also, buildings and cities determine and influence the behavior, health and happiness of people. For example, if you work close to where you live or you must commute daily, with all that this implies for the local community and environmental impact. Changing the way we design and build our buildings and our cities, as half the world population now live in cities, we can intervene effectively in our ecological footprint and therefore manage to live within local conditions and the resources of the planet (One Planet Living)

The way we design is also of great interest. In sustainable design architect works as part of a team. Not in a top-down format. Sustainable design opens cooperation opportunities, participatory planning and placemaking. So that the project beneficiaries – the community - are also part of the creative process. This changes the design experience as it has been experienced so far, not only by offering large scale solutions, but also 'LQC' ie, 'lighter, quicker and cheaper'. This way, interventions can be more focused and more relevant to the actual needs of the community.

The principles of sustainable design, the understanding of local needs to develop sustainable solutions, and the interactive procedure in the design, are key components to the ECOWEEK workshops. This year ECOWEEK, in collaboration with Bioregional based in the UK, promotes the One Planet Living principles through sustainable design workshops, to create proposals for green buildings and sustainable communities.

What activities are planned in ECOWEEK 2016 in Crete?

ECOWEEK 2016 in Crete focuses on "Public Space, Tourism and One Planet" and will develop sustainable solutions at various scales and programmatic needs. The topics and workshop locations, as in previous ECOWEEK events, are chosen carefully in collaboration with the workshop leaders, the Municipality team of Agios Nikolaos and the local community, and the co-organizers G & A Mamidakis Foundation and Bluegr Hotels & Resorts group. 

Among the projects that we will be addressing in Agios Nikolaos are the redesign of the waterfront (a project of interest to the Municipality to receive ideas to be adopted later on), which will led by Canadian architect Chris Doray; interventions in parks (such as City Hall Park) to be led by the Orizzontale team from Italy; interventions in schools (environmentally responsive facades) and hands-on interventions with light structures, with the participation of students, parents and teachers, will be undertaken by EUZEN Architecture team from Thessaloniki and landscape architect Galia Hanoch Roe from Israel respectively. The Chania University team will perform measurements and propose interventions in various parts of the city, and two workshops - LIMNI and Natural Building of Creta) - will demonstrate pilot construction using ecological materials - stone, straw and clay - and traditional construction methods used in Crete.

The workshops will be supported with lectures by experts from Greece and abroad - Canada, Italy, England, Israel and Turkey; for example, Benjamin Gill of Bioregional will support the workshops with the 10 principles of One Planet Living. In addition, film screenings such as "The Human Scale", in cooperation with the Danish Embassy, inspired by the work of the Danish planner Jan Gehl and the movie "The Secret Life of Materials" on nanotechnology applications in design, in collaboration with the Demokritos Research Institute team.

The program is full and diverse and is open not only to students and young professionals, but also to the general public as well. We invite everyone, experts or not, to join us!

Where would one find more information and how to participate? At the conference website is http://www.ecoweekcrete2016.org/ 

Participation in lectures and events is open and free to the general public. Workshops require registration. With participants from Greece, USA, Italy, Turkey, Albania and Kosovo, we expect a diverse team and excellent opportunity for young people to learn from each other and to network.

 

 
 
Pictures from past events of ECOWEEK worldwide (Courtesy of ECOWEEK)
 
 
Agios Nikolaos (Courtesy of Municipality of Agios Nikolaos)

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