Akrotiri is located at the southern end of Thera, or Santorini, the southernmost island in the archipelago of the Cyclades, and lies approximately 60 nautical miles north of Crete. Thanks to its strategic geographical position, the island played an important role in the history of the Aegean in general. A significant factor that seriously affected developments both on the island itself and in the wider Aegean region, is the nowadays dormant volcano.
To one of its eruptions, at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age (around the mid-seventeenth century BC), the collapse of the Minoan civilization on Crete has often been attributed. Certainly this eruption, the magnitude of which is estimated to have been about four times that of Krakatao, caused the submergence of a large part of the island of Thera and the burial of the remaining section under a thick mantle of volcanic ash.
A large city, perhaps the only one on the island in the Bronze Age, was buried close to the site of the modern village of Akrotiri. On account of the excellent state of preservation of the ruins, the unique works of art that embellished the buildings and the abundance of information on early society in the Aegean, as well as the geological phenomena in the region, the excavation yields, the archaeological site at Akrotiri has rapidly become one of the most attractive for thousands of people with diverse interests.
Experience gained over the past thirty years from the operation and shelter of the archaeological site, coupled with advances in technology, not only permit multiple improvements of the existing situation by constructing the new shelter but also constitute the aims of the design as described below:
- To improve the protection of the monuments, staff and visitors, by using more durable materials and controlling absolutely the solar energy falling on the shelter.
- To rehabilitate externally the landscape by covering the entire shelter with the volcanic soil of the environment.
- To improve conditions of circulation for visitors and to ensure healthier conditions for personnel in the site (guards, workmen, archaeologists etc.).
- To enhance the monuments and make them accessible to visitors by designing special routes, while at the same time ensuring their absolute protection from the circulation of visitors.
- To upgrade the educational role of the site by organizing special thematic exhibitions on various aspects of the public and private life of the island's prehistoric inhabitants and by providing corresponding assembly points for groups of visitors.
- To guarantee the longevity of the shelter by implementing a modular system of construction, using better quality materials and providing facilities for maintenance/repair and replacement if required. The large and alternative routes increase the site's capacity, so that it can receive at least three times as many visitors as today.
In parallel, the following specific but nonetheless important issues are confronted: Implementing a bio-environmental and ecological design with full exploitation of mild forms of energy; Neutralizing ultraviolet and infrared solar radiation and upgrading the natural illumination of the interior; Upgrading the quality of the air in the interior and preventing build-up of carbon dioxide (exhaled by visitors) by applying a totally non-energy consuming system of natural cooling and ventilating of the area to achieve a healthy environment for visitors, personnel and monuments.
With all these improvements the new shelter at Akrotiri constitutes an innovative prototype, a model for the enhancement, presentation and management of archaeological sites.
The material that at once destroyed and protected the settlement, volcanic earth pumice and pozzuolana, was the central tool for defining the philosophy of the design of the intervention. Together with earth, sun, air and water complete the quartet of natural elements composing the central strategy of the design, which could be epigrammatically considered as a NON-INTERVENTION. From the four natural elements emerge the four basic qualities cool, warm, wet, dry that are also the basic aims of the environmental conditions in the archaeological site the new shelter is called on to serve.