In 2006, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (www.SNF.org) announced its plans to fund the development of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), a project that includes the construction and complete outfitting of new facilities for the National Library of Greece (NLG) and the Greek National Opera (GNO), as well as the creation of the 170,000 m² Stavros Niarchos Park.
Education and culture are the backbone of any advanced society. In funding the SNFCC, the Foundation’s vision is to provide the country and the city with the new institutional foundations it needs to move forward and with a framework for the future. Education, culture and sustainability, the SNFCC’s three main elements, are essential requirements in enhancing the potential of the city and its people and placing them within a twenty first century global context.
The magnitude of the project and of the Foundation’s dreams and hopes required the impact and the creative presence of a visionary architect. In February 2008, following a closed international design competition, the Foundation’s Board of Directors unanimously selected the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (www.rpbw.com). In selecting renowned architect Renzo Piano, the Foundation chose an architect at the forefront of the architectural profession, who possesses vision, intellectual curiosity and a historical and geographical understanding of the project’s location and significance.
The project site is located 4.5 km south of the center of Athens, on the edge of Faliro Bay, and the SNFCC is designed as a multifunctional arts, education and entertainment complex. The project's total budget of $831mil (€596mil) includes two grants of $6mil (€5mil) each to the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera respectively, aiming to support the organizations’ transition to their new facilities. Upon SNFCC’s completion, the Foundation will transfer the control of the center to the Greek state, which will assume its full operation and management. The SNFCC is the first private-public partnership of its type in Greece, and one of the most important civic (cultural/educational) projects ever undertaken in the country. As one of the largest construction projects in recent Greek history, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center will have an immediate impact on the local economy, providing jobs and infusing capital into a challenging economic landscape.
The idea for the SNFCC started to form in 1998 with the Foundation’s decision to support the construction of new facilities for the National Library of Greece (NLG). The plan was consistent with the Foundation's extensive and continuous support of a wide variety of educational initiatives worldwide. The plan was not only to consolidate the Library's holdings, but also to upgrade significantly its facilities and consequently elevate its status to become a true national library. The vision for the new National Library was that of a public institution that would provide access to the world of knowledge and information to learners of all ages, offer a wide range of research and information resources, and connect with other libraries in Greece, as well as with other National Libraries around the world. The concept was presented to the Government, which expressed its support.
At the same time and independent of this initiative, the Foundation was considering a proposal to support the Greek National Opera (GNO), an institution also in need of a major physical and therefore organizational upgrade. An exciting possibility emerged from these disparate plans, one that was a perfect synthesis of the Foundation's mission and its commitment to Greece, and could provide a lasting and transformative impact. The plan envisioned including the National Library of Greece, the Greek National Opera, and an educational and cultural park in one site, and thus bequeathing to the Greek people a great civic, cultural, educational and environmentally responsible landmark of international stature. In 2006, ten years after the commencement of its grant-making activities, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation announced its intention to proceed with its largest individual grant to date, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.
After discussions between the former Ministry of Environment and Public Works and the Municipality of Kallithea, a consensus emerged that the Project will be developed at the site of the old horse racing track. 210,000 m² (50 acres) of the site's total area of 240,000 m² were designated for the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center and Esplanade. The remaining seven acres (30,000 m²) were designated for the creation of a Municipal Sports and Leisure Park for the Municipality of Kallithea. In 2007, once preliminary studies had demonstrated the project's viability, the Foundation and the Greek State signed a Memorandum of Understanding. In March 2009, the two parties signed an agreement for the construction of the SNFCC, which four months later was ratified by the Greek Parliament. The agreement stated in part that the Foundation undertook the responsibility to assume the total cost of building the SNFCC, and that, upon completion, will donate it to the Greek State, which will undertake its full control and operation, to be used and enjoyed by the Greek people.