A Village Center for Palasa









The village of Palasa has rested on its mountainside perch 400 meters above the Ionian Sea for at least two thousand years.


Julius Ceasar's troops stopped here during his pursuit of Pompey; since then the village has grown and withered with the times.


Today, it is an outpost of about 500 villagers, mostly removed from the summer squalor several kilometers down at the seaside, where Albanian youth listen to curious hits and party pretending to be royalty. Away from this, and for its panoramic setting Palasa offers a wonderful respite.


At its elevation the temperature often drops markedly.


As the summers are a peaceful escape, the winters have a sombering appeal, frequently embellished by the dramatic sight of clouds and storms working to climb over the adjacent pass.

The center of the village is defined by the Church of Saint Dimitri and an astounding 200 year-old sycamore tree. There is little dialogue between the two, scantily a place to sit, while the leftover space in front of the church humbly serves as parking for the few tired cars that dare to make the trek up here.

The project, A Village Center for Palasa works to bring the disconnected spaces together. Layering a central gathering space with a secondary and tertiary spaces to dually serve the needs of a plaza in front of a church or simply a few locals intent on a game of dominoes laced with raki (the locally distilled drink of choice).

Regionally, village centers have a large tree, a church, and a font supplied by a stream with clean water from up a mountain. Palasa has streams but no font.


This project introduces a font. A jet of water landing in a wide shallow pool in front of Saint Dimitri and continuously refreshed by the stream tied to it.


The jet of water is designed to make it easy to fill buckets, admidst company; the pool is a place for villagers to congregate, rest on stools and in-turn rest their feet in the cool water.


A gentle edge makes the pool accessible to birds to drink and play (the summers are dry) as well as sheep and goats to drink.


With its connection to the church the water could be blessed to become a baptismal font for a baptism.


The font is shallow and is designed to easily be drained to accomodate additional standing space for a large event.

Consider that the project is called, "A Village Center for Palasa" and not "A New Village Center for Palasa". It is rather a pity that the project could not be called this, because a village that is millenia old should already have its village center—what Palasa has can not be justified as such. Hence, A New Village Center for Palsasa would imply it already had something which it frankly does not.


The main parameters: a tightly confined area to work within, the fragile root system of the tree, the sensitive foundations of the church, and the steep slope of the village stipulated much readily.


By bringing the central gathering space down to the level of the sycamore tree creates a large single-level plaza emphasizing the church by adding stairs (protecting its foundation) and anchoring it as the center of the village. Dropping the plaza multiplies the available flat space (a commodity on a mountainside) while bringing together the formerly disparate church and tree.


Under the large sycamore tree are several varyingly large-sized tables with stools to create the outdoor library. It serves as a place for twenty people to hold meeting at the largest table, twelve picnicking at the medium, or several playing cards at the smallest.


With its  proximity to the tree, wood decking is used to not jeopardize the root system—and being at the same elevation as the central gathering space a fluid boundary is maintained.


An outdoor classroom connects the lower level of the site using graduated seating. Placed under the sycamore’s thicket it folds downward from the central gathering space. The backdrop is the  the sea and sky.


At the base of the seating is the stage which extends as a podium to view and protect an adjacent communist-era relief.


On the south side of Saint Dimitri is a reading garden, with noteworthy views of the sea below. Away from the main spaces it has a quiet character as garden, with terraces doubling as seating.


The garden and other added green spaces are shaded by olive trees and interjected with cypress trees in keeping with the landscape. Lavender is used ubiquitously as a ground planting for its aromatic qualities.

In keeping with regional materials, local olive wood is used for the decking and stools—it is strong, its grain is beautiful, and otherwise is destined for people’s wood burning stoves each winter. The stone used would also be locally sourced; travertine and limestone compose the ground the village sits.

For flexibility of use are heavy wooden stools designed to be semi-permanent fixtures. The village has a limited number of large events and is generally left to the locals. The stools are designed to weigh around twenty-five kilograms to be something of permanence yet mobile to clear the space for large events.