In 1850, the 18-year-old Johann Fix (a Hellenised version of the German surname Fuchs) travels from Bavaria to Athens to visit his father, Georg Fix. A mining engineer, Georg Fix has moved to Athens as a member of the team of Bavarian specialists that King Otto had invited to help restructure Greece. His father’s death leads Johann to the decision to settle permanently in Greece. Initially employed by the contractors of the royal palace’s maintenance, after Otto’s deposition in 1862 he works for the brewer Melcher.
Melcher dies in 1864, and Johann buys the brewery from the heirs and establishes FIX, the first large-scale brewery in the country. Escalating demand and the monopoly that FIX enjoys at the time —it is also the official purveyor of beer to the Court— leads to the need for larger facilities. Soon the brewery moves from Herakleion to Kolonaki.
In 1893, and as the business continues to expand, the decision is made to move the brewery to Syngrou Avenue. Development in the area has yet to take off. The new plant, which is large for the time, is erected on the western bank of Ilissos, not far from the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Over the years this original building would be expanded in line with the increased business of FIX.
The industrial resurrection of Greece in the mid-1950s finds FIX in a new boom after the hard years of World War II. The Fix family decides on a ground-up redesign of the plant to meet the needs of an ever-increasing production. The project is entrusted in 1957 to the architect Takis Zenetos (1926-1977), one of the major exponents of post-war modernism in Greece, in collaboration with his colleague Margaritis Apostolidis (1922-2005). The brilliant architect’s aim is to integrate the old factory’s successive extensions without disrupting production. According to his overall philosophy, he strives to create a flexible design capable of changing and adapting to future uses and different circumstances.
Zenetos’s industrial building on Syngrou Avenue is completed in 1961. The architect’s design is a sharp and lucid summary of the principles of modernism: dynamic forms, clear and austere lines, large openings and an emphasis on the horizontal axis. The linearity of the façades combines with the scale of the project to give a sensation of the building extending to infinity, while its extrovert nature is reflected in the way the factory’s operations are visible through the large expanses of glass around the building at street level, where the machinery is installed. This pioneering edifice imposed itself on the haphazard, characterless cityscape of post-war Athens and became a landmark of great architectural and sociological importance.
Antonis Travlos, who worked as a beer brewer at the FIX brewery between 1947 and 1968, remembers:
The factory on Syngrou Avenue was a spectacular sight, especially at night, when its interior spaces were illuminated, as it operated 24/7, and the architect had provided for the exterior walls to have big glass panes. In this way, the modern factory with the huge copper tanks was accessible to every passerby, and also served as a point of attraction for schools and visitors in the morning.
Thus, even from the first years of the factory’s operation, an underdeveloped area started to develop rapidly, and soon the one and two-floor buildings evolved into modern town houses.
Nikos, Komn. Chatzigeorgiou, FIX BEER, 150 years of history, 1864-2014, Olympic Brewery S.A., Athens 2014, p. 178
In the late 1970s production is transferred away from Athens and the building is left idle, while in 1982 the FIX brewery ceases to operate. In the ensuing years the Fix building remains unused. The wear-and-tear in both the interior and the exterior shell and the installation of advertising panels distort its character amidst increasing concerns about its preservation and utilisation.
In December, 1994 a compulsory expropriation on public benefit grounds brings the building under the ownership of Attiko Metro S.A. The northern part of the building is demolished to make room for the subway construction works, and the adjacent metro station is built and opened in early 2000.
In February, 2000, following conversion work in the building’s ground floor, the Ministry of Culture and the Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation organise the exhibition Yannis Tsarouchis, Between East and West. The same year this facility is turned over to the newly-established National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) as a temporary venue. It is eventually decided for the building to become the Museum’s permanent base, and a 50-year lease is signed in 2002 between Attiko Metro S.A and the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
After an architectural competition, the project of refurbishing the building is assigned to 3SK Stylianidis Architects, I. Mouzakis & Associate Architects, Tim Ronalds Architects and K. Kontozoglou as an associate of 3SK.
The surviving part of the old FIX brewery is repaired, reinforced and laid out specifically to meet the needs of the EMST.
The building’s two façades on Syngrou Avenue and Frantzi Street, designed by Takis Zenetos, are classified as ‘listed’ and must remain intact, and this was a main parameter in the new museum’s internal layout and operation. The course of Kallirrois Avenue along the bed of river Ilissos inspired the design of a large perpendicular surface of roughly-hewn marble that leans against a wet wall/waterfall. The fourth side of the building, towards the Metro station, is not treated as a façade but as an unfinished structure awaiting completion after the demolition of the old part of the Fix brewery.The internal layout is based on a large circulation area that runs parallel to Syngrou Avenue. The escalators and lifts are placed in this area to form a pronounced diagonal axis that leads from the reception areas on the ground floor to the open-air spaces on the upper floor, connecting all exhibition areas. The museum’s two entrances, the main one on Kallirrois Avenue and the secondary one of Syngrou Avenue, also establish a diagonal path along the ground-floor plan. The multilevel staircase and the escalators form a luminous circulation space that spans the entire height of the building. The specifications for exhibition spaces dictated their positioning in the part of the building with the most advantageous dimensions, on the Kallirrois Avenue side. These spaces lie behind the façade with the main entrance, which the new museum’s trademark.
On the 7th and 8th of May 2015 EMST moved its administrative offices and its equipment on the first floor of the new building, thus taking the first step towards the opening of the museum, which is expected in a few months.