Doodler on the roof. That’s a nice name, I thought and then I saw the doodles, meaning the amazing sketches by Nikos Venianakis. Yes, I am green with envy. I wish I good doodle like that. The only thing I manage to have on my sketchbooks are just words and things I must not forget. But then I saw there was more to the doodles. There’s a whole tumblr blog documenting the things Nikos eats. With arrows that lead you to notes, explaining what it is you are drooling over. But wait! There’s even more to him than two tumblr blogs. The guy is an architect, and a very talented one, may I add. And now he is splitting his weeks between his furnished in two weeks apartment in downtown Athens, and a hotel room in sunny Dubai. I got to visit his Athens base and you get to see the most amazing guy’s apartment I have ever been to.
Ok, so I won’t be taking a lot of pictures of you. I know you don’t like a camera staring at you.
No, it’s not that. I am always so tense when it comes to photography. It is impossible to keep my eyes open. Even if there’s no flash involved, just the clicking sound of the device makes me automatically shut my eyes.
So, you are in between Athens and Dubai. How’s that working out for you?
It’s ok. The past few months it’s been like one week here and one week there, which is convenient for me. I used to head to Dubai every week, and I didn’t like it that much, but every other week is working out for me.
What is it that you do in Dubai?
We mostly get involved with shopping malls and retail projects.
Are you happy with that?
Yes, very much. I used to work for a firm that mostly did cultural buildings or museums and also a lot of restorations. That was my job for about fifteen years, and it was very strict and serious and there were many things you had to be extra careful with. But now I am doing the exact opposite. I have gotten myself into retail heaven and it’s fun and a lot easier, with much less stress.
How do you feel about shopping malls, especially in countries like Dubai, becoming the new public space?
I don’t know if it’s the temperature or the climate or just the culture. But if you think about it, the typical traditional Arabic market, the souq, is just like a mall. You have the same typology: corridors and shops on each side. So if you take their market, rescale it and add some proper air conditioning to it, then I think you are not making something new. Shopping malls are part of their culture, it’s not something western imposed to them.
Dubai every other week. That sounds like a lot of packing! Have you become an expert at packing your things?
No, not really. I don’t open the suitcase once I reach Athens. Everything stays in there and is ready to travel with me once I go again. Since I discovered the hotel’s laundry service, nothing comes out of my suitcase. I give them everything, they wash it, fold it neatly and put it into plastic covers, so I leave Dubai with clean clothes each time.
What do you carry with you?
Two trousers, two shirts, a bathing suit, running shoes, my portable espresso maker.
What? You have a portable espresso maker?
Yes, it looks like a tire pump, with a manometer! You add coffee and some hot water and release the pressed air and you have yourself a decent cup of espresso, with bubbles and foam.
Why don’t you just order some?
Because for some reason, the coffee in Dubai is very bad.
Working in the UAE is similar to working in Greece?
No, it’s much better. Working hours are from 8am to 6pm, but everybody reaches the office at around 9.00. And then, there’s the mandatory midday off, which is from 1 pm to 3pm. During those hours you are not allowed to stay in the office. So you work four hours in the morning. Take two hours to take a walk, have lunch, do whatever and then head back to the office for three more hours and that’s your typical day.
Tell me a little about your sketches and doodles. Are you also into comics?
No, I ‘ve never managed to draw more than just a strip. I think I’ve been always lacking in concept. My sketches started out as doodles on the edge of the paper, while talking on the phone. Unimportant stuff mostly. But then I started sketching things I saw and things I loved, like a journal. A few years back I had a whole summer all to myself – I was in between jobs at the time – and I started collecting all my sketches and drawings and uploaded them on my blog.
Are you making a living out of your sketches?
No. At first I would do some stuff for free press magazines and newspapers, but then I had no time to focus on both work and sketching. So, I only do it for myself now.
Ok, you might not be so much into comics, but how do you feel about Ben Affleck being the next Batman?
I don’t like him. In my mind he is the guy who stars in chic flicks and stupid American films.
But he has a good looking chin that goes with the mask.
Yes, he has a nice chin. At least now he does, because he used to be chubby a few years back. To tell you the truth, I preferred Christian Bale to Ben Affleck. But then again Christian Bale’s voice sucks.
Back to your tumblr blogs. You also have a food blog, which is amazing actually. What made you start a food blog.
It’s an eating journal I guess. I would come home from Dubai and my kids would be asking what I had for dinner or lunch. So I started taking pictures of everything I ate and then I made notes on the pictures with arrows that explain what it is you are seeing pictured. A couple of friends said I should make a blog out of that, so I did.
My favorite part is the picture of the Pizza, where you can only see the empty box and no pizza. Have you cooked any of the things you share on your blog?
Just a few. I used to cook a lot. But now there’s no time. Plus I am away for too long for something to survive in my fridge, therefore it’s empty most of the time.
As an architect, which building would you say is your favorite?
That’s a tough question.
I know. It sounds like a silly yearbook question, doesn’t it?
I would say the City Link building in Athens. I was part of the design team that was responsible for the renovation of the whole complex and I spend four years working on that project on and off site. When we handed it over, I felt sad, like watching your child grow and leave home – or something like that. Anyway, I used to walk past it each morning for a long time. I had to see it every day I guess.
Should cars be banned from Panepistimiou Str.?
As a cyclist I would say yes. As a car driver, I would say don’t even think about it.
Did you like the winning proposal?
Yes, it was nice.
Do you believe the proposals should also extend to the fields of land use on that certain street?
No, not at all. The issue of land uses is like a hot potato here in Greece. Whenever we tried to do something about it, while participating in competitions as architects, we faced a big obstacle, the law. It makes sense if you think about it. You can’t just go to the guy on Panepistimou Str. who owns a clock shop and tell him to move his place elsewhere, because according to the land use policy, at this certain spot only flower shops are allowed. It makes no sense. Plus, land uses are better off when they are formed and shaped according to the needs of the inhabitants. If you look at all the cities where certain land uses were imposed by some planner, all those good intentions went bad and in the end you got yourself a failed project.
So, this means that you don’t believe in urban design.
No! Certainly not!
I guess urban design is a form of dictatorship, isn’t it?
Yes, I think it is. You can’t just change a city, or design and predict land uses. You can offer some advice, share some ideas, but that’s how far you should go.
A few comments on the things pictured above: The portable espresso machine is amazing. Being a coffee freak, I loved it. / Nikos is also a coffee freak. He recently bought an American coffee machine, and has been drinking hot coffee all summer long. / The paper cut out figures and dolls are made by his kids during the weekend workshops they attended with Nikos at the National Gallery. / The designs on the kid’s room walls were made by Imaginary Rooms. / The sketchbook pictured above was the first of many. He bought that in Italy a long time ago and has been doodling on sketchbooks and his i-pad ever since. / Yes, the fridge has it’s own room, right next to the kitchen.