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Navigating past and present Greece

May - Jun. 2017
May - Jun. 2019

After a devastating earthquake hit Kefalonia, Greece in 1953, the island was nearly abandoned. Now the dilapidated architecture is at risk of being lost to time. How can we use design techniques to engage with the local community and preserve their history?
2017 TEAM
Prof. Scott Townsend
Kaanchee Gandhi
Phil Harrison
Marcie Laird
Julia Paret
Matt Wright

2019 TEAM
Prof. Scott Townsend


How can we design an artifact documenting sites to preserve local history and encourage community dialogue?


It started in 1953

In mid-August 1953, the Ionian island of Kefalonia, Greece was the epicenter of a series of over 100 disastrous earthquakes. The worst, striking on August 12th, measured at a magnitude of 7.2 and left the island almost entirely demolished. The greatest blow to the island, though, was nearly all of its inhabitants abandoning the wreckage. Standing as a graveyard of ruined, ancient Venetian buildings, the island and its remaining population were at an economic standstill.

Over the next few decades, the island was rebuilt using strict anti-earthquake guidelines. While most of the reconstruction was built with safety in mind over aesthetics, some of the original architecture was restored or, in few cases, left untouched. These skeletons of ancient structures mostly consisted of churches whose sentimental significance was too great for the immensely religious local community. These buildings, vital to the narrative of Kefalonia, are at risk of deterioration, urban development, and a loss of history as the generation of their original congregation dies out.

Who we're working with

The Hellenic Republic Ephorate of Antiquities of Kefalonia (35th Ephorate) was the archeological team onsite whose main objective is to preserve the history at risk around the island. We worked with the Ephorate to determine a variety of churches in need of documentation and cataloging in different areas through Kefalonia. In the beginning, they taught us the system of documentation they used professionally so that the work that ensued could be easily translated into their previous archive.

Through the instruction of Professor Scott Townsend and in partnership with the Ionion Center for Arts and Culture, we were also tasked to apply this catalog into a designed artifact to encourage communication in the community in a effort to preserve local, personal accounts of the buildings.


Over 3,000 pictures taken

The first step in creating an accurate database for the 35th Ephorate was to visit the sites themselves and document and roughly map everything from wide, panoramic views to micro, architectural details. This usually started with researching the sites online to gather as much data known about them as possible beforehand. This included gathering aerial photographs, discussing with the Ephorate over any important information, and reading about any history that was available. With this knowledge in mind, my team and I would pair up and divide the site into sections— often one person would take the pictures while the other would draw a rough map of the site and record the picture number and where it was taken. Through the eight sites we visited, we captured over 3,000 images.

Building a dialogue

One of the most fascinating parts of working in such a small community was how eager and open people were to assisting us with our research. On many occasions a local priest would drive to the site with us to give us firsthand accounts of the churches and their importance. In some instances, neighbors who lived around the site would walk up to us and give us information. There were times where we were invited into peoples homes for an angle they would think would be good to photograph. These interactions showed how important the work we were doing was to the people and gave us a rich background to what was usually just rubble that was invaluable moving forward.


Spirit of the island

Our final maps of the sites were formatted in conjunction with a large database of images. The system of naming and numbering the images and the layout of the map was designed to help orient someone through the space while only having a 2D view. According to the Ephorate, they plan to use this documentation as a way to help rebuilding efforts in the future if any part of the site were to be damaged. Working with a scientific mindset to best fit with the Ephorate's standards while maintaining a design perspective resulted in a new format that could be used both for an archeological resource but also in the field as a way to spark conversation with the local population.

Down to earth

Our work was presented at the Kefalonia Archaeological Service by the Ephorate to an audience including the mayor of Kefalonia Alexandros Parisis and the metropolitan bishop of Kefalonia Mr. Demetrios.

The work was also featured on the NC State College of Design blog.

To learn more about the trip and Kefalonia, visit this website I developed to attract new student cohorts to the program.

Ημερολόγια — Diaries: Anna Schecterson, Sarah Horn, Tiffany Keree, Tracy Sewell

Kefalonian Community Table: Isabelle Miranda, Lavanya Gunturi, Sam Chang

Returning to Kefalonia

In the summer of 2019, I returned to Kefalonia with Professor Scott Townsend and a multidisciplinary group of students as a program assistant. In this role, I continued to document and archive the church sites with the 35th Ephorate while also assisting my professor with developing a Design and Social Innovation course. This course has a focus on service-learning and participatory design with local stakeholders modeled after the community experiences from the inaugural year.

Predicated on interviews with the local community, four teams of multidisciplinary students proposed design solutions to save the dying tradition of generational sharing of oral histories. Over the two months, I mentored students through this process while helping to develop workshops and lectures about social innovation design. Visiting lecturers included Dr. Maria Patsarika, Adjunct Professor at the American College of Thessaloniki, and Nada Abdalla, Professor at the University of Sharjah.

At the conclusion of the program, the four teams proposed interventions within the areas of educational materials, interpretive displays, information visualization and mapping, and photo-documentation.