As part of the 25th Biennial of Design (BIO 25) in Ljubljana, Point Supreme gave the former coal-mining town of Trbovlje a unique gift: the smallest museum imaginable. Located in an ordinary street, the aptly titled Tiny Museum is the diametric opposite of an elitist venue. Rather, it is a democratic platform for local residents to showcase their own arts, crafts, and personal collections. Creating a welcoming feeling was key, and to achieve the right effect, the studio’s co-founders, architects Konstantinos Pantazis and Marianna Rentzou, researched Japanese teahouses.

“It’s a mysterious silver box that looks as if it has dropped from outer space, or like a big telephone box”, says Pantazis about the Tiny Museum.

Tiny Museum, a space for exhibitions, events, and activities / A part of AFTER UTOPIA, the museum celebrates the fantasy and inventiveness of the people of Trbovlje.
“The only design element is the orange-painted door”, adds Rentzou. “We didn’t give it more of an identity because we wanted people to be drawn to it and not feel intimidated.”

Originally, Point Supreme had a different idea in mind: to make an underground intervention in the mines. But after conversations with a variety residents – from housewives to shopkeepers and daycare workers – they concluded that the project “should be about the fascinations of the people, not about the mines”.

FLOWERSHOP, Patras (Greece). Photo: Yannis Drakoulidis
Proving that the town’s coal-mining history can co-exist with culture, Tiny Museum has been embraced by the locals. For the inauguration, a group of retired female teachers performed puppetry at a puppet theatre, watched by groups of school children. Those puppets were then exhibited in the space. For the next exhibition, Point Supreme curated a selection of

For the next exhibition, Point Supreme curated a selection of kindergarten children’s drawings of the large, industrial machinery in the town. “We asked the kids to draw from memory and the results were amazing, with the machines portrayed as dinosaurs or animals”, enthuses Pantazis.

PETRALONA HOUSE, Athens Main façade. Photo: Yannis Drakoulidis
PETRALONA HOUSE, Athens Main façade. Photo: Yannis Drakoulidis
The exhibitions change every two weeks and residents of all generations can apply online. “A group of youngsters is launching a space rocket with NASA and they’re exhibiting the model of it here”, says Rentzou, adding that other teenagers might show their record collections or notebook drawings. “Trbovlje doesn’t have enough public space, so this is a way of bringing people together”, she goes on. After the biennial ends in October, Tiny Museum is expected to remain in Trbovlje indefinitely.

Point Supreme also made an installation called After Utopia at the Museum of Architecture and Design in Ljubljana for the biennial. Inside a circular curtain and adorned with brightly coloured fabric-collages reminiscent of Matisse, are objects created by the inhabitants of Trbovlje. A series of photographic portraits of protagonists involved in Tiny Museum are exhibited as well.

Pantazis and Rentzou explain that After Utopia refers to how the people in Trbovlje have transformed their ordinary town into something utopian through “fantasy, creative obsession, and a fearless attitude”. As Pantazis says:

“We wanted to emphasise the collectiveness of all these people who have so many things in common despite not knowing each other. After the circle was constructed, we realised it resembled a circus, which was very interesting.”

Such a magnanimous approach to architecture is characteristic of Point Supreme. Established in Rotterdam in 2008, the studio – now based in Athens – is known for its lack of authorial arrogance. This has been evident since its first project, the Aktipis Flowershop in the city of Patras in Western Greece. With a budget of €20,000, Point Supreme delivered something strong but neutral: a crisp space with around 10 white-tiled tables of varying heights and sizes on which the plants and flowers are displayed. “The furniture became a ruler for the eye so you can immediately compare everything in the shop”, says Rentzou.

The studio’s philosophy is centred on social consciousness and improving public space. Take Serpantina, an elongated ‘shade structure’ made of brightly coloured, graphic fabric supported by metal tubes, which is situated near Design Museum Holon (by Ron Arad), near Tel Aviv in Israel. The project won first prize in the museum’s Urban Shade competition in 2014 and was erected the following year. “A lack of shade is also a familiar problem in Greece because the sun really bothers you, so we put aside our signature and our ego as designers to make something purely functional that is hopefully beautiful too”, explains Rentzou.

“A lack of shade is also a familiar problem in Greece because the sun really bothers you, so we put aside our signature and our ego as designers to make something purely functional that is hopefully beautiful too”, explains Rentzou. Serpantina was intended to be ephemeral and only last one summer. But after proving immensely popular, it has become a permanent fixture.

Point Supreme has come up with several idealistic proposals for public spaces in Athens. In 2010, the pair realised an intervention in the 600 square-metre garden of the six d.o.g.s cultural entertainment centre in the historic Monastiraki district of Athens, where they installed a wooden bar and furnishings, and suspended lights from the trees. The goal was to foster a ‘situation of nature’, since that is sorely missing in the area.

Then in 2013, Point Supreme imagined turning the square in front of Athens City Hall into a grassy park with water sprinklers, so that Athenians could relax and cool off in the heat. “Public space in Athens is neglected and devoid of imagination or identity”, laments Pantazis. “There are many squares that people don’t go into. We’ve made a lot of proposals, but we’re based in a country where architects have very limited budgets.”

Thanks to their relentless drive and energy, however, Point Supreme is never short of ideas. Indeed, last year the architects envisioned a circular playground for one of the poorest suburbs of Athens. Says Rentzou:

“As we have a small child now, we’ve become sensitive to how the city’s playgrounds are uniformly safe but boring. We took the initiative of contacting the mayors of different municipalities to see if any of them were interested in having us design a playground. We received a positive reply from one of the poorest suburbs. They told us they had a circular space that we could do something with.”

The design of this future playground includes a giant blue frame integrated with swings and slides, and is intended to encourage social interaction and a communal spirit. It was meant to be constructed last year “but the sponsor ran out of money due to the financial crisis”, Pantazis says. The couple hopes more sponsorship can be found so that the project can be developed next May. “The site is on a busy street, so hopefully many people will see the playground and it’ll have an educational effect," Pantazis notes.

Point Supreme is also participating in the second edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial that opened in mid-September. The theme of the biennial is Make New History and participants were invited to “think about their relationship to history”, Pantazis says. Point Supreme prepared an exhibit about the historical inspiration and objects in Petralona House, a residential project in Athens that they completed last autumn. Over a five-year period, the architects extended and transformed a single-storey house in a narrow street into a three-level building. The central portion has a curved roof that connects the old structure with the two additional floors, forming an atrium space.

“Petralona House is a collage showcasing the diversity of influences in our architectural practice”, says Rentzou, referring to how the duo has studied and travelled in numerous places, from Athens and the Netherlands to Japan, London, Brussels, South America, and Scandinavia. The ground floor draws on Brazilian architecture, such as that of Oscar Niemeyer and Lina Bo Bardi. The middle floor is inspired by the vernacular style found in Greek islands, while the top level loosely recalls a Modernist villa like the Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier.

In Chicago, Point Supreme are displaying photographs and documentation on the influences of Petralona House and the three totem objects used in the project. The composition of the totems brings to mind the work of Ettore Sottsass while at the same time revealing a rich variety of found elements, ranging from antique tiles and a marble statue to a plastic flower pot and junkyard scraps.

“We can be as equally excited about Japanese architecture as we are about Greek architecture, and all these different references always meet in our work”, says Pantazis.

“But sometimes we like to hide all of that, like in Tiny Museum, where the aim was to instead exhibit the diversity of the people in Trbovlje”, says Rentzou. Certainly, an international head and an altruistic heart are at the core of Point Supreme’s practice.

Faraway, So Close, 25th Biennial of Design (BIO 25), Lubljana, Slovenia, until 29 October 2017.

Make New History, Chicago Architecture Biennial, 16 September to 07 January 2018.

This article appeared in DAM64. Order your personal copy.
FLOWERSHOP / Concept sketch
AFTER UTOPIA. Figures and models created by the inhabitants of Trbovlje
AFTER UTOPIA / Curtain Room. Museum of Architecture and Design, Ljubljana
TOTEMS, Chicago Architecture Biennial 2017 Photo: Yannis Drakoulidis
PETRALONA HOUSE / Cross-section