Sustainability Across Time and Spatial Scales in Greek Urban and Island Communities (Athens, Santorini, Folegandros, Hydra)

Major Discipline(s):
Urbanism & Sustainability
Related Disiplines:
Environmental Studies
Summer Session I (May 29 - June 24, 2017)

This is a multidisciplinary course examining how the concept of sustainability in the built space is interpreted and applied in communities and settlements of vastly different sizes and natural contexts. The course will trace how human communities (or settlements) of different scales, from the past to the present, used architecture, infrastructure and the natural resources available, in order to sustain themselves. The course will use the metropolis of Athens and three small islands of the Aegean as case studies of the structures and processes put in place to cover the needs of food, shelter, social engagement and economic development. The evolution of these settlements and the practices used in the past and present will be juxtaposed and questioned in terms of their environmental, social and economic impact.

During the last decades, scarcity of resources, extreme natural phenomena and man-made hazards have imposed increasing pressures on human settlements. These pressures have fueled a discourse on the resilience and future of our communities, calling into question established practices in fields like planning, engineering and administration. Cities have been particularly affected by the environmental challenges of economic development, as they need to provide for continuously increasing populations and intensive activities. However, the same issues are emerging in rural communities which often feature unique architectural qualities within sensitive ecosystems.

The small islands of the Aegean constitute ideal case studies for this subject. Situated in isolated environments with harsh conditions and scarce resources, their populations managed not only to survive but to built close knitted communities with unique culture. Cycladic architecture is immediately recognizable across the world and often celebrated as an important influence for the Modern Movement. These islands form micro-systems of production and consumption. For centuries their settlements proved resilient against winds and draught, lack of soil and water, isolation and political turmoil. Extreme economy of means, self-sufficiency, integration to context and daily labor were key elements for their perseverance. Today, with the residents' desire for improved life conditions and the government's efforts for economic development, these communities face new challenges ahead. Rapid development, particularly through intense and seasonal touristic activities, questions the integrity and capacity of their ecosystems and infrastructure.

A significant part of the course will take place in Athens, a lively Mediterranean metropolis, shaped by a long and complex history. The city currently faces a range of environmental and urban development challenges. Two large urban projects currently in process, The Cultural Complex at Faliron Delta and the Re-organization of Athens' City Centre along the Axis of Panepistimiou Street, will be used as case studies of urban sustainability. Santorini is the second destination of the course, one of the most recognizable touristic destinations in the world, considered by many the archetypical Greek island. The island's unique volcanic landscape and ecosystem are reflected both on its architecture and traditions. However, the capacity to support its extreme touristic development achieving longterm sustainability remains an open question. Indicatively, Santorini's population during the winter months is 15.000 while the number of visitors in the summer is around 150.000. Thirassia is an islet within the Santorini caldera with approximately 150 inhabitants, it provides an interesting view of how Santorini was before its touristic development. At the center of Thirassia is Agrilia a very interesting abandoned village carved into the volcanic rock. Folegandros, selected as the third course site, is one the smallest inhabited islands of the Aegean with an area of about 12 sq miles. It is an extreme example of human settlements developing in a harsh environment. Despite its small area, the island features a rocky and mountainous terrain. Soil and water are scarce with strong northern winds prevailing around the year. Due to its difficult living conditions and isolation, the island was used as a place of exile for political prisoners during the Greek civil war. The main village, hanging on the edge of a cliff is considered a masterpiece of vernacular architecture, with beautiful squares and alleys. Today Folegandros still maintains most of its character, while developing into a very popular tourist destination. Hydra, the fourth and final destination is slightly larger than Folegandros, with an area of 20 sq. miles. However it is situated only 3 miles from the mainland and 110 miles from Athens. This proximity had significant impact on the development and prosperity of the island.

For these different environments, the course will discuss the core elements of water, food, shelter and fiber and concepts of safety, income, social engagement and artistic expression that are necessary for communities to establish themselves and flourish. Emphasis will be given to the infrastructure performing as the backbone of the settlements. Methodologies, tools and approaches used in order to define and assess sustainability will be discussed. Sustainability principles and objectives for the sectors of energy, solid waste management, water management, landscape, transportation and food will be presented. Most importantly, however, the course will go deeper, tracing how infrastructure, private and public realm architecture, lifestyles, local traditions and the natural environment all overlap and interconnect. The analysis of the case studies will demonstrate how environmental factors shape our cultures and, in reverse how our lifestyles can impact the natural world.

Course objectives:

The course aims to provide students with a thorough understanding of the basic environmental, social and economic issues determining sustainability in the built space. By the end of this course students should:

  • have a good grasp of the basic concepts and terminology of sustainability in the built space as used in contemporary discourse
  • have a solid understanding of the environmental challenges in urban and rural environments
  • understand the importance of placing architecture and planning in context
  • be able to trace how environmental factors shape human settlements
  • understand the impact of different lifestyles and activities on the environment
  • perceive the narratives unfolding behind built space.
  • develop strong analytical and critical skills through observation and discussion
  • experience Aegean island culture

Athens and the Islands of Santorini, Folegandros and Hydra


This course requires a minimum enrollment of 15, with a maximum enrollment of 24.

CYA reserves the right to cancel any course that fails to achieve minimum enrollment by April 1. Students are advised not to purchase non-refundable airline tickets before early April.



60 contact hours

Fee Discounts:

  • Students who submit their application for admission with full payment postmarked on or before March 1 receive a reduction of $100.
  • Students who enroll and participate in more than one CYA summer course receive a deduction of $100 per course. 

Essential Information

Enrolled students will have access to detailed information prior to departure that will include directions to the Academic Center and other practical information about residing in Athens. CYA recommends the following websites for general information about Athens and Greece: and


While in Athens students are housed within walking distance of the CYA Academic Center in either CYA student apartments located in the Pangrati neighborhood of central Athens or in hotel accommodations arranged by CYA. CYA apartments are simply furnished and equipped with a full kitchen and air-conditioned bedrooms; towels, linens and housekeeping service will be provided. Hotel accommodations will be in simple 2- or 3-star hotels, double- or triple-occupancy, with air-conditioned rooms.

During the 6-day trip to Santorini and Folegandros students will be accommodated in simple 2- or 3-star hotels, double- or triple-occupancy, in air-conditioned rooms.


The CYA Academic Center is located next to the Athens Marble Stadium and houses classrooms, the library, the student lounge and cafeteria, computer facilities (including wireless access for those students who choose to bring laptop computers), laundry facilities, and administrative offices. The Academic Center is accessible Monday-Thursday 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., Friday 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., and Sunday 5:00-9:00 p.m.


A full mid-day meal will be served weekdays in the CYA cafeteria between the hours of 12:00-3:00 p.m. when the group is in Athens.
A welcome dinner and a farewell lunch are also included.
During the 6-day trip to Santorini and Folegandros hotel breakfast only is included.

Arrival: Monday , May 29
9:00 a.m.: Check-in begins at the CYA Academic Center. Pick up information folder from Student Affairs and course materials from the Librarian. Transport to CYA apartments or to CYA-arranged hotel accommodations.

6:00 p.m.: Orientation session at the Academic Center followed by a welcome dinner offering students the opportunity to meet their Professor and fellow students.

Class begins: Tuesday, May 30 

Field trip to Santorini and Folegandros: Saturday, June 10 to Thursday, June 15: (3 nights on Santorini, 2 nights on Folegandros - 6 days total)

Day trip to the island of Hydra: Tuesday, June 20: 

Last Day of Class: Friday, June 23
Last class and final examination. Farewell lunch

Departure: Saturday, June 24
Accommodations available until 12:00 noon.