Founded in 1957, the Hellenic American Union is a non-profit, public-service institution that provides accessible and innovative educational programs, testing services, and cultural events for a diverse and growing public.
Since its establishment, the Hellenic American Union has sought to foster a multicultural audience for its activities, welcoming students and visitors from all over the world. To date, more than 2,700,000 persons from 75 countries have enjoyed its services.
In pursuing its mission, the Hellenic American Union:
- designs and presents an annual program of exhibitions, concerts, theatrical and dance performances, film screenings, readings, and lectures, which are free and open to the public.
- provides market-relevant, results-oriented training programs in areas such as business and management, digital marketing, information technology and arts management.
- offers lifelong learning programs in foreign languages, personal development and the arts.
- organizes conferences and workshops that bring together policymakers, technical experts, journalists, and other professionals from Greece and abroad to address pressing social, economic, and technological issues of current concern.
- develops, publishes, and disseminates learning resources, including educational textbooks and digital learning material.
- serves as a responsible institutional citizen in Greek society, both locally and nationally, offering, for example, free training seminars for language teachers and art workshops for children, by supporting the work of promising young artists.
The Hellenic American Union is committed to providing equal opportunities for all members of its public and prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, physical disability, or veteran status in its student admissions, recruitment, employment, evaluation, and advancement policies.
Following its founding in 1957 and after several years in rented space near Syntagma Square, the Hellenic American Union made its permanent home in the downtown Athens neighborhood of Neapoli, a short uphill walk from the trilogy of neo-Classical buildings that house the National Library, the Academy of Athens, and the University of Athens.
The HAU’s central building, a landmark of Functionalist architecture designed by the prominent architectural firm of Doxiadis Associates, has two entrances. The main entrance to the building, now graced by an arched sculpture in neon by the celebrated Greek-American artist, Steven Antonakos, is on Massalias Street. There is a side entrance on Didotou Street leads through the café to the auditorium in the main building.
The two streets are emblematic of the neighborhood’s identity and its role as an important cultural and intellectual center for over a century. Massalias—that is, Marseilles—Street leads up past the HAU to the French School of Athens and the French Institute. It was given its name in 1884 in reciprocation for the French municipality’s decision to create a Boulevard d’Athènes in Marseilles. The French Institute is just one of the many cultural and educational organizations in the neighborhood. Within several blocks of the Hellenic American Union and the French Institute are the Athens Technological Institute (also known as the Doxiadis School), the Roumeliotes Cultural Center, the University of Athens Law School, and the Cultural Center of the Municipality of Athens.
Didotou Street was named after Ambroise Firmin-Didot, a member of the renowned printing and publishing family, who played an important role in the establishment of the first private printing house in Greece. The same tree-lined street is still home—along with the HAU’s Center for Examinations and Certifications at Didotou 15—to some of the many bookbinders and publishing houses that once dotted the neighborhood, a reminder of the times when writers, artists and journalists gathered in Neapoli’s coffee houses and tavernas. The area is still home to a vibrant gamut of unpretentious cafés, bars, and restaurants, many frequented by a younger clientele, including university students attracted to the neighborhood by its modest rents.
With the exception of an impressive array of neo-Classical residences—many of which, alas, were razed —most of the houses originally constructed in Neapoli in the late 19th century were modest structures for working families, built by plasterers and marble-workers who came to Athens from the islands in search of work. Most of these so-called laika spitia were later demolished to make room for the typical Athenian apartment buildings of the 1960s and 1970s.
“A perpetual and living example of an inspiring American-Greek endeavor to consolidate the friendship between the two peoples”
—Karolos Arliotis, Chairman of the HAU Board of Directors, 1963.
For the first six years of its life, the Hellenic American Union operated out of rented space, first on Irodou Attikou Street and then on Stadiou Street near Syntagma Square. But with the rapid growth in the number of students eager to study in its language classes and an increasingly ambitious program of cultural events the young organization heightened the urgency of acquiring its own premises.
Doxiadis Associates and the New Building
A 620 m2 plot of land on Massalias 22, formerly the site of the Dragoumis residence, was bought in 1961. The same year, the Hellenic American Union’s Board of Directors entrusted the design of its new building to Doxiadis Associates, a firm of consulting engineers, architects and planners founded and led by Constantinos Doxiadis, an eminent architect and visionary city planner. The plans themselves were drawn up by Arthur Skepers, a close associate of Doxiadis’s. The cornerstone was laid on July 12th, 1962, and the building was completed in November 1963.
There is no written record of the reason for the Board’s choice. At the time, the firm already had an impressive record of major international projects, including the design of the Master Plan of Islamabad and the Teacher-Student Center of the University of Dhaka. It is also almost certain that some of the HAU’s founders and its Board were personally acquainted with Doxiadis; HAU founding member Xenophon Zolotas, for example, was Governor of the Bank of Greece, when Doxiades served as Deputy Minister and then Minister of Housing and Reconstruction after World War II.
However, it is more likely the firm’s own premises several blocks east, which were completed in 1958 and housed its central offices and the Athens Technological Institute Doxiadis had founded, that had impressed the HAU’s Board. The Functionalist-inspired structure, built around a spacious, light-filled atrium, was a place of work and learning, and a meeting place where people would interact and socialize.
This was precisely what the HAU’s Board of Directors and founding members envisioned for the young institution: a welcoming place where people from all walks could come to gain knowledge and feel they were a part of a community. In his report later to the institution’s Voting Members, Board Chairman Karolos Arliotis would say of the new building:
“It is not an impersonal edifice with amenities, but a Center with a genuine warmth of atmosphere… where visitors can feel at home and where particularly students find an environment in which their meetings will be fruitful and their discussions interesting, instructive and enlightening.”
Built with the support of the US government, the new six-story building—it, too, with an atrium—featured 14 dozen classrooms, an auditorium, office space, lobby and meeting spaces, two galleries, two libraries, a language laboratory (donated by the American army) and a large cafeteria—in the words of Arliotis—”to serve students meals at a moderate price.”
Over the ensuing decades, this multi-functional building supported an increasingly diverse range of activities, from theater and dance performances and film screenings to life-learning and management training programs and conferences in business, the arts and education.
By the 1990s, however, the building was beginning to show signs of age, compromising its ability to accommodate technological advances—especially the growing use of the internet—, changes in exhibition and performances practices, and the increase in the HAU’s audiences and complexity of operations.
Among the priorities of the new Managing Director Leonidas Phoebus Koskos, who assumed his position in 1995, was the radical renovation of the HAU building at Massalias 22. One year later the HAU General Assembly of Voting Members authorized the Board of Directors to secure a bank loan that would supplement the institution’s own resources to fund renovations.
The architectural firm Karantavanis & Partners developed the plans for the redesigned building and Elliniki Technodomiki was responsible for construction. Work began on the building in August 1998 and was completed by summer the following year. .
Among the facilities created through the renovations are two additional large seminar rooms, flexible classroom space with removable walls, a café (the old cafeteria having been converted to office space in the 1980s) and a roof garden, a wheelchair-accessible elevator, and additional restrooms accommodating persons with physical disabilities. The galleries were outfitted with new lighting systems, while the auditorium acquired a Dolby surround system, new projection facilities and videoconferencing equipment. Structured cabling created a fully networked building, which allowed for wired smart classrooms (now supplemented with wireless broadband internet throughout the building.
Awards & Distinctions:
The Academy of Athens has honored the Hellenic American Union for its long years of service. The institution received the award in 2012 for its educational and cultural work in Greece and for the preservation of the Greek language abroad.
The Hellenic American Union Center for Examinations and Certifications has been awarded the certificate ISO 9001:2015 by TÜV HELLAS - member of TÜV NORD Group for "Planning, organization, and administration of examinations and Provision of services to candidates, foreign-language schools, and teachers. The Center is the first exam administration entity in Greece to earn ISO certification in examination services.
The Center for Applied Linguistics and Language Studies has also been awarded the ISO 9001:2015 certificate. The standard sets out the requirements for a quality management system. In an educational setting this helps schools be more efficient and improve student satisfaction. The certification covers the English and Modern Greek Language Programs.
The Center for Applied Linguistics and Language Studies, Hellenic American Union, is accredited by the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) for the period August 2015 through August 2024 and agrees to uphold the CEA standards for English Language Programs and Institutions.