Cyprus Mail
CyprusLife & Style

Look up: get a different view from Cyprus’ rooftops

back page main

Rooftops can offer a whole new way to experience a city. ELENI PHILIPPOU meets the woman mapping what is available in Nicosia

There is a whole other world between the top storey of a building and the sky. Quiet, somewhat abandoned spaces, rooftops silently witness a city’s ever-evolving narrative but they are often overlooked and forgotten. But Nicosia’s rooftop culture is emerging.

Growing up in Nicosia, I had no relationship with rooftops. Why would I? All I knew of them as a child was that they were unsafe to spend time on and packed with water tanks and satellite dishes. But when I moved to Spain I discovered rooftops have a culture of their own, and quickly became a window to experiencing the city differently. It gave me a different perspective of the town’s architecture, its topography, the daily habits of its locals and offered moments to reflect from a distance.

Back in Nicosia, my apartment’s rooftop was still filled with water tanks and I had to fight for a spot to sit in between the wires.

A few events on rooftops started to appear yet they were temporary. But I discovered I was not alone in thinking our rooftops could offer something more. Architect, urban planner and fellow rooftop chaser Marina Kyriakou has been working with Cypriot NGO Urban Gorillas and the European Creative Rooftop Network to map Nicosia’s terraces.

back page agora installation on the spel rooftop
Agora installation on the SPEL rooftop

Spending time on rooftops is one of my ways to escape from a busy day,” says Marina, “or to withdraw from my daily reality for a while and see things from above, get another perspective. I go on the rooftop to observe.

“Rooftops are by default secluded urban spaces and respond to the primitive need of humans for ‘prospect and refuge’, as they are places where one can see but not be seen. High places were historically used for strategic reasons, to observe and to ensure safety, but they also provide a sense of freedom as you have a wider perspective of your location in relation to its context, and you feel a connection to the sky.”

Besides offering charming vistas, time spent in high places also has psychological benefits, says Marina. Viewing landscapes from high above activates the ‘overview effect’, a state of awe that can offer a transformative perspective. On a more global scale, repurposing rooftops is a way to tackle contemporary issues, Marina adds, such as social isolation, the heat island effect and lack of green spaces.

In Nicosia’s case, Marina finds there is a lot of untapped potential. Rooftops exist, of course, and events, restaurants and experiences have begun appearing on them yet most are private, accessible only during special occasions.

back page nicosia townhall photo by nafsika hadjichristou
Nicosia townhall photo by Nafsika Hadjichristou

“In comparison to Europe’s rooftop scene,” she adds, “a notable trend emerges with northern countries being more advanced in rooftop utilisation. Many northern or western European nations such as the Netherlands, Denmark, and France, showcase innovative practices such as green roofs, rooftop venues, community gardens, and even schoolyards on rooftops.”

Progress is slower in the rather warmer southern European countries, Cyprus included, yet with growing population density and a shortage of urban outdoor spaces, the repurposing of rooftops is increasing. New rooftop bars and eateries have opened and museums now utilise their top floors more. They are not plenty yet they exist and Marina has been creating a digital map of them.

The new Nicosia municipality opens up its rooftop during events. I remember trying to trace my favourite oldtown streets from there once as the Green Line faded and my hometown seemed whole again. A similar feeling exists at SPEL Gallery’s rooftop, which is also been known to host events and installations. Also in the old town, the Cyprus Energy Agency has recently created a green roof on its office building, and though these are great steps forward, there are still limited options for publicly accessible rooftops.

But what Marina has seen abroad put Cyprus in the shade. Copenhagen has created a playground on the rooftop of a parking building while a ski slope has been integrated atop a waste-to-energy plant. In the Dutch capital, the A’Dam Lookout is a popular observation deck with a panoramic view of Amsterdam and Europe’s highest swing.

The options of what a rooftop space can be transformed into are endless, given of course that the right measures and infrastructure are in place. The European Creative Rooftop Network Marina is part of is in the process of accelerating the creative use of urban roofscapes in its nine partner cities (Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Belfast, Chemnitz, Faro, Gothenburg, Nicosia and Rotterdam).

Some ECRN actions have reached Nicosia as it strives to make a roots-up transformation, to “strike a balance between innovation and community well-being,” Marina concludes.

For any change to occur, cultural, social and policy fronts must take action together so that citizens can enjoy every aspect of their city. What if ideas, connections and new perspectives quietly inhabit the rooftops and wait to be discovered? Perhaps if more of us take an interest in using our rooftops to gather, safely and creatively, new meaning can be given to these spaces. After all, they are not for the sky to see.

Follow the Cyprus Mail on Google News

Related Posts

Calls for ‘urgent’ action on migration

Tom Cleaver

Winners of Stelios bicommunal awards announced

Tom Cleaver

Monks’ lawyers demand halt to church probe

Nikolaos Prakas

Mothers of Cypriot earthquake dead meet Turkish justice minister

Tom Cleaver

Local govt reform ‘on the right track’

Tom Cleaver

Health minister hails year one achievements (Updated)

Jonathan Shkurko