Post-World’s end architecture: Turkey


Istanbul is in turmoil. While not the only Turkish city to experience disquiet among the populace, this ancient place is, it could be argued, facing greater upheaval in its urban fabric with mega expansion plans that include a new airport, a new bridge over the Bosphorus, the demolition of whole communities and relocation of inner city schools. But as this fifth instalment of Post World’s End Architecture reveals, there are some architects and designers-cum-activists trying to tackle the city’s problems with positive action


Istanbul is in turmoil. While not the only Turkish city to experience disquiet among the populace, this ancient place is, it could be argued, facing greater upheaval in its urban fabric with mega expansion plans that include a new airport, a new bridge over the Bosphorus, the demolition of whole communities and relocation of inner city schools. But as this fifth instalment of Post World's End Architecture reveals, there are some architects and designers-cum-activists trying to tackle the city's problems with positive action

Blueprint

Words: Irmak Turan

Istanbul is a fiery muse that has inspired bold ideas and ignited polarising debate throughout history. The audacious mega-projects, sweeping urban transformation policies and uninhibited expansion currently taking place in the city are no exception. The proposals are touted as a bold vision for the future of Istanbul, but the large-scale political demonstrations last summer illustrated that many residents are unhappy with the plans. The debate over these urban development issues has made architecture and planning more relevant than ever in public discourse, giving designers the chance to play an active role in shaping the future of Istanbul through advocacy and activism -- and a select group is doing just that.

The nationwide demonstrations last June started in protest to the redevelopment of Gezi Park, an unassuming public space near Taksim Square in the heart of the city. The slated transformation of the site into a shopping centre, however small in relation to other massive changes planned for Istanbul, represented larger systemic issues of governance and ideology that became too much to handle for the discontent public. Vasif Kortun and Meriç Öner, director and associate director of research and programmes respectively, at SALT (an institute devoted to the exploration of visual and material culture and an important voice in the Turkish design community) describe the protests thus: 'The 20th-century Istanbul has lived through many gruesome master plans, and the people have endured it with little friction. Gezi Park was the kernel of the growing resentment against the central government's blueprint for Istanbul.'

While the issues are not unique to Istanbul alone in Turkey, they are particularly poignant in the city because of the magnitude and audacity of the proposed future urban vision. The plans include a third bridge crossing the Bosphorus, a new airport north of the city that is planned to be one of the world's largest, and Kanal Istanbul, an artificial waterway connecting the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara, parallel to the Bosphorus.

At the same time, a sweeping federal urban transformation law to replace buildings which are at risk from earthquakes will level millions of homes -- some project up to 70 per cent of all buildings in the city. Under this new law, entire neighbourhoods have been slated for demolition and redevelopment, forcibly displacing residents and destroying long-established communities. Amid these sweeping changes, the plan to build a shopping mall on Gezi Park -- bizarrely imitating the Ottoman military barracks that once stood on the site -- was the last straw for the public, say Kortun and Öner. 'The lurid banality of the architecture that Istanbul residents have been exposed to in the past decade ultimately became insupportable in the centre of the city.'

These plans to transform Gezi Park, near Taksim Square, into a shopping centre and pedestrianised plaza sparked a wave of protests in Istanbul and beyondThese plans to transform Gezi Park, near Taksim Square, into a shopping centre and pedestrianised plaza sparked a wave of protests in Istanbul and beyond

The heated debate continues almost a year later and likely will not slow with the upcoming presidential and general elections. While the issues are national, Istanbul continues to garner a disproportionate amount of the attention, due in part to its international presence, the accelerated rate of construction, and the magnitude of the proposed projects; it has even co-opted the theme to Turkey's first-ever pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale, curated by architect Murat Tabanlioglu, which explores neighbourhoods of significance under the title Places of Memory.

In this uneasy climate, a select group of architects and designers are taking this opportunity to add true value through theory, social initiatives and design. Each of these practitioners is, in their own way, tackling the difficult issues plaguing Istanbul -bureaucratic barriers, land privatisation, education reforms, threats to natural resources and the public realm - whether it be through built projects, public engagement and actions, or research and theory.

Sanalarc

Innovating the public realm

Given the recent history of privatising public land and disregard for the urban realm, there exists a general cynicism and suspicion surrounding public projects that makes many designers wary of working with the city. SANALarc rejects this jaded outlook and, through perseverance and unrelenting design principles, has managed to create a fruitful partnership with the municipality and implement innovations in public-space design as a result.

Sishane Park project takes advantage of a steep slope to form terraces of public  reen spaceSishane Park project takes advantage of a steep slope to form terraces of public green space

The Sishane Park project is a multimodal transportation hub and public space located on a steep slope at the edge of the historic Beyoglu district, next to a busy road. The project takes advantage of the 12m elevation change by creating terraces of public green space with a car park for 1000 vehicles and access to public transportation beneath. The architects have managed to fit a variety of programmes into a difficult site while creating an inviting public space in an area that previously lacked an engaging public realm. While the project has yet to fully open (it will be completed this year) it has already become a popular destination for pedestrians. The success of the project, as one of the firm's founding partners Alexis Sanal notes, is based on remaining optimistic. 'Future experiences do not need to be based on the assumption of bad past experiences -- pessimism can often be daunting to overcome,' he says.

The park, yet to open, has already become popular with passing pedestrians and features a 1000 capacity car park below groundThe park, yet to open, has already become popular with passing pedestrians and features a 1000 capacity car park below ground

The park, yet to open, has already become popular with passing pedestrians and features a 1000 capacity car park below groundThe park, yet to open, has already become popular with passing pedestrians and features a 1000 capacity car park below ground

Tasarim Atölyesi Kadiköy

Forging new collaborative relationships

Tasarim Atölyesi Kadiköy (Design Studio Kadiköy), or TAK, is a non-profit organisation that serves as a community design hub where the public can work directly with Kadiköy, one of the 39 municipalities of Istanbul, on projects in the district. The organisation was established in 2013 through a civic-public-private partnership that includes the municipality, but operates independently. While public governance in Turkey is notoriously bureaucratic and opaque, TAK has managed to establish a remarkably open conduit for citizen input and collaboration with the municipality.

TAK’s redesigned street vendor cartsTAK's redesigned street vendor carts

The organisation's open-call model, in which it publicly solicits solutions to design problems or needs in Kadiköy, is beneficial to both sides; it gives citizens a sense of ownership and the municipality a valuable well of ideas. Since starting up just over a year ago, TAK has initiated an impressive number of open calls, from a redesign of carts for street food vending to an extensive crowd-sourced mapping of the district. And remarkably some of these proposals have become reality. The new vendor carts, for example, were produced earlier this year and are now in use -- proving that change is indeed possible even in the murky waters of municipal bureaucracy.

TAK’s redesigned street vendor cartsTAK's redesigned street vendor carts

DDRLP Architecture & Design

Architect as social advocate

TOKI, the Housing Development Administration of Turkey, is a federal agency established in the mid-Eighties to address the country's housing shortage. In the past decade however, TOKI's liberalised income scheme has shifted the focus to luxury and profit-driven projects, largely ignoring the needs of lower-income residents. But because of the urban transformation law to replace buildings at risk to earthquakes, many poorer residents have been left at the mercy of TOKI, forced to relocate to new mass-housing developments. This move has uprooted entire neighbourhoods and destroyed communities.

Survival Manual for TOKI Dwellers, a hand-drawn pamphlet, aims to address the social problems that result from new mass housing projects in the citySurvival Manual for TOKI Dwellers, a hand-drawn pamphlet, aims to address the social problems that result from new mass housing projects in the city

Survival Manual for TOKI Dwellers, originally presented at the _ rst Istanbul Design Biennial in 2012, aims to address the social problems that come with this physical relocation. The manual, a hand-drawn pamphlet, explores the spatial constructs of the residents' original communities and their new TOKI dwellings. The simple and straightforward illustrations are as amusing as they are informative, making suggestions for how residents can adapt their new dwellings to suit their domestic lifestyle.

Herkes Için Mimarlik

Architect as activist

HIM documented the ad-hoc structures created by demonstrators during the Gezi Park protestsHIM documented the ad-hoc structures created by demonstrators during the Gezi Park protests

Architecture is a tool for communication. This is the premise on which Herkes Için Mimarlik (Architecture for All), a non-profit multidisciplinary collaborative of young designers, bases its work. The group splits its efforts between participatory design initiatives and political activism, all with the aim, as described by one of the founding members Yelta Köm, to 'raise awareness about social challenges and mobilise communities in the pursuit of social change'.

HIM documented the ad-hoc structures created by demonstrators during the Gezi Park protestsHIM documented the ad-hoc structures created by demonstrators during the Gezi Park protests

The group was particularly instrumental during the Gezi Park protests last summer. The members were not only interested in the act of protest, but also the way in which the demonstrations were carried out as a method of resistance in itself. To this aim, the #OccupyGezi Architecture blog, created by HIM members, documents the ad-hoc structures created by demonstrators as shelters, barricades and temporary outposts, through line drawings and photographs. The goal of the web-based archive is to develop 'new definitions for architecture in situations where architecture is removed from architects.' In this way, the group aims to better understand the public's relationship with urban sites when given the opportunity to own the space, even under the most trying circumstances.

HIM documented the ad-hoc structures created by demonstrators during the Gezi Park protestsHIM documented the ad-hoc structures created by demonstrators during the Gezi Park protests

PAB Architects

Design for future learning

Until now, public schools in Turkey have been notoriously standardised, shoddy structures. As part of the central government's recent education reforms, public high-school buildings in city centres will be reappropriated for other purposes and the pupils will be relocated to new campuses outside of the cities. Since last year, the education ministry has been holding a series of competitions to develop designs for these massive facilities. While the social impact of the school reshuffling is debatable, the situation presents an opportunity for architects to inform the country's school standards for the better.

The recently completed Ayhan Sahenk Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and Technologies. The courtyard has become a social gathering place for studentsThe recently completed Ayhan Sahenk Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and Technologies. The courtyard has become a social gathering place for students

PAB Architects, an emerging Istanbul-based practice, is aiming to do just that through its new online database Ögrenim Mekanlari (Learning Spaces). The website is a growing collection of learning space-design principles, illustrated through a simple visual language, alongside examples of PAB's own experience of designing school buildings in Turkey, including the recently completed Ayhan Sahenk Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and Technologies. While many questions about the future schools remain unanswered, the firm's ongoing projects serve as a starting point to direct the discourse towards high-quality building standards and innovation for future learning.

The recently completed Ayhan Sahenk Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and Technologies. The courtyard has become a social gathering place for studentsThe recently completed Ayhan Sahenk Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and Technologies. The courtyard has become a social gathering place for students

So? Architecture and ideas

Re-establishing connections to the natural world

The rapid expansion of Istanbul over the past decade has threatened the area's virgin forests and waterways. Massive swathes of trees have already been cleared for the bridge and airport megaprojects, and construction of the canal will introduce a host of other grave environmental problems. One emerging firm, SO? Architecture and Ideas, is highlighting these threats and honouring the city's environmental resources by reintegrating nature into the built environment.

A section through the Sky Spotting Stop showing that the poles are tied to buoys below the slabA section through the Sky Spotting Stop showing that the poles are tied to buoys below the slab

The Sky Spotting Stop, the firm's winning proposal for the Istanbul Modern's Young Architects Program competition last summer, is one example of this environmentally sensitive work. The temporary site-specific installation -- made of tall, shading structures reminiscent of giant spinning plates in a circus act -- highlights the fact that the modern art museum, while seemingly positioned at the water's edge, is sitting on a concrete slab on top of the Bosphorus. Instead of being anchored to the concrete surface, the poles go through the slab and are tied to buoys floating in the water beneath. The structures gently sway with the water's current, creating a subtle reminder of the natural world beneath.

The structures gently sway with the water’s currentThe structures gently sway with the water's current








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