Friday, August 8, 2008


Built on many layers of past empires and having shed glorious names like Byzantium, Constantinople and Stambuli, Istanbul is a much contested territory at the moment by foreign and domestic investors and by the international architects playing the we-know-how card.

The city's regain of rock star status is on the charts everywhere. The original junction of the civilizations still performs that great act.

Istanbul's architectural pedigree is impressive, you can study centuries old masterpieces still in use, have a cup of tea in the same coffee house where Corbu drew sketches for his Journey to the East and trace hillside homes by Bruno Taut, Ernst Egli and others. There are many Turkish modern buildings from the Republic's early years after the tired Ottoman Empire. Those were the days, the second quarter of twentieth century, when the idealist young architects of Turkey produced works worthy of their modernist mentors' praises and confident of their own identity.

Then, something drastic happened in 60's. Coupled or tripled with political unrest, democratic regression, economy without ethics, cities and buildings without architects became the norm.

Architects and planners simply did not disappear; they have just become puppets in the hands of speculative builders who did not know what a plan meant and why there should be architects designing buildings. These instant entrepreneurs caused a lot of damage that most Turkish cities will never recover from.

Although, with its largely infected fabric, Istanbul is not beyond the reach of urban solutions within its physically and economically dilapidated sections, and against its dubious land transactions.

These days, many foreign architects are visiting the city, giving lectures and offering solutions. Bold plans pitched to the mayors and high-level politicians, distant friendships made and large districts of the city are eyed, often in the name of unfair gentrification schemes called, 'Urban Transformation Projects.'

Market researchers and PR people from the Gulf Region, Western Europe and United States based large firms are busy to get contracts signed for their developer clients. Their architects are also busy finding local offices to carry on their projects designed in their home offices elsewhere. They want a building in this highly symbolic place that spans between the continents and joins them via the monumental handshake of two Istanbuls, one from the East and one from the West. Civilizations will have to brace each other over Bosporus before they fly off to Baku, Almaty and thereoff to build the future cities.

In Istanbul, the task is mainly a repair job, but a very delicate one.

Lesser known to most outsiders, this fascinating metropolis is also a place of beehive like activity for the domestic talent. A place for a young group of Turkish architects who are mainly surviving through national competitions, designing for emerging new communities, businesses and institutions. They want to shake things up, establish their territory, build various scale buildings compatable with their foreign counterparts, and perhaps start to export their talents in all directions from their strategic location.

This article started out as a rather personal research to find out what was going on in Turkey via Istanbul and its architects point of view. I was trying to get a certain cross section of younger generation of Turkish architects, who were mostly educated in Turkey and ask them about their work, challenges and daily grunge. It quickly developed into a multiple long distance short interviews with the help of Emine Merdim-Yılmaz, editor in chief of Arkitera, I was able to construct my own very first 'five architects' curatorial article, to say the least...

Some readers will be surprised with the familiarity of the issues these architects are dealing with, and if you are slightly familiar with the chaotic context where they are executing their work, you would appreciate their resilience, quest for quality and fighting spirit.

The unchecked obtuse growth, many irreversible urban design and architectural blunders committed on daily basis in their vicinity, these Young Turks have to wear their battle gears on all phases of their work and year around with no rest on sight...

They are political, active, business savvy, determined and restless. We have few things to learn from them.

I asked similar and sometimes the same questions to the architects, and when I understood the context of their practice better, the preciousness of their work became all the more apparent.

They say, as an architect you'll get better as you get older, but you will be doing your most important and difficult work during the youth of your professional life.

- Orhan Ayyüce, Senior Editor, Archinect

With special thanks to Emine Merdim-Yılmaz, Editor in Chief, Arkitera, all the architects and their staff who participated in these interviews.

Full Feature in Archinect

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