“I don’t think Istanbul is being treated well”
“He believes that people have an organic connection with the city they live in. He says that as we design these cities, we realize that they surround us and transform us in a way above our expectations. As we question the fast pace life in the big cities, he says “slow cities”. “Why not? Slow cities are from yesterday… Since we are not that far away from them, we can easily go back to them”
– In his poem “The City”, Cavafy says ‘The city will pursue you’… So perhaps we should first ask about Hatay. How did this city pursue you, will it keep on following you?
I do not know what it is like to be a “native”. When you are born there, or when you live there? Or when your parents are from there? Hatay is where I was born. But I was never from Hatay. I do not have any past there. As time continued, it remained a special place for me. With the rise of the recent events, it once again showed that it is special. As for the place I chose and the place that I’ve spent the most important period of my life, I can say I am from Izmir. Not to brag or anything, but I say I am from Izmir. I went there from Istanbul however I am not from Istanbul.
-Then we can change the question to this: How did Izmir pursue you?
This is so apparent that when I go to Izmir, I feel like I go home. When I pass Balıkesir, the lights change. You know you are in the Aegean region. The climate changes, the weather changes, the sun changes. Izmir is an adopted geography for me. I believe that geography is the decider not history. I think Izmir’s presence in ancient times and the ancient remains around it, the way that Izmir is able to protect its cosmopolitan structure and its broadmindedness in politics and thoughts, the way that Izmir has made a policy of not intervening in others’ lives and the way that it is repulsed when others intervene in Izmir’s life; all of these make Izmir special. I still believe that it is the most unique point in Turkey.
-What do you think of Istanbul?
Istanbul is a big city… I believe that it is so big that it cannot belong to anyone. There are some people I know who are natives of Istanbul. I’m not. I live here as a countryman. That’s how I feel. Maybe all of its qualities come from the fact that it is so big. That’s why it doesn’t look like any other city. There aren’t many differences with this city and the others, there is a qualitative difference. It is almost like another country…
-You’re saying that Istanbul does not and will never belong to anyone. Could we have done anything to make this city ours? Or is it ridiculous to even try to make Istanbul belong?
No, on the contrary it is a noble cause. It is important to think that even though you know that you’ll never possess it, that you belong to it. I think it is important to believe that you own the streets you walk in, the neighborhood you live in. The fact that Istanbul cannot belong to one person does not mean that it cannot belong to everyone collectively.
-What should we ask of the cities we cannot own? What should we give to these cities and hope to get from them? Can we talk about such communication?
Of course. There is a difference between being in a village to being in a town, or from being in a town to being in a city. First of all, we should be aware of the difference. Secondly, we should actualize the qualities we are aware of. Thirdly, we should accommodate these actualized qualities into our lives. Think of a villager. He has a natural clock which makes him wake up when the sun rises and sleep when the sun goes down. Think of a townsman, even though it does not match perfectly, he still has a transition space in which the social clock meets the natural clock. Think of a person from the city; he is not like the rest. He either wakes up before or after the sun rises. He goes to sleep long after the sun sets. Some of us start their lives after the sun sets. Some of us begin their collective lives after this. And now, there is almost nothing natural about his life. Therefore, in order to make the city meaningful for this person, we should first make his relationship with the others meaningful. This carries him to another level. As the city grows, this essential quality with all its detail becomes a huge flock.
-As people living in the city, can we talk about our contribution to the city? When the city is shaping us this way, what can be our contribution? We speak of the chaos of Istanbul. What do we get from this chaos and give back?
Effectiveness and passiveness can change places in meaning. The city is not a place it can be on its own. Whatever we want to shape it like, that’s how it becomes. However, just when this happens, the mechanism shifts; now that is an entity, it begins to shape us. Think of all the good and bad being done for the future of a city; some zoning regulations, decisions from the ministry, policies involving what’s right for the city and local administrations. After the transformation, no matter what we do, it becomes a big organism which does not listen to us. The local administration does not and refuses to understand this thin difference. They think that if they do something with it every day, the city will become “something”. In reality, you can only go so far. After this, the city reacts and begins to make you. The chaos you’re speaking of begins like this.
For example think of Barcelona… For a hundred years, the management has been conducting a Project to figure out what they will make the city look like. That’s why Barcelona is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Or if you go north: Amsterdam… A tiny city… The capital of a colonial empire; all of the world’s resources go there. For some Istanbul was like this also… However in numbers, they are nothing alike. Istanbul is a country; Amsterdam is a small city. Although with their stand in the world and the things they are involved in, there cannot be a comparison, they are ahead. We do not have a single museum. Look at the number of concerts and events. For the last couple of years, these numbers are raising. If the subject of the comparison is the west, with the phase difference of a hundred years, similar things are happening here as well.
-I ask this because you make buildings and design cities and streets. Can an architect change the world?
He can change his own world. In fact, no one can change the world however he can add the pieces to changing the world and speed the process. In this matter, I think that architects have a huge impact both negative and positive. As long as his mission is this, the things he does will be towards this. It will have an important effect on this change.
-Is there a relationship between architecture and politics? How is this relationship?
There is a deep relationship. Because zoning regulations, building bylaws, decisions made by the ministry of environment, plans, and master plans; all of these are political decisions. At the end, all of these decide the course of architectural creations. That’s why there is a deep relationship. Objectively, there is a big connection. Subjectively, there is also a big connection. Architectural creations can change the city, structures and the physical environment we live in. I wish architects joined politics more. This was Oscar Niemeyer’s wish. But we have a lot to do!
-What is your understanding of architecture?
We are after simple structures which make life easy for everyone while holding on to geographical references and researching the one’s made before it, making an aim of adding on to them and finally being able to make it anonymous while also showing yourself.
-Do your buildings speak to people? If they do, what do they say?
We always get this information from the users. It seems like they do. The users and the structure should not find it odd that they belong to each other. This is how I look at it. Through what I just said, I realize that the thing I want has happened. The relationship between the structure and the user can be based on finding it odd. This is not my concern. I want it to be adopted and to belong without the oddness. That’s why I see that my work has a good relationship with their users.
-We cannot really say that the architectural products made after the republic are looked after properly. I believe that lack of appreciation is also true for architecture. For example the İMÇ complexes… Even though these buildings have made their own statements in the past, it’s hard to even pick out their lines now. Do you have such concerns?
Of course I do. Also there are many disasters happening because of this. The carelessness between the users and the structures is truly terrifying. We do not have the knowledge to know that they are beings which require protection. Let alone something done today or recently; you restore Süleymaniye and you do this to do something good, however you end up ruining it. Or you ignore structures from the republic era. There is a thought stuck in my mind and slowly I’m believing it more. There really is not a genetic bond between the people living in these lands today and the structures made in the past. In other words, they did not make them. Therefore, because they do not belong to them, they do not have to be careful. This is a terrible statement but it’s true… I do not think that anyone would do this to something that belongs to them.
It could have been like this; if we believed that life is only temporary and thus anything concrete and stable is worthless, if we acted like this as a result of a deep philosophical understanding, I would understand it. I could consider it understandable. However it is not; we are vulgarly adding new ones and usually every new structure is bigger, uglier and more meaningless.
-Since you mentioned the restoration of Süleymaniye… Istanbul is a city with many important sanctuaries. I’m curious to know what your personal opinions are regarding the disputes on this matter… What kind of a bond should a sanctuary have with the city? Do you have projects on this?
Currently we are working on a mosque, a cemevi and a church. There is St. Antuan, Santa Maria and Ağa Mosque on Istiklal Street. I’ve always liked the bond between these structures and the street. All three are very different. You go into Ağa Mosque by climbing a couple of steps. You enter St. Antuan without any stairs. You walk downward to Santa Maria. As you pass the border, you slowly enter another world. Even if you might not have any beliefs, after you enter these places, there are no more obstacles for you to enter this other world away from the street outside. I think that the bond between these structures and the city is this… I really love it. For example, think about St. Antuan, is there a single man who will not enter?
-Can you talk about your projects? The mosque, church and cemevi?
The mosque is in Malatya. It is a big mosque for ceremonies… The construction has begun and it continues. The cemevi is in Fethiye. It is in the Çalış area where the alevi population lives. The church is in the middle of a monastery in Ayvalık. We are working on these three structures. Soon we will be working on a synagogue in Izmir.
-Even though you’ve seen many examples, it must be exciting for you’ve never done it before.
Of course the learning process for these are very important. You are talking with someone who knows about this discipline very well. Because you know about the geography of wherever this building is going to be made, and because you are familiar with the cultural background of the place; the idea of what to do there comes from another channel. Theology, philosophy and architectural knowledge; what we call culture… There is an interesting preliminary investigation in the combination of all these. Since I’m making a mosque, I went to all of the mosques which I found important the most, for months. Sivas-Divriği, Konya-Beyşehir, Sivrihisar, Eskişehir, Afyon-Karahisar…You travel with nothing on your mind but one thing. You are going to build a mosque after some time. Therefore you look at what you know with a different perspective and you investigate what you do not know about the things that you do know. All of these make up a significant amount of research. These are spiritual buildings and because of their nature, they possess common and also different qualities. I believe that handling all of them at the same time is a blessing.
– Istanbul’s silhouette, green spaces, Bosporus bridge… These are all features that affect our lives. We have recently understood that these directly affect our lives. What do you think?
Cities are organisms. They have lives, they change, transform, grow, shrink; some parts of the city thrive while other parts decay. I remember Istiklal Street going through four big changes. There is no problem with that. The problem is the direction of these changes. My thoughts on Istanbul would be this: Towards east to Izmit on a right axis, after Bostancı there could be higher buildings, towards the west, you could have built higher buildings starting from Bakırköy. And thus, Istanbul’s center, Bosporus and the old city could have been protected. Towards North, there could have been higher buildings after Maslak. Because our South is the sea, we could rise in the east, west and north and the middle could be left to us. It’s a shame that we missed it. Zorlu Center for example… I like their buildings however the location is completely wrong. What good would it do even if it was the best building in the world? I believe this is not very proficient. It does not have any value to anyone because it does not belong to anyone. We came back to the same issue. Would you build a house on the best space in the garden? It is a basic rule; you put a building on the worst space in the land so that you get the best view. I believe Istanbul is not being treated well. Not because I am against change, but because it is ridiculous to replace precious and priceless things with structures that can be built anywhere.
-Maybe this has to do with our hundred year plans not being older?
Just think about Taksim. Someone brought in crazy plans with tunnels running through it. With its architecture and history, there are people who really know this place. We do not consult these people and the city decides on it. Everyone says it is wrong; so they say ‘Let’s only do two and not the rest’. They want to build barracks in the middle of Gezi Park. Many people say they cannot. In order to have a reconstruction of a structure you need 75% of it to be on the land or you need very detailed drawings. If you do not have these, what you are going to do will probably look like a cartoon. However the municipality insists on it. The prime minister insists on it. For example the Haliç bridge… Go in front of Camialtı dock and look towards Süleymaniye. You will see the ridiculous ropes of the ridiculous bridge. To put eight to ten ropes in front of a priceless structure… What part of this can you understand? Because Süleymaniye does not belong to anyone. Thus, treating it as such becomes natural. They can break and destroy it.
-Why do you say it is not ours?
The restoration is very bad. They’re making it look bad from critical points of Istanbul. Inside there are plastic chairs, broken plastic objects… How can we understand that it is ours?
-When wanting to transform streets and thinking about urban transformation projects, what are some of the obstacles an architect faces?
Obstacle or situation? Some things cannot be done principally. Just because it is legal does not mean I will do it. I rather not mess with it at all. Let’s say if the Project to build barracks in Taksim Gezi came to me and the legal procedures were all ready, I would not have anything to do with it.
Whereas, if there is a legal problem in some works which you as an architect find right; whether you do it or not, you will improve the Project as much as you can. Therefore the first thing is the relationship between my principles and the work… Secondly, the zoning status of the work… There is such a zoning status that there is no way you can fit these rights in the terrain. Therefore, there is the process of convincing our employers there. No one wants to step away from a right they have earned. However these earned rights can sometimes lead to problems as well.
Others are works that we believe we know well as interesting architectural problems. These are not obstacles for us, they are data. However other cannot be data. You can make something out of the hardest terrain in the world. If you do not whine about them, you can take them as data. However the things I mentioned above are not data.
-There are green cities that produce their own energies. Do these green projects receive any attention here? Are there such Project? If there are not, what is holding us back?
It is a cultural matter. We are not there yet. It is the century phase difference. Secondly, some of these cannot go beyond green coat work. Because the foundation, arrangements and technology to make these possible are expensive and in the end you start to wonder why you are doing it in the first place. Thirdly, it is impossible to look at it in a single structure alone. The life outside should be organized as such as well.
Until recently, it was impossible to build and use a structure that can produce its own energy. Because in order to produce this energy, you need to have a separate energy production license. We have some serious experiments with this, even though they are only projects… One of these, for example, is a factory building… It produces half of its own energy from wind, sun and underground heat. This actually happened and it was finalized with the audit of international green certificates.
There is a trial that we are doing. For example it is a house that has been used for 10 years. It is not getting any energy or throwing away any garbage; so it is neither getting nor giving anything. It uses wind and the sun. At night it uses the wind and during the day it uses the sun. When one is working, the other one stops. It is a place that can be lived all day, all year. All the energy, from the lighting in the garden to the refrigerator, is used from this. It is a small thing… This is all you can do. And you see that in fact, it becomes profitable over years. However there is also the parts where it has to be done fast and no one pays attention to the initial investment cost and what’s permanent and what’s only there right now because it is cheaper… There are also some unbelievable reasons… You have to bring everything from Holland to here. How can this be nature? Isn’t there energy wasted during the transportation? Then you realize that you are working on something meaningless. If a foreign corporation is handling your certificate, all the tests are done there, all the material and experts are brought from there. So you have to be dependent on the outside. I do not find this very reasonable to be honest.
I’m not saying that all of them are like this. There are also trials which are very significant like the trial of our factory. However we have a long way to go.
-So you are saying that the problem is not just about the material. It is about the mentality…
Yes, our life is not like that and architecture is not something that can be done if our lives are not like it. Just like the inconsistency after the structures done in the first republic era. Because that was a modernist Project and it was adapted to all areas of life however no one continued it. Because life did not evolve like that.
– The Cittaslow idea born from the reactions against the fast food shop opened next to the Spanish steps in Rome, also inspired our cities. Do you consider it a hopeful project regarding sustainability on our part? Or is it a new consumption material?
I believe that in the end, everything transforms into consumption. There is no escape from this; however these slow cities are a few of the things that have exact responses. Because in reality, life is not something that has to be this fast! There are always arguments like this: There are things which should be done rapidly, the remaining time will be ours. However this is not how it works. When you start doing things rapidly, you begin to do more things and the things that you do more, do not make like more enjoyable; they turn it to trash.
For example; faster production… Produce slower. Produce lesser. When I enter supermarkets I am repelled. There is always this rush to make us faster. This becomes to drive us, we create more projects, work with more people. After a while, the things produces lose their meanings. Shortly they turn into trash. Think of Istanbul, in the name of urban transformation, everything is demolished and redone. Believe me, in 10 years this can be repeated. Because most of the things done, are trash. Think of TOKİ’s applications; can it possible to live there? I was in Ankara two days ago. The old slums of Ankara were better than the new ones. You enter a supermarket and see thousands of chips. Is it possible that all of these are necessary for your life? You will buy one chocolate bar, why should there be six hundred of them?
When looking at it from this angle, I believe that this slow city is a brilliant idea… It is not an entirely new concept. It is the status of our lives a short while ago. It is a time we can easily remember and return to. Therefore we can be slower, produce less. I do not think that production is a skill. We do whatever we like; as much as we like; lasting the time we like. After realizing this, it is meaningless to keep insisting.
-The other day at an interview, one of the speakers said “I would not want a teacher who has not watched Tarkovski”. Can there be a similar request from architecture? Not to draw lines or anything but to check your perspective in your field, can you talk about this in architecture?
This is a very controversial subject. In reality, this Tarkovski example is saying this: Canonically without having any information, can there be any new information produced? Whether it be literature, cinema or music…
The contrary belief here is this: Are we going to dedicate out whole life to learn the canons? When are we going to learn about the new? Think of a newly born human. Count all the Dostoyevski’s, Tolstoy’s, Yaşar Kemal’s in front of him… Local and global… If he only reads these, he will not have any time to read something else. There are a lot of things.
Therefore this is something even the world cannot figure out. There is no way we can know everything. Information, as we have talked about before, has turned to trash. I have a pragmatic way. Since I cannot know all of these and since I have many friends who do know these, I can get some of this information through them when I speak to them. By believing in what they say, sometimes sounding like a fool, I can be freer in living life like I want to. Therefore I agree with the sentence ‘I do not want a teacher who has not watched Tarkovski’. However I now know that this is not possible. This may be our intention however we cannot rely on this. There are so many Tarkovski’s now. So much information… I believe that the description of a real intellectual will change. Not everyone can be Murak Belge. There is only one of him. You should not mix these up. Therefore I know a lot of things through Murat Belge. I do not care whether it is real or not. As long as someone comes up to me and tells me I make no sense, I consider this information correct and use it in sentences. My wrongs stay with me.
We also experience this in our architectural material choices. Now there are eight hundred and thirty five materials for roof alone. All of them say that this is the best. What can you do? If you try learning all of these, your life will not be long enough. That’s why I have someone I trust, I ask him. We recently talked about the century phase difference. This century worth accumulation came here in one year. How can we work with this? We are in the middle of a giant waste yard.
-Does your architect identity reflect on your private life? Do you have objects, cities, people you are passionate about? How do you define luxury? When even not getting stuck in traffic can be considered a luxury, what are your luxuries?
My relationship with luxury is weak. What is luxurious? Something that’s bigger? Something that is more in quantity? More expensive? Less expensive? I wonder which?
I like to watch. However it’s not in my life. My choice is the less, simpler and economical ones. This is also true for our work… Even when we are not limited by anything, our choices are towards this. Therefore I have a reactional stand on luxury. However for others, this is different. I like it when a Bentley car passes by me. My mind never dwells on the car however I enjoy its existence. The same goes for a Rolls Royce…
My relationship with objects is really shameless. Everything intrigues me and I pay attention to everything. Of course some I forget; some stay. From pebbles to a piece of bone that the sea has whitened, well designed blades to fountain pens which write beautifully, I have a deep relationship with objects which took hours of mental and physical work. I find all of these fascinating. They also separate amongst themselves. This separation is one of the things I care about the most. Because in this world which has turned to trash, you may be missing some very valuable things as well, but there is no harm. This delusion limits the person but it also earns him time.
Let’s say that cars are interesting for you. I only use some of Alfa Romeo’s cars. That limited space is very important for me. Let’s say that watches are very important for me, there should not be anything inside which would separate the dial. When you use your preferences as such, the space becomes smaller for you, you realize that the dial is not as big as you had thought it to be. When all are things you merely look at with the corner of your eye, others become yours.
Art is one of the few things that make life meaningful, which I care about and cannot live without. Therefore it is always fascinating for me. Some things are not interesting for me at all, while some go deep within me and stay. This is also true for music and cinema… For me, it is amazing to watch a Fellini film today, the same goes for Tarkovski… Or watching “Stranger than Paradise” from Jim Jarmusch is still very enjoyable for me. These are our indirect nutrition resources… A scene, action or physical environment, a structure from that film… I still love music, cinema and literature that have the sense of location in them. In “Gülün Adı”, what was interesting for me was the way the library was described.
-Today, many corporations and establishments, architects and artists have a tendency to become a brand. As an architect, do you work to brand your name along with your work? As a continuation of your brand, do you support any young architects?
We do not have a brand manager. This is not one of our concerns. However, at the end , there is a point which we have come. When we talk with our employers or future employers, they tell us about why they want to work with us, and we realize that we have made our own stand and that it is interesting for them. If there are differentiating qualities in a similar scale, I believe that the brand has been set. This is a natural result…
-Even if it’s not your desire, do you have any plans for the continuation of this brand? Will the architects and young co-workers working with you be involved in this brand? Do you have any efforts for this?
Here is what is good with it. We are not a huge office. Therefore the people who want to work with you, just like your employers, know who to work with and how to work. Because they are familiar to this language, they naturally meet. That’s why everyone is an architect in our office. They design. They manage the construction, go to meetings and everything is a joint production. This all happens naturally because they are fully prepared before they join.
-Architecture also means a hectic work life. What is the most important advice that you follow in your work life? Who did you get this advice from?
I did not get any advice directly. I have to admit that our work is something that moves on instinctively. We mostly act on our emotions. Therefore there are not many advices however there are people you care about in your life. With those people, you share and collect things in some phases of life.
I have many of these in my life. I believe I am very lucky. I have great friends, brothers, acquaintances and young people I know. I have so many true life experiences with them… If you don’t, you also do not have Professional support.