İpekyol Textile Factory

After a two-hour drive to the  West of Istanbul, two smiling security guards welcome us at the gate of the Ipekyol Textile Factory. As we’re waved through, it’s apparent that there is not a single mark or logo to identify this vast, glass-fronted building. Even the flag pole, positioned in front, sports the Turkish flag rather than the insignia of Ipekyol – one of Turkey’s biggest fashion design houses. This humble entrance sets a strikingly austere yet dignified tone from the outset.

Designed by Emre Arolat Architects (EAA) in 2004 , the factory has just been shortlisted for this year’s Aga Khan Award for Architecture.  Yet compared to over 7500 production facilities which employs more than 13 percent of the all working class in Turkey, why is this textile factory distinct amongst the thousands of factories dotted across Turkey?

In the early Republican Period of 1930’s  Turkey, factories were treated as shrines of the future prosperity of the nation. While not great in numbers, the ones the state could afford to build were designed by a generation of new and talented Turkish architects.

But after the ’50s, the delicate handling of the design of these factories couldn’t cope with the pace of industrial growth. Entrepreneurs were no longer looking through the idealistic lens of modernism and were instead eager to earn more money in less time. The economic crisis of the ‘70s and ‘80s almost ground Turkey’s industry to a halt so after 1980, and the economic liberalisation programmes that followed, the industry changed its direction to an export-heavy focus. This led to factories being opened en-masse, one after the other, all over the country.

The factories that sprung up in these years were little more than hastily constructed sheds with scant attention to their architectural design. Many were built with prefabricated concrete posts and beams, with cheap metal corrugated sheets as roofing. They were, essentially, shelters for the machines and not for people at work. The separation between shopfloor employees and management was also clearly expressed in the design of these buildings. Prestigious-looking outposts housed the administration teams and were built entirely separate from the production arm of the main factory.

Today, entrepreneurs are becoming more and more concerned about the design of industrial facilities. Many are revising existing structures, while others are starting from scratch with a softer, more architecturally-minded direction. This was the case when Yalcin Ayaydin, owner of Ipekyol, decided to build a new production facility in Edirne. Ayaydin was on the administrative board of ITKIB (Istanbul Textile and Apparel Exporter Associations) when he met Emre Arolat, the original architect behind the ITKIB administration building. After a carefully studied briefing process by Ayaydin and his team, Emre Arolat Architects had come up with designs for a new, forward-thinking facility. According to Ayaydin the new driving force of the industry will be quality rather then quantity and quality initiates from the production environment and the value given to the employee.

Even though Turkey is among of the most active textile hubs in the world, there are only a few architecturally significant facilities.

EAA started with a single rectangular box to house the entire administrative and production spaces under one roof. The shopfloor is shaped to form a U within this box and aligned with the flow of production from raw material to finished product. The open end of the U is closed with a rectangular space for management.

Five inner courtyards punched into the heart of the building allow fresh air and natural light to penetrate to the deeper areas of the working and office spaces. Those inner courtyards are lined with trees and benches and serve as resting spots for workers.

The modest and unassuming exterior of the building continues inside the factory, with careful attention to detail and materials. The floors are polished concrete, walls are simple plastered boards or transparent glass, while bare concrete columns and steel trusses carry the sandwich panel roof. All of the materials used in construction are either left with their natural colors or are painted in neutral greys or whites.

This deliberate absence of color is one of the most forthcoming aspects of the factory’s design. The shopfloor becomes like a large blank canvas on which workers move through and contribute their own colour to the space. This whole movement inside the factory resembles a well-choreographed silent show. Without people, the building is without a soul, a mere void. Similarly, the transparent office walls, which rare for an industrial facility in Turkey, add to the sense of transparency that permeates the building. Reminiscent of the Glass Factory of Volkswagen in Dresden, (Henn Architekten), both have a similar atmospheres in which the flow of production is treated like a ceremony to be viewed.

After sunset, the embedded lighting fixtures bring the grey concrete columns to life. The white plastered walls and transparent glazed facades are washed with different colorful lights. It is as if, this dull and serious looking factory emerges like a bright and shimmering dress in the night.

Yasar Ayaydin, administrative manager of the plant is clearly proud of the factory he manages. ‘This is really the foremost example of how a textile factory should be,’ he tells us.

IT Manager, Bahadır Akgün, praises the transparency of the walls and the height of the ceilings which create an expansive spatial feeling for the factory’s desk-bound workers. While there are grumbles about the excessive use of concrete in outdoor social areas, and many express a desire for more trees, on the shopfloor, Melek Fidali and Tamer Yeni both working on the production bands  remark on the roomy atmosphere of the main production hall and natural lighting.

Most workers note the transparency of management’s attitude in the plant. Working hours are feasible and within legal limits, social security and salaries are timely paid and their working schedule is well organized. As a benchmark of how Turkey’s textile industry, so often fraught with difficult conditions, this is it.

Ipekyol factory is not only a showcase of successful design but is also a very solid example of the importance of prosperous business management which praises the human value of its workforce and favors quality versus quantity.

Ipekyol Textile Factory is situated near Edirne which is one of the textile hubs of Turkey. The 16,000m2 covered space welcomes around 420 people each day. The administration of the facility is managed by a team of 15 people. Ipekyol is a specialized brand on womens apparel which has more than 70 shops in Turkey as well as shops in Rumenia, Russia, England, Greece, Azerbaijan, Cyprus and Kazakhstan.

Rolls of fabric enter from the north delivery gate à The fabric is then distributed to the second stage, a large cutting room, in which semi-automatic machines cut the fabric into small pieces ready to be assembled into garments à There are three main production bands, one for the garments like skirts, pants, the other is for shirts and blouses and the third is mostly for outfits like coats, jackets etc. Each piece is distributed to its relative band after being cut and each worker passes its finished parts to her colleague in front. After ironing and last quality check the finished garments pass through an automatic packing machine making them ready for shipping. Until shipping time, the packed garments rests on the storage racks on the storage area next to the delivery gate.

Rolls of fabric enter from the north delivery gate > The fabric is then distributed to the second stage, a large cutting room, in which semi-automatic machines cut the fabric into small pieces ready to be assembled into garments > Then the prepared pieces are distributed to the production bands on the second hall.  > There are three main production bands, one for the garments like skirts, pants, the other is for shirts and blouses and the third is mostly for outfits like coats, jackets etc. >  On each band the worker works on the piece he or she is responsible and passes when it is finished to her colleague sitting in front. > At the end of the band the finished garments are ironed. The last step in this production hall is the quality check. >  Then checked garments pass through an automatic packing machine on the next hall, making them ready for shipping. > After packed in transparent plastic sheets they are stored on the storage racks next to the delivery area. >  The shipping area is the same area where fabrics are accepted  at the beginning of the process. So the trucks which bring the fabrics to the factory, are loaded by the finished garments from the same gate and the production cycle is closed.

* Published in BROWNBOOK Magazine.