Architectural Codes of a Revolution

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The Gezi Park resistance that caused the country come to a halt, induced the steepest decline in the stock exchange in the last 10 years, decrease in tourism reservations, cancellations of concerts and congresses has become the most important breakdown of the past 10 years as well as a revolution not only politically, but also socially. We learned that the younger generation is not apolitical, but on the contrary, politically conscious with a common sense. The prejudices that compartmentalized society and fear of the state had their walls torn down. Even if nothing changes, these two suffice. Even if this generation loses Taksim, they will effortlessly create a new Taksim for themselves. Dozens of experts have already begun analyzing this movement on social, political, even psychological terms. This issue will be on the agenda for a very long time, political parties will continue down the road with this tuning, and perhaps even companies will adjust themselves. The media is a lost case, though.

Nobody had expected this crisis that stemmed from a defiance of public development to grow and extend to become a political and social incident that would affect the whole country and even Europe. The pressure in the cooker had increased so much that the whistle could have been anything but a few trees that we hardly saved from being cut off. However, since architecture caused this crisis, as an architect, I would like to attract notice to a few points that might have escaped the eye in this muddle.

1. The Prime Minister, at his 2011 election campaign, was misled. As he was determining his promises for Istanbul, he is caught in the current bog because of his ignorant and incompetent advisers, and he is shattering everything around him as he is trying to save himself. During that campaign, because of his advisers, he happened to promise two gravely improper projects –the legally and architecturally improper re-production of the Topcu Barracks and the rerouting of all vehicle traffic underground which actually will be making it a hell for pedestrians in terms of urbanity. The biggest responsibility in this mistake is of the Mayor Kadir Topbas. Because unfortunately the PM is not of a nature to admit he is wrong, we are busy with the incidents insistently caused by these mistakes for 20 days.

2. There is a court order suspending execution for the desired construction at Gezi Park. Disregarding that court order to state “we are a democratic country, so let’s ask the public,” is outright dictatorship from beneath the shield of democracy. Then again, the discussion for natural and cultural assets such as trees, water, or air, which are integral elements of the right to life, or of issues that call for expertise –architecture, urbanity, landscaping– cannot be an issue for referendums. You could at most ask which color the Barracks Shopping Mall should be!

3. The Ataturk Cultural Center (AKM) is a 1st degree registered cultural asset. Deceiving people by claiming that “we will tear it down to build a better one there,” is a legally transgressing hypocrisy. One cannot say that it is not earthquake-resistant, therefore let’s demolish and build a better one. If it is not earthquake-resistant, then it should be reinforced, or, if that is not possible, demolished and rebuilt “AS IT IS” because it is a structure registered as cultural asset.

Besides, until three weeks ago, we thought AKM’s restoration was advancing. The government, short of the required financing for the restoration, asked for half the amount from a conglomerate. A contract was made securing that AKM was to be opened by the end of the year. Promises were made. So if funds were at hand to demolish it to rebuild a more “baroque” one existed, why was such a sponsorship agreement made? And moreover, if a new cultural center was desired to be made, why was not the car park at Tepebasi or the TRT building site used? We are aware that there are no answers to these questions, but still, one should ask.

4. The Topcu Barracks intended to be constructed in the site of the Gezi Park is a tool –the legitimization tool of the desire to construct a building at Istanbul’s most significant place by a government craving to transcend its authority into stone. The ideological history of the barracks surely is quite important, but referencing the past is not an aim: it is downright an “edifice complex,” the syndrome of constructing monumental structures –an inherent specification of dictators and authoritarian regimes. Even if there hadn’t existed such a structure on the Gezi Park site once, the Prime Minister would have anyway wanted to construct a grand structure at Taksim. The demolished Topcu Barracks became the carte blanche for the legitimization of this desire. Even if that Topcu Barracks won’t be built, the AKP wants to construct a grandiose structure there in any way. Another symptom of this syndrome is the halting of AKM’s restoration and the desire to demolish it in order to build something “baroque” instead, in spite of the cultural asset registration. And not only Taksim –trying to plant a majestic mosque at the highest hill like Camlica, or even thinking of cleaving across Thrace are also clear indicators of this syndrome. The purpose is not to construct a structure that would alleviate a necessity; indeed, the confusion of the government and the mayor proves likewise –this structure can happen to be a shopping mall with an ice rink, or a city museum the next day, or maybe residences and hotels the next. The aim is to build something “big”. It could even be hollow. But splendor is a must.

I wrote about this earlier: in all instances in history, those in power, whether they be persons, institutions, companies, or states, who possess “monumental structure syndrome,” go down in history together with the produce of that obstinacy. That monumental structure finally becomes the sovereign’s tomb. A word to the wise.

5. Not only claimed so by the Prime Minister, who is being misled until today by his advisers, but also defended as such by Kadir Topbas, an architect, that the future structure to be built as a replica of the Topcu Barracks will not harm the trees in the park. That is outright a lie and a distorting claim. The Gezi Park is of a rectangular form of which the most mature trees happen to be lined at the sides of this rectangle. The center of the park is a large space. The Topcu Barracks is a structure with a rectangular form and a courtyard at the center. When you overlap the two, the trees at the bottom will of course be cut off –who are you trying to fool? Though flimsy, the municipality’s project slides might have a few stubby trees on display. Don’t be fooled by that, since those are trees which can only survive in pots. Because the whole of the Gezi Park will have to be dug up in order to make space for an underground parking garage. Since it is not yet possible to grow trees in concrete –a mature tree requires 1.5-2 meters soil depth– the greenery in the middle of this new structure will not be anything but those stubby decoration trees in giant pots you see in shopping malls.

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Now they seem to have given up the thought of a shopping mall and trying to impose the function of a city museum onto this building. A museum per se is not made up of a building only. Who is going to take on the administration for this museum, what will be exhibited here, and in what manner? Will another city museum be built here while in the meanwhile such a museum’s construction is progressing in Topkapi? While there exist dozens of buildings which can be transformed into a museum, while there are dozens of land plots which can be new construction sites, why would anyone want to build it onto one of the seldom frequented parks of the city, tearing it down? Will the mock-up model of the demolished park be also exhibited at this museum? Kadir Topbas who is entitled to reply dozens of similar questions is currently counting the tress that are to be “moved”.

6. The trees toward Divan Hotel that incited the incidents which you said you were “moving by uprooting” but were thrashed with diggers were indeed not cut down for the barracks construction. As seen in the municipality’s flimsy project presentations, even if the barracks is built, this part of the park by the Intercontinental Hotel will not be demolished. So why were the trees torn down, what all the razzle-dazzle? Because the Taksim Pedestrianization Project fashioned under Kadir Topbas’s management was prepared so hurriedly and put out to tender so swiftly in order to speedy up for the elections that it does not even have a proper project. The contractor company decides on the spot and spontaneously where to drive the piles and where to construct sidewalks. When they noticed that there was no sidewalk left towards the Divan Hotel where the roadway enters underground, they tried to scratch from the edge of the park, and the incidents sparked. Just this is sufficient and clear proof of how the Topbas administration runs Istanbul.

7. The most important square and traffic intersection of Istanbul is closed since 15 days. One might notice that a grave traffic crisis is absent in Istanbul. Vehicle owners have swiftly resigned themselves to this new state. The pedestrians move accordingly. Quotidian life was hindered for a few days and later found its way. Then why is the arduous and expensive “pedestrianization project” insistently being constructed in spite of all the objection? Because the architecture and urban advisers of the municipality and AKP are cliché-ridden, ignorant people with archaic ideas. They still obstinately want to reroute vehicle traffic underground and open some pedestrian space –an idea that was already being abandoned in the 1960s.

This issue was tackled for years and several objections were made as “the Taksim Pedestrianization Project is massacring Taksim.” Pedestrians do not come to a square where vehicles cannot enter. What are the pedestrians supposed to do at such a vast square aimlessly rearranged, like ants on a tray under a scorching sun? With the roads leading up to the square rerouted into tunnels, the sidewalks by the edges will be narrowed further –a consequence absolutely contrary to the spirit of pedestrianization. Despite numerous objections, the municipality has not backed down from its persistence.
Today is the 20th day of the Resistance. Around 70 bus lines that use Taksim cannot access the square since 20 days although public transport is functioning. Access to Taksim is gravely hindered. So many things were written and explained. Pedestrianization can be achieved not by rerouting traffic underground but by restricting and reorganizing surface traffic. Rescheduling the buses that clog the avenue in front of the Gezi Park and reorganizing the lines, placing seating facilities and shades for the comfort of pedestrians would have made Taksim a pedestrian zone as desired. Closing access to Taksim for traffic except for taxis and public transport could have been also possible. Even now, this mistake can be corrected by having the tunnels refilled in order to rearrange surface traffic as it was earlier. That much needed (!) “city museum” can be opened quite nicely in these tunnels if wanted because museums are places where natural light is not desired anyway. But evidently, the actual intention of Mayor Topbas or the AKP government is not doing something in favor of the pedestrians, but only having constructions in any condition. This is the terminus where the mentality of “the biggest constructions are the best projects” has brought us. Turkey is being annihilated not by the coined concept of “interest rate lobby,” but by the much cunning and dangerous “real estate and rent lobby,” as it is being transmogrified into a republic of constructions.

8. Right now, all the rubble from all the excavations at all constructions around Istanbul is being dumped to the Yenikapi and Maltepe shorelines. Not many have noticed, but this is as grave an environmental disaster as the Gezi Park and it is connected with Taksim. The purpose is constructing huge demonstration spaces for Istanbulites with capacities of 1 million people. I guess by now everybody has come to the understanding that “demonstration spaces” are not things you can build later with rulers in hand. These kinds of demonstration spaces are good only as easily controlled spectacle fields when masses are brought in by buses.

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Concealed within the codes of this Taksim arena are the hygienization project of Tarlabasi, transforming its multi-functional structure into a homogeneous open air shopping mall by changing the official permissions of businesses on Istiklal Avenue; following Demiroren building, transforming Emek Movie Theater and Cercle d’Orient complex to conventional shopping malls, and creating a uniform, physical environment suitable for solely consumer forms from Elmadag towards and until Tunel. Witnessing all this happen during the term of a mayor who coincidentally holds an M.Arch only be a paradox which we could only hope stay as an irony.

Kadir Topbas, while consulting bus colors to the public, can blatantly express that he is the designer of the subway bridge over Halic. We need to ask him: How is it possible that such a crucial bridge that is unnecessarily high and large, and egotistically pompous that cuts through the Suleymaniye silhouette can be designed by a mayor who claims to be “a conservationist, respectful of history” together with architect Hakan Kiran, who everyone has come to learn that is a close friend of Topbas, without consulting anyone? Is it a coincidence that Hakan Kiran –the architect of the shopping mall that was to be constructed at Kadikoy’s Sali Pazari whose construction was suspended at the very last minute– happens to be partners with Emrullah Turanli, the owner of Tasyapi construction firm who won the construction bid. How can it be that the projects of both the Muhsin Ertugrul Stage and the Lutfi Kirdar Convention and Exhibition Center and the new high-rise to house the headquarters of the Istanbul metropolitan municipality planned to be constructed at Seyrantepe are designed by Topbas’s close friend Erol Kuzbasioglu? What a coincidence that the designer of the Topcu Barracks’ new projects, Halil Onur, is partners with the same Erol Kuzbasioglu in his firm established in 2012? Well, we know the answers to all these questions anyway. Perhaps we should demand this question to the penguins: How come these bulky and controversial projects are part of the tender circles revolving near and around Kadir Topbas?

On the other hand, how can a mayor who is also an architect permit an unplanned development increase in a huge neighborhood like Fikirtepe, causing trouble for residents and companies for three years? How could he have permitted the huge skyscrapers in Zeytinburnu peeking from behind Sultanahmet and which have infuriated our Prime Minister? A series of controversial projects which have disrupted the balance of the city such as the Zorlu Center, the towers on Liquer Factory in Mecidiyekoy, the Four Winds Towers in Feneryolu, The shopping mall in Kadikoy Salipazari designed by Hakan Kiran are just items on Kadir Topbas’s list of misdemeanors.

Made conspicuous by the latest incidents, Kadir Topbas is the individual primarily responsible whose competence for running this city must be challenged, someone who cannot issue an initiative but can masterfully distribute projects to his friends, someone distant from both professional ethics and from the ethics of a public executive, someone whose resignation should be demanded before the Prime Minister. The PM eventually is not a technical person, not an architect at all, and his advisers are incapacitated and uninformed. As he was promising to his constituents projects served to him as election investments, Mayor Topbas, as an architect, should have had at least made the necessary warnings and objections concerning the construction of the Topcu Barracks’ ghost principally, and many other controversial projects.

However, unfortunately, Istanbul is still overshadowed by Ankara, and we are perceived as a handful of environmentalist looters (chapullers). Mr. Prime Minister and his friends in the cabinet, and also Mr. Mayor might politically crush sensitive citizens and us architects with subtle maneuvers, even suffocate us with tear gas and beat us with their “TOMA”s (Riot Control Vehicles), however, we are fighting you with our knowledge and cultivation of architecture and urban life, which you completely lack. Even though you massacre nature with our money and in spite of us, maraud the city and build as many baroque cultural centers, historical barracks or shopping malls as possible, you have no chance of winning in this fight. There is also no probability that you will build a better one out of the Taksim Square you are trying to raze, out of the AKM that you are trying to destroy and re-produce. Because as your past 10-year performance demonstrates, your architectural and urban sophistication is insufficient, you have no respect for information, you value quantity over quality and you never heed to anyone. All the countries that you mention whenever you deem necessary like when referring to the alcohol regulations, witness sadly your architectural dowdiness and urban disasters. Your vulgarity and conceit have achieved worldwide fame. Unfortunately, it will be too late when you have destroyed our cities, geography, nature, with all your might. Eventually, we will be bidding you farewell at the ridiculously decorated, copycat mosques made of plaster in the cities which you had made ugly hand in hand with the rent and real estate lobbies. It will be the mission of the new generation resisting at Gezi Park right now to correct your mistakes.

Kindly translated from the original Turkish text by Yusuf Pinhas.
* First published in Arkitera.com on 17.6.2013

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