Dirty City

The industrial areas once embraced for playing the leading role in the development of cities and providing the people with the very means of survival, are seen after a while as rusty heaps of junk to be cleared away and dirty areas to be wiped out. Reflecting the rest of the world, Istanbul is also undergoing a similar transformation: low-storey industrial areas where small and middle-scale production is carried out have now become objects of desire for “luxury residences” and shopping centres. Ateliers and workshops are pushed towards organized industrial areas outside the city. Small enterprises are forced to grow in size. All traces of a considerable number of small and middle-scale production units in Istanbul have been wiped out. The last remaining ones are about to be wiped out. In Kazlıçeşme, there are but a few chimneys left indicating the former existence of leather factories. Starting with Yedikule, gashouses have been uprooted and those remaining are left to perish. The shores of Haliç have been scraped and cleaned, creating uncanny empty spaces and pointlessly green areas. To make sense of these spaces, there is now a need to build dolphin pools and decorated parks. There is no trace of patina and form to remind us that the new congress centre built to hold important meetings was once the city’s foremost slaughterhouse. All of it has been covered with shiny granite. The valleys of Kağıthane and Cendere are now subject to the pressure of new undeserved profits to be gained from the marketing of prestige and status. The electric power station and the tobacco factory were relatively fortunate enough to be converted into university complexes.

Not only industrial areas of production but also commercial zones of small-scale manufacturers and industrial products are coming under the pressure of this transformation. The artisans of Perşembe Pazarı and Şişhane are forming a resistance but how long is it going to last? Areas like Zeytinburnu and Süleymaniye have long been cleared of all industrial formations. Soon enough, many small workshops and industrial sites in areas like Dolapdere, Ümraniye and Cevizlibağ which have now gained value as innercity regions, will be transferring their lands to residential buildings, hotels and offices. What underlies this transformation is the anxiety to build more housing and facilities to accommodate more tourists.

In the meantime, the city administration is busy with camouflaging all industrial structures and infrastructures that can’t be removed out of sight. The industrial electricity transformers once designed by distinguished architects including Seyfi Arkan, have been dressed in the style of historical Turkish Houses, covered with cheap and tasteless wall paintings for the last decade. Sevim Bayraktar’s works of photography entitled “Transformers” fully reveal this irony. On the retaining walls and lighting posts are hung pointless pots of flowers. Crossovers are covered with advertisements, and in some cases, they are endowed with an “identity” through the addition of arches and domes. A society that has once embraced the immediate aesthetic of engineering and technology as the indicator of modernization and advancement, is now viewing industry and all it s emanations through a different perspective. All the visible elements of the infrastructure that make a city into what it is, are decorated or covered out of sight. Greater industrial areas and structures that cannot be hidden out of view are merely awaiting the brutal arms of bulldozers to make space for luxury residences and hotels. Ultimately Istanbul is evolving into a new city, shiny and hygienic, yet devoid of all its patina and memories.

When was it that Istanbul’s complex relationship with industry converted from love to hate? To what extent do the organized industrial areas affect the organization of the city? What was the nature of the exchange between the industrial areas, industrial sites, production ateliers and the city? How will that exchange be affected now? When production is removed from the city, the artisanship will be lost. What else will be lost along with the artisanship? What will take its place? Could it be the only solution to give these old industrial structures to the service of the cultural industry?

* Published in New City Reader’s “industry” issue, during the 1st Istanbul Design Biennial, 2012.