Istanbul is a city that is constantly reinventing – and, even faster, forgetting – itself. But every so often its history reemerges to remind it of its storied past. While digging a tunnel under the Bosphorus to link the city’s European and Asian banks, workers have uncovered artefacts dating all the way back to the Neolithic period.
In the midst of a frantic thrust towards development, the megalopolis is haunted by the ghosts of thousands of buildings whose traces dot the city, igniting the imaginations of attentive passers-by.
In 2010, architects Cem Kozar and Işıl Ünal of PATTU agency presented an alternative history of Istanbul, virtually restoring 12 buildings throughout the city that had been destroyed by urban planning decisions, political events or natural disasters. Their city-wide exhibition was primarily a critique of the megalopolis’ uncontrolled urban sprawl, which has resulted in the premature destruction of many historic buildings. The young architects challenged the government: Why destroy and rebuild, when architecture can upgrade historic buildings?
During the presentation of his government’s rehabilitation project for the well-known Taksim Square in 2011, Prime Minister Erdoğan announced his decision to rebuild the old military barracks that had been replaced by a park in the late 1930’s. To illustrate his project, he used — without permission — PATTU’s visual scenarios, which envisaged the role this building could have had in the present era.
The next day, the two young architects were stunned to discover the images they had created splashed across the Turkish press. They had never dreamed that their project would also inspire the head of government! For them, to build an actual replica of this long-destroyed building was nonsensical, the stuff of caricature. Instead, their intention had always been to promote the defense of the architectural heritage of the city and call for a rational policy of urbanization.
Since then, PATTU agency has campaigned for the proposed reconstruction of the former Taksim barracks to be abandoned. Mashallah News met with Cem Kozar in his office in Galata.
Translated from French to English by Erin O’Hallaran.