Architecture in “growth-crazy” cities

On May 29 was held at the NAi the debate “Architecture in growth cities crazy: Turkish Approaches for Sustainable City Making” organized by the 5th IABR and the municipality of Arnavutköy, commemorating the 400th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Turkey and the Netherlands.

In order to deal with the question of the rapid growth of Istanbul (one of the test sites of the Biennale) an interesting panel of professionals from areas directly related to the process of making a city were invited:

Emre Arolat (Emre Arolat Architects, EEA), Architect.

Selcuk Avci (AVCIARCHITECTS), Architect.

– Duygu Erten (Consultant and Turkish Green Building Council – CEDBIK), Engineer.

– Ahmed Hasim Baltaci, Mayor of Amavutköy, Istanbul.

The moderator, Asu Aksoy (Curator for the test site 5yh IABR Istanbul,Istanbul University) made an introduction explaining the situation of Urban planning in Turkey.  She defined the growth of Istanbul during the 20th Century with the appropriate term “Self-Service City”, city with a lack of planning; not because there were no plans, but because they were never applied.

This situation has changed with the beginning of the 21st Century. Nowadays are emerging in Turkey Mega Urban Developments that have brought the discussion in Urban projects and City planning to the arena.

From this starting point the project presentations of the guest panel began, showing projects like Cendere Valley by Emre Arolat; a green corridor crossed by an elevated highway with great potential to become an important public green space for the district, but solved, in my opinion, isolating the green space by creating a built barrier on the edge too continuous.

Selcuk Avci, preceded by an extensive experience in the UK, presented TOKI Masterplan, a housing project in Kayabashi. Starting from the idea of extending the green “fingers” of the surrounding valleys, and thereby enhancing the agricultural activity in the neighbourhood, he tried to show that it is possible to create low cost housing that is part of an urban plan and maintain local characteristics.

Erte Duygu explained his work trying to achieve a National Certification System for Green Building in Turkey. Something that makes more sense than using the LEED American standard or the British BREEAM, but that generally I consider a bit manipulated by companies and consultancies and somehow detached from the natural characteristics of the territory where these codes apply.

To conclude the presentation, Ahmed Hasim, as representing of political part in the process, made a speech based on the other’s projects. I was pleasantly surprised because he was the first of the speakers who talk about people, demands and needs of the people from his municipality, concerning Urban reforms, and raised as an important issue how to organize them and treat them well in order to give a good response.

Despite being difficult to follow his speech becaouse of problems with the simultaneous translation, he presented himself as a committed person and involved in the future changes of his municipality.

After the speeches there was a discussion that dealt with interesting issues about self-construction housing, urban planning and its relationship with politics. Despite being the initial approach, it was clear the disconnection between the four panel members, giving a hint at how difficult it can be to get a common framework between those different disciplines.

However, it was very interesting to have representation from some of the various “actors” that are part of the current discussion in a country and a city, Istanbul, which presents enormous challenges for the future.

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