• workshop wonderland

    May 9th, 2013

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    Yesterday I had an all too brief glimpse into the mind of one of the most fascinating creatives in Istanbul — someone who successfully blurs the line between art, architecture, design and craft — in what might well be the most distinctive style I’ve seen anywhere in years. At some point I will have to do a full exploration and profile of Sema Topaloglu’s Cibali workshop and showroom. Her work environment is a veritable wonderland of organic shapes and materials, prototypes and projects. You’d almost think you were standing in a special effects workshop for a motion picture, except that the materials are not made of foam and cardboard, and she’s not creating illusions, so much as fabricating a new physical reality in media such as Black Sea hardwood, raw iron, glass and marble. There are huge mushroom lamp models, wood blocks representing a neighbourhood planning project she’s working on, multi-level tables … glass and iron objects all coated in a layer of sawdust fresh from her usta‘s saw table. There are so many compelling things to look at that it’s hard to isolate your focus to one spot. Furniture swings open to reveal elaborate tool bits that look like a chest of ninja throwing stars. Although I’ve written about Sema before, she hasn’t been standing still for more than a nanosecond since I last saw her. She’s too busy blurring the lines between what creativity and professionalism, art and architecture, design and craft can be. Take a look at some of Sema’s projects here.

  • modern lines, ottoman opulence: the grand tarabya

    March 13th, 2013

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    Today I had the chance to preview a hotel that I’ve been anticipating with a mixture of excitement and as well as apprehension. The Grand Tarabya is almost legend among a certain generation of Turks who once regularly visited it for afternoon tea. Although I have no history with the hotel, I am fascinated by it as its architecture and dimension are unique to a shoreline Bosphorus hotel. I am also now a resident of Tarabya, so its operation is of some importance to my neighbourhood’s wellbeing. Right now the marina and the shoreline are undergoing a huge transformation in which the Grand Tarabya is the focal point. This building’s curving, modern lines and height are something you’d be more likely to see along the Corniche in Beirut than on the shores of the Bosporus, where buildings generally don’t exceed a four-storey height limit. And at 12 floors, it makes quite a statement. There is simply nothing else quite like it along the European-Asian strait. While I have yet to sample the hotel’s full five-star service, the most standout aspects of this hotel are its views and its spa — which contains no less than 3 hamams in its 3000 metre footprint. While some of the decoration in the public areas might not be quite to my taste, the interior design is relatively restrained. The top three floors are not hotel, but residences with a much more understated, less Arabesque design flourish provided by local architectural practice, Tabanlioglu. All in all, I think the hotel’s opening is welcome progress for the neighbourhood and I look forward to experiencing the coffee shop, which is still in the works, as well as many of its other amenities. The only thing I question is whether or not this part of the city needs yet another fish restaurant. I guess we’ll see. While the hotel is operational now, the grand opening is slated for April. It’s certainly worth a look.

    THE GRAND TARABYA

    Haydar Aliyev Caddesi No:154 Tarabya, Istanbul +90 212 363 33 00

  • Dilapidated doorways and detailing in decay

    February 18th, 2013

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    How’s that for an alliterative title? I really wanted to call this piece: a diminutive demonstration of dilapidated doorways and decadent details in decay … but it wouldn’t fit in the headline space my template allots. Still, I probably managed to go purple enough with my prose style to describe the beauty of these passageways and halls which have lost none of their magic despite the neglect. Or has the neglect only enhanced it? The hallways and doors of Beyoglu, may go unnoticed in terms of restoration, but they still turn my head.

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  • Adahan Hotel

    February 4th, 2013

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    Today I had a chance to get a glimpse of a really interesting renovation in Beyoglu. While it might feel somewhat sparsely furnished with the cavernous ceilings, the ample light, and raw feel of the materials gives this place a real beauty. I’ve seen many Beyoglu buildings restored, but nothing quite like this. Its feel, and the amount of wood make this something special. The other feature which makes it special is the fact that its owners refused to use any concrete in the restoration process. Sedat Sırrı Aklan, who supervised the renovations, is adamantly opposed to the use of concrete on moral grounds, because it is both anti-artisan and only used for profit motives. One of the things I really appreciate is the light touch they’ve used, leaving some of the beautifully weathered surfaces exposed. Here’s a glimpse of this vastly different hotel. I’m eager to check out their rooftop eatery too which may well bear further investigation.

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  • Tarlabaşı

    September 30th, 2012

    Between thriving Beyoglu and the Golden Horn, Tarlabaşı could be the most cheerfully doomed neighborhood in the world. I’ve been meaning to pay this area a visit for some time, but have been deterred by the fact that some other people whose work I really respect have already delved into this dilapidated old Greek hood which is largely populated by Kurdish migrants from Eastern Turkey as well as Roma. Regardless, I felt I needed to see this area before the last vestiges of its current community are driven out in the ongoing gentrification or “urban revitalization” or “historic protection” — whatever you’d like to call it — process is complete. What I found truly surprised me. It’s  the friendliest neighborhood I’ve encountered in Istanbul, and perhaps the poorest.

    There are plenty of men on street corners who don’t want their photographs taken for reasons you can probably imagine, yet there was no hostility to such an obvious foreigner poking about. In fact, most people were positively playful, and the spirit wasn’t limited to the children. Women in headscarves are normally camera shy, but down here, I was able to engage more than a few in conversation who at first didn’t want their picture taken, said no, and then laughed and said words to the effect of “Oh, all right.”

    You can see why the municipality of Beyoğlu wants to “regenerate” the neighborhood even if you don’t agree with the manner in which they’re doing it. This is not only a prime area given its location, but an area rich in the sort of architecture you can convert into guesthouses for tourists or funky little cafes as well as other profit-generating enterprises. It’s also a mess. There are hurdacı (scrap collectors) carts everywhere. And then there are the men hovering on street corners who don’t want their photos taken.

    For me the question is what’s going to happen to the families living here. It’s easy when you live in a nice house to judge the conditions down here as squalid and unacceptable, but I’ve never seen such enthusiastic and happy children playing in the streets. That doesn’t mean the environment is good but I couldn’t help but feel conflicted about what will happen when the last families are moved out. When I crossed the boulevard which gives this neighborhood its name and sought out  the more trodden bits of Beyoğlu I felt restless and didn’t want to stay. Somehow something didn’t feel real anymore. Nobody was smiling in quite the same way.

  • The arc

    August 28th, 2012

    Whatever happened to the arc (or arch) in architecture? Did it simply become unnecessary with modern building materials and methods?  I have to say I like a nice curve. Yesterday I spent a lot of time again looking for iconic Istanbul scenes for a project I’m working on for two fantastic Dutch clients of mine, but the icon I got stuck on was the arc. This post is in praise of parabolas. We certainly spent enough time calculating them in high school.

  • Sultanahmet: a welcoming world of arcaded alleyways

    August 12th, 2012

    There’s the Sultanahmet of the Grand Bazaar, Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and then there’s Sultanahmet — backstreets, strange alleyways, crumbling archways, workshops pulsing with odd music. These days there’s an odder feeling then ever, what with the intense heat and Ramazan it’s important to find shaded spots whether you’re fasting or not. I was somewhat surprised just how many people weren’t fasting when I plunged inside the off-street maze the other day, as I always think of the old city as a place where life is lived a bit more traditionally. There are plenty of fasters, don’t get me wrong, most snoozing on rugs in corners to escape the long and trying day. I can only imagine what it must be like to fast this Ramazan when the days are so long. However I also saw plenty of tea drinkers and cigarette smokers puffing away as well, who were looking significantly more animated.

    What also impressed me was just how cool it was in these shaded corridors. These old buildings, cracked and deteriorating, nevertheless have thick walls and arcades deep in a shade that the heat doesn’t seem to penetrate. It’s still hot, just not unbearably so. The other thing that struck me is just how friendly people are in this part of the city. After my recent experience trying to photograph flowers on a public street in my own neighborhood went so awry (see Delicate flowers), it’s nice to feel welcome in this very different part of the city. Despite feeling much more like an interloper wandering in this party of the city, I’m not treated as one. This country never ceases to amaze me. And I mean that in every sense.

  • Kayseri Han

    August 6th, 2012

    Wandering through Eminönü I discovered another interesting han. The light spilling through the atrium was magnificent. It’s too bad such buildings aren’t put to better use, seeing as no one seems to build them anymore. I’m sure the quick answer why no one builds structures like this is economics — but still … couldn’t we make more inspiring architecture for people to work in like this?

    Such spaces never fail to spark my sense of wonder — it’s interesting to think of all the different tenants in times past, who climbed the stairs, said good morning to one another, shared a conversation over a glass of tea, a cigarette. In my opinion these hans are every bit as interesting as the more famous monuments in Istanbul, mostly because they are mementos of everyday life that has changed so drastically over the years, the minor events, the details that history books overlook. Read More…

  • Call to Şakirin

    July 5th, 2012

    Many things have been done in the name of God, some good, some bad. I’d definitely say the Şakirin Mosque falls into the former category. This place of worship is notable for its extremely contemporary design sensibility and, perhaps more important, the fact that its interior was designed by Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu — a woman. Read More…

  • Balat textures

    July 4th, 2012

    Balat is one of my favorite places to get inspired. It may be run down but the light shines differently here. There are textures, colors, scents and a mood you won’t find anywhere else in Istanbul. Last time I visited my fingers were freezing on the shutter release. Yesterday was a different story. A whole new experience, in sun-drenched, tumble-down Balat.

    Read More…