• Dragon and his lamps

    October 23rd, 2012

    Don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for workshops. I think it’s great to  see how people work, how they create. Today I went to the old city as we just move house and are in need of some new lighting. I decided to go old school, as in Ottoman old school. For some of my Turkish friends Ottoman touches around the house can feel a little kitsch, but I like an eclectic mix of contemporary and old, and one of the things I really enjoy, kitsch or not, are Ottoman-style lamps.

    In order to see if I could save some money, I decided to pay a visit to a han where I remembered seeing a lamp maker. At first, I thought he was gone but then I called out up the stair above the closed dükkan above and then then popped my head up the stair, where I was fortunate enough to find Ejder Bey. Ejder means “dragon” in Turkish, which is kind of cool. This dragon doesn’t breathe fire, however. Instead, he breathes light into lamps. Not only did I find a good price on some Ottoman style lighting, I got to hang out and see him assemble the pieces. I really enjoyed his workshop. All the bits and pieces, the metal shavings on the floor. I love the mess in here. There’s something very satisfying about the disarray. A tidy workshop seems dishonest somehow, don’t you think?

  • 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.

  • The nargile fabrikası

    August 15th, 2012

    Life takes you on some unexpected turns sometimes, but today when I rounded a different corner in my effort to complete a mental map of Sultanahmet’s hans, I discovered a nargile (hookah/water pipe) manufacturing operation. That’s the thing I love about this area. There’s the tourist attractions, and then there’s the real neighborhood, a crumbling, cracked but still moving area of enterprise and trade.

    Though it can be a little intimidating at times peering down dark corridors, there always seems to be a reward waiting at the end. As I was exploring another dark tunnel today, a voice cried out and invited me in. That voice was Mustafa’s. He and his good friend, Yusuf, were hard at work hand-crafting the tubing and pipe section of the water pipes for the factory. Mustafa, 30, (pictured below) has been doing this for over 15 years, and has taken over the business from his father who has had this same dükkan for 40 years.

    Though hard at work — he hand makes over 100 pipes a day — I was invited in and offered a glass of water, and was later offered a cigarette too, which I thought was rather amusing considering we were in the midst of a water pipe factory. Mustafa and Yusuf were relentless. Painting leather strips with glue, rolling piping, cutting fabric, they were like two human machines working at twice the tempo of the music blasting from the radio.

    Business is of course, tough, and just about everything made in Turkey these days is always under threat from China, even it appears, something as specialized as nargile. I have to say that I really enjoyed the half an hour I spent chatting with these two. Their hospitality was great, and I was invited to drop back in any time.

  • Discovered in a han

    June 19th, 2012

    In my dreams I ascend buildings, while the stairs behind me crumble into a gaping abyss. Up and up I go while the way back down becomes impossible. There’s something of that feeling every time I discover a new, or rather, an old han. These old trade buildings provide endless inspiration for me, and I get lost in them in more ways than one. There are the sounds, the clink of hammer on metal, a distant voice penetrating a cracked door, a laugh. Silhouettes at the end of corridors, engulfed in blinding light. The feel, the mustiness of age and neglect. A wary look from a passerby. The whir of retrofit air conditioners. Then there are the other discoveries. Read More…

  • Old Corners, Bright New Lights: LOS DU MAL

    May 4th, 2012

    Istanbul has plenty that could, and perhaps should, change. However there are still plenty of old pieces of this city that only need a little polish to produce volumes of atmosphere. That’s why I’ve been really pleased to get acquainted with Metin Ilktekin and Raphael Faeh, the like-minded talents behind Los Du Mal.

    These two interesting characters are making it their business to illuminate and energize some of the overlooked corners of the city, and have recently set up their Muvakkat Studio in Roumelie Han, one of the great Pera buildings that has fallen into decline over the years, yet still manages to provide plenty of inspiration for painters and other artists, as well as serving as the HQ for the latest incarnation of the Turkish Communist Party.

    The pair met in Zurich three years ago but came from entirely different professional disciplines. Metin is a former private jet salesman and Raphael has a background in design and was working in a social media company. Neither were feeling entirely fulfilled in their roles, but spent plenty of time re-imagining uses for urban spaces.

    Perhaps their first job will be finding a new plan for their current digs, Roumeli Han, which has acquired a new owner and an uncertain future. The two don’t seem worried that in August they might have to uproot again and leave. In fact, their demeanor is quite the opposite. They seem energized by this possible transition. “We have until August to celebrate the weirdness of this building,” says Raphael.

    When I ask if they are working on a proposal for the building, they smile. For Metin, who grew up in Switzerland, but is half Turkish (on his father’s side) and Dutch from his mother, the choice of Istanbul, and this location certainly has personal relevance. “I want to give something back,” he says. “But it’s not about nostalgia, which can be dangerous. This is about drawing on the energy that’s here.”

    That energy is symbolized by the han they currently occupy, whose residents represent a fragrant mix of Istanbul, offering trinkets, cafes, a bar, a betting house, and a home to painters and other artists. It’s a place that billows atmosphere. While I’m visiting, an attractive young student from Mimar Sinan University knocks at the door of their studio asking if there’s an exhibition going right now. Is it Kismet? Maybe.

    So what exactly is it Los Du Mal offers? Individualized tourism, a look at the city, tailored for a musician, an architect, an author, something creative people with very specific needs just can’t find in Lonely Planet, or Fodor’s. A place to set up shop if you’re a band hashing out a new album, or an artist looking for inspiration. It’s not just about space, it’s also about providing a network of insiders that can outsiders into the places the everyday visitor to Istanbul, or even an Istanbullu hasn’t ever heard of, let alone glimpsed.

    Essentially, it’s about experiences. “Stories are a powerful tool,” says Raphael, the more introspective of the two, scratching his beard. “We are the stories we tell ourselves … pulling stuff from the past, without nostalgia.”

    That’s what’s interesting for me about these two complementary talents. They aren’t blind to this city’s cracks. And rather than ignoring or avoiding them, they let the light slip through — not the opportunity — revealing something both Turk and foreigner can appreciate, without having to obliterate the past and thus start over.

    “It’s a people city,” says Metin. “Compared to [other] European cities, you can do things. There’s a lot more heart here. It’s about talking.We want to use our space to fuel events, discussion panels, paintings, music. When people come here they think about possibilities.”

  • Dystopian Wonderland

    January 30th, 2012


    If you ask me, Istanbul is inherently cinematic. I just left Switzerland which you could say is inherently picturesque — with its mountains, its lakes and its pristine architecture, it would make a good location for several of my cinematic fantasies. But could you do a dystopian epic with a nicely understated sci-fi twist? I think not. I regularly dream movies up in my head, like the other day when I decided to cut through this han to get to Karaköy Lokantasi, and for about two-three minutes I completely forgot my ravenous appetite. Read More…

  • The Hidden Han.

    December 13th, 2011


    I stumbled into this old han back in the summer and have since returned. It’s exactly the sort of place that makes me love Istanbul. Located in Sultanahmet it’s out of the way, cracked and crumbling, easily overlooked but still thriving with life. Part of the reason I’m being vague about its name and location is because I’m afraid some crass developer will come in, knock it down and plunk some horrible hotel or shopping mall in its place.


    Right now it’s home to all sorts of ustalar (tradesmen)mainly working in metals like silver, copper and brass. There’s a massive courtyard in the center, and just about every bolt hole is occupied by some form of life or trade. Read More…