TBY talks to Hasan Çalışlar, co-founder of Erginoğlu & Çalışlar Architects, on the state of the local architecture scene and some of his most important works.
TBY Where do you think modern Turkish architecture fits in the modern world?
HASAN ÇALIŞLAR Every sector of the economy develops parallel during times of growth. In the last 10-20 years we have been much more open to the world and have thus been developing quickly. You can actually not change architecture without changing society, and this radical change in society pushed architecture to change. It was almost impossible to see modern-style contemporary huge condominiums or office buildings around the city 20 years ago, but now as we have many more international companies with branch offices or headquarters—or Turkish companies that work internationally, expand, and become international companies in their own right—cultures integrate and produce sociological changes that architecture then follows.
You have worked on some urban-design projects, what shortcomings can you identify in Turkish urban design?
Urban design is a discipline that is very much allied to the law, because when you are working on a small scale there are certain rules to follow. Urban planning is on a very large scale, so when politics enters urban design, you cannot make any radical decisions. In Turkey, land is expensive and when you make an urban plan you must combine lots of plots together. You have to first establish a strong partnership between all the owners and then formulate the plan. But this is a collective job that does not suit Turkish investors. Most of the time, this results in failure.
How do you see the problems with the planning permission bureaucracy being resolved?
To get planning permission you need more than 45 official papers from different agencies. Our building codes are also very old fashioned. If you design a building according to municipal codes, it doesn’t necessarily comply with separate fire protection codes or the codes of the historical preservation committee. Even if you call a good architect and ask for an expensive building, the result of the mess you get will not be ideal due to this confusion of bureaucracy.
What do you think has been your finest work?
An architect’s finest work is always his latest. You like all of your buildings, but after a while when you design something new you have greater expectations. I am particularly pleased with the restoration of the salt depository we completed in Kasımpaşa and also the Turkcell R&D building.
What big projects have you got on the drawing board at the moment?
We are working on a huge shopping center in Gaziantep. It is a different concept to the Pendorya shopping center that we built here in Istanbul. I was much freer for Pendorya as it was a competition, and we won. In Gaziantep we work with German clients and they have certain rules and standards, so I am less flexible. We are trying to do our best to act within these rules. We are trying to let the people of Gaziantep know that this shopping mall reflects them and belongs to the city.
How do you see Istanbul in 20 years?
I love Istanbul, but I have serious doubts and concerns about the city. It still isn’t as planned as it should be. Its current path is like that of a river that finds its flow according to chance. It is too dense. We need to find a solution to stop this uncontrolled growth. We must find legal methods to begin a transformation that incorporates subways and light rail. If you look at Istanbul from above, you see a lot of houses that are badly constructed and unsafe. It is a utopian idea, but if for 10 years we could allow only restoration instead of new buildings we could really give the city a face-lift.
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