The projects in such areas are criticized on the grounds that they deface the historic atmosphere of the city; however, city officials say that they are sensitive to this issue.
Mentioning that one of the basic goals of urban transformation is to improve shanty settlements and buildings that are vulnerable to earthquakes, the experts state that no kind of restoration can be carried out on historic buildings without the approval of the Turkish Supreme Council of Monuments.
Gökhan Avcıoğlu, the creator of the Gedikpaşa District Urban Transformation Project, defines urban transformation as “restoring to factory defaults.” Awarded first place in the “regeneration and master plan” category in the world’s biggest real estate show, MIPIM, for his Gedikpaşa District Urban Transformation Project, Avcıoğlu explains that unplanned housing settlements emerged in cities along with industrialization.
Commenting that the quality of life in and before the 19th century was better than the current situation in these areas, Avcıoğlu says: “We are trying to recreate the pre-20th century quality of life by means of urban transformation projects. I think as a result of this action we will end up with a very interesting result. We call it ‘restoring to factory defaults’.” Pointing out that historic buildings are less prone to damage from earthquakes than the structures built in the last 30 years, Avcıoğlu says, “The buildings built 30 years ago in particular should be improved.”
Avcıoğlu, the founder of İstanbul and New York-based architecture firm GAD (Global Architectural Development) -- which is in cooperation with architecture groups such as Arup AGU, Cecil Balmond, Philip Gumuchdijan and Jeff Lee -- represents Turkey in the international arena with his projects.
Gedikpaşa, a neighboring district to Divanyolu, which was used as a very important linking road in the Ottoman era, is known as a region that is rich in historical structures.
Within the scope of the project designed for the district, manufacturers in the area will be transferred to other districts of İstanbul. The ground floors of historic buildings will be designed as stores where cultural objects are sold. These buildings’ upper floors, which are completely unutilized now, will be turned into residences for people who want to live on the historical peninsula. Saying that there are examples of such designs around the world, the renowned architect explains, “City centers are evacuated for a while and then people return to living in city centers provided that they pay pots of money.”
Highlighting that the remnants of the old town exist in the center of all big towns in Turkey, Avcıoğlu states that the projects on the historical peninsula may serve as a model for these towns. Saying that the main aim of urban transformation projects is to satisfy modern needs while preserving the historical setting, Avcıoğlu argues, “We may live in a mediaeval town and still keep in touch with all around the world.” Avcıoğlu points to rich agricultural lands that were turned into industrial zones for the sake of industrialization and says: “There are towns suffering in these terms. There are cities like Bursa and İzmit where industrial installation is quite dense. It is very unrealistic to state that there is a country life in these cities.”
Meanwhile, last week Environment and Urban Development Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar said 150 municipalities have made requests for urban transformation. In a written statement, Bayraktar said giant urban transformation projects would be launched initially via municipalities.
Saying that within the coordination of governors’ offices, the municipalities will be at the forefront in launching urban transformation projects and the transformation will be kicked off as soon as possible within the borders of municipalities that have reached an agreement with landowners and determined the lands to be used within the frame of urban transformation, Bayraktar reported that they sent a notice regarding this to governors’ offices of the 81 provinces.
According to Bayraktar, this widespread urban transformation is one of the biggest projects in the history of the Republic of Turkey. With regards to which municipalities have first priority, Bayraktar stated that “municipalities were asked to determine disaster-prone areas and shanty settlements within municipal borders and to inform the ministry of relevant details and documents. Provided that municipalities negotiate with landowners and reach an agreement with them, and solve any ownership challenges in these areas, urban transformation will be launched.”
‘Skyscrapers built according to regulations for two-story buildings’
Addressing arguments about the silhouette of İstanbul, Avcıoğlu said that rather than the effects of a skyscraper on the silhouette, its side effects on its surroundings should be pointed out. He mentioned that in developed countries skyscrapers are arranged completely in favor of pedestrians.
“In examples such as the ones in New York and Chicago, the surrounding and lower stories of skyscrapers belong completely to the public. On the lower levels, you might get on the metro.” Avcıoğlu added: “The cars are parked downstairs and the required infrastructure for a pedestrian to reach his car is already settled. Then the monumental appearance of skyscrapers, walking around them, and sitting in a café in the surrounding takes on a different meaning.” In Turkey, he highlights, there are skyscrapers surrounded by garden walls. “As for our skyscrapers, there are guard huts between high walls. You just can’t get there -- there are unreachable skyscrapers around. Actually, this is just to the contrary of the current mentality underlying the emergence of skyscrapers. So we call this situation ‘the struggle of Turks with skyscrapers’,” he said. According to Avcıoğlu, the main problem in Turkey is that in the course of the transition from two-story buildings to skyscrapers the building regulations remain the same.
With Gedikpaşa project, district will stop being manufacturing zone
Mustafa Demir, the mayor of the Fatih Municipality, evaluated the criticisms of urban transformation projects damaging historic buildings. Stating that no destruction is made without the approval of the Turkish Supreme Council of Monuments, Demir pointed out that the project is carried out under the control of the council once it is approved.
According to Demir, the biggest problem with urban transformation projects is the rise in landowners’ valuation of their lands, which have no value before the project but rise in value because of the project. Demir noted that many claims have been filed against the municipality for this reason. Mentioning that Gedikpaşa will be one of the most beautiful places in İstanbul after the project, Demir says, “Right now in this region only stores are active. The locations that were used as workplaces are quite empty. Within the scope of the project not only the ground floor of buildings but the buildings as a whole will start to be used.” Pointing out that generally parcel estates aren’t considered within the scope of urban transformation projects, Demir noted: “The Gedikpaşa project was carried out by solving parcel-related problems. For instance, if we attempt to start the project tomorrow, no one will object to it.”