When the Ottoman Istanbul ceased to be an imperial capital and made way for the Republic, the architectural accumulation maintained aspects of the former era, which had begun with the conquest. This earlier era met with works of the “national architectural trend” that was at that time trying to join the architectural landscape. The endeavor of re-interpreting these forms which had been brought over from traditional ones, conveying them to the present and offering them as a response to the pursuit of architectural identity was widely accepted within the aesthetical perception of Istanbul that inherited from Ottoman times. While the dominance of modern and international style was widely felt across all architectural practices throughout the years following the formation of the Republic, there were also attempts which endeavored to reproduce the pursuit of tradition and identity through the concepts inherited from the former civilization.

Works by contemporary renowned architects, such as Sedad Hakkı Eldem and Turgut Cansever, architects who led in conveying the prominent features of traditional architecture by stylizing and constructing the present over the accumulation of the past, certainly guided the architects of recent times. The SSK Zeyrek facilities (1963-1970), which brought the Aga Khan Award to Sedad Hakkı Eldem, is considered to be an attempt to interpret the elements of a civil architecture legacy. Wide eaves, jutting elements, fragmented vertical facades and window proportions are all part of the Ottoman legacy, while principles such as harmony with the topography, use of land, and fragmentation of massive blocks can be seen. This project, led by Sedad Hakkı Eldem – an architect who shaped buildings in modern architectural manner by pursuing the traces of traditional principles and architectural components- conveys the legacy of residential architecture that identified the civil character of the city. This is particularly apparent in the architecture of office spaces which emerged due to the needs arising from the transformed economic and social structure. Eldem had a wide range of styles - extending from classical styles loyal to the traditional architecture to more simplified interpretations of the civil architecture; these can be seen in his residential structures, such as Kandilli Komili Yalısı, Vaniköy Suna Kıraç Yalısı and Yeniköy Şemsettin Sirer Yalısı.

Despite the limited number of examples in which Turgut Cansever’s work demonstrated the implementation of his ideas about the need to establish a link between traditional styles, it is these examples that justify the establishment of this link on an intellectual level in architectural practices. This thought process enabled Cansever to become the only architect in the world who won the Aga Khan Award three times; perhaps he had this success due to his good connections with the past. The restoration of Sadullah Paşa Yalısı, conducted by Cansever in 1949, holds an important place in the relationship of his architecture with traditional architecture. The restoration of Sadullah Paşa Yalısı was one of the first examples of qualified architectural project in modern restoration in the Republic Era and represents a by-product of a mind that considered restoration to be an opportunity to explore and reproduce traditional styles. This work by Cansever, like his other restoration projects, should be considered as an extension of an approach that did not differ much from constructing a new structure. On the other hand, Anadolu Kulübü Büyük Oteli (Büyükada, 1951-1957), a project designed with Abdurrahman Hancı in the years following the restoration project, is an example of new architecture of high quality. In this project, items adopted and internalized through traditional styles were blended with modern architecture. Another restoration project by Cansever was the restoration of Çürüksulu Yalısı – also known as Nuri Birgi Evi - in Salacak. It can be argued that the experience Cansever gained through this project, in which he consolidated the link he had established with traditional architecture, had an influence on the compositions and interpretations that were to be realized in the future.1

1- Ataşehir Mimar Sinan Mosque

The striking encounters with arches was interpreted as an architectural element repeated in a modular way in Şişli Terakki Lisesi, designed by Turgut Cansever between 1969 and 1972, and later in Behruz Çinici’s Soyak Göztepe Konutları (1988-1993), as well as in the Shell General Headquarters (1992), designed by Nevzat Sayın and Gökhan Avcıoğlu; these are exemplified today in the Western Campus of Istanbul Şehir University and in the Prime Minister’s Ottoman Archives (2009), which were designed by Hilmi Şenalp.

2a- Ataşehir Mimar Sinan Mosque

2b- Ataşehir Mimar Sinan Mosque

2c- Ataşehir Mimar Sinan Mosque

3a- Beykoz Classical Arts Center Mosque

3b- Beykoz Classical Arts Center Mosque

It is possible to talk about Cevat Ülger (1933-1977) as an embodiment of the art and architectural world which undersigned unconventional attempts that departed from the dominant architectural practice but which have not been properly recognized. Ülger, who carried out projects in numerous branches of art throughout his short lifetime of 44 years, was not recognized only as a painter, or a caricature artist or as an architect. It is necessary to evaluate Ülger’s architectural style separately from his paintings, caricatures, calligraphic compositions, book covers and stained-glass work. The connection with tradition which the artist tried to establish, particularly in the architecture of places of worship, was determined in an approach that was different than in his other art work. Ülger, who admitted that places, materials and forms had a significant influence on the feelings of human beings, thought that a mosque should be established with items and forms that had been transferred from traditional styles to ensure that worship can be practiced in the desired manner. It would not be wrong to state that the relationship the artist established in his paintings, calligraphy or other visual arts with continuity and connection allowed for the interpretation of the traditional. While the artist pursued innovation and the abstract in these fields, he remained as loyal as possible to the architectural cultural heritage for mosques. The fact that these “new” attempts contributed to a development, something that, after a long interval, mosque architecture had sought for the last fifty years, had not been widely adopted by broad social segments could be the reason that such structures do not encourage “praying with the desired quality,” as mentioned by Cevat Ülger.2

It is possible to trace attempts to establish a connection with tradition in architectural culture through religious structures. The mosques, which were constructed within the developing and changing face of Istanbul, are the places where the relationship with the earlier culture is most intensely demanded; this as something that was accepted by those who made use of those structures. In this context, Şirinevler Grand Mosque (1979), designed by Hüsrev Tayla, Sirkeci Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa Mosque (1986) by Dr. Aydın Yüksel, Maltepe Cumhuriyet Mosque (1988-2001) by Saim Güner, Çengelköy Kerem Aydınlar Masjid (2008) and Ataşehir Mimar Sinan Mosque (2011-2012) all exemplify this combining of styles that aimed to add a new original link to the chain of the architectural tradition3 as established by Hilmi Şenalp. We can see attempts of modernism to reconcile the traditional style in the mosque. These architects, who aimed to sustain the classical Ottoman legacy, assumed an approach that was open to new attempts, and undertook innovations to interpret traditional architecture styles in some of their future work. This was in contrast to the Cevat Ülger’s approach he developed in his short life . Şakirin Mosque (2005-2009), by Hüsrev Tayla, and Tatbiki Mosque of Marmara University Faculty of Theology (2012), by Hilmi Şenalp, might be considered to be an effort by these architects, both of whom thought that the connection with tradition had been broken, to re-establish this relationship through a cultural archeology study, and to re-interpret architectural tradition using the current approaches.

4- Presidential Ottoman Archives Complex

4- Presidential Ottoman Archives Complex

Structures such as the Bahçeşehir and Zeytinburnu Seyyid Nizam Mosques, by Dr. Aydın Yüksel, the Pendik Dumankaya Mosque, by Mahmut Sami, the Kirazoğlu, Beykoz Türk İslam Sanatları Bahçesi (Turkish Islamic Arts Garden) and the Klasik Sanatlar Merkezi (Classical Arts Central) Mosque, by Ahmet Yılmaz and İbrahim Hakkı Yiğit, should be noted within the context of mosque designs that are subject to a separate analysis. While Dr. Aydın Yüksel attempts to interpret and diversify the classical style within itself, Mahmut Sami Kirazoğlu, on the other hand, seeks new forms. The restoration projects by Ahmet Yılmaz and İbrahim Hakkı Yiğit, such as Sümbül Efendi Tekkesi Harem Binası (Harem Building of Sümbül Efendi Dervish Lodge), should be considered important in terms of their efforts to establish a relationship between design and tradition.

This pursuit of “national identity”, that was trying to keep national architectural trends alive and sustainable until the beginning of the third millennia, despite some intervals, was brought onto the agenda in Istanbul, particularly in the 2000s. This ancient city, the scene of debates regarding new life styles, witnessed an unprecedented number of new construction activities. The greatest investors in the country worked with the leading architects, beginning to produce structures that were of high quality and architecturally equal to their counterparts around the world. While architecture at an international standard made claims to transform the visible face of the city – hoping to change it from random, careless architectural structures to more qualified constructions and planning, a different aesthetic satisfaction and the pursuit of a cultural identity began to emerge; indeed, this had been demanded in certain strata of society. Reflections of this pursuit, which circled around the concepts of an aspiration for the past, nostalgia, ancestors and civilization, were not solely witnessed in architecture, but also in many other areas of life. The Ottomans were presented as an object of desire, and were in demand, via their attire, accessories, hookah cafes, handcrafts, etc. They became subjects of the most popular TV series. On the other hand, while news items, such as “Beyoğlu’nda Osmanlı-Selçuklu dönüşümü” (Ottoman-Seljuk Transformation in Beyoğlu) (Anadolu Agency, 27 April 2013 12:05), “Osmanlı mimarili dönüşüm”4 (Transformation with Ottoman architecture), “İstanbul’a Osmanlı ve Selçuklu mahallesi kurulacak” (Ottoman and Seljuk neighborhoods will be established in Istanbul) (Yeni Şafak, 02 October 2009), “Osmanlı mimarisi karakollar geliyor.” (Police stations with Ottoman architecture are on the way) (Hürriyet, 21 January 2013), “Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı, yeni okul binalarını Osmanlı ve Selçuklu mimarisine göre inşa edecek.” (Ministry of National Education will build new school buildings in keeping with Ottoman and Seljuk architecture) (Zaman, 3 February 2005), “Esenler dönüşüm projesinde Osmanlı-Selçuklu mimarisinden esinlenilecek!” (Esenler transformation project will be inspired by Ottoman-Seljuk architecture) (Anadolu Agency, 1 December 2013), attracted the reaction of the architectural environment, there were no attempts to establish an identity that established continuity with the traditional architectural culture. On the contrary, there were doubts about whether these claims had adequate intellectual justifications. It could be argued that structures which were allegedly traditional were only superficially so; that is, rather than being established on principles, they were reduced to form. Other structures - despite being small in number - sought a sophisticated identity by creating high quality buildings based on tradition. However, as these structures were not a part of the familiar process of the dominant architectural practice, they were constructed due to a demand (one which might be considered to be a bottom-up reflection of the social pursuit of identity) articulated and encouraged by political powers and local governments. While Ottoman- Seljukid patterns had begun to be used frequently in popular ornamental items on building facades, there are also examples which try to understand the intellectual world that shaped these patterns, and to make an interpretation of that world in the modern day.

5- The prairie houses in Örencik

6- Turkish Religious Foundation Center for Islamic Studies (ISAM)

7- ISAM Library

8- Soyak Göztepe Residences

In this regard, Örencik Kır Evleri (2001-2005), designed by Emine and Mehmet Öğün, was recognized as an independent product of an idea to escape the modern city of Istanbul, and to “open the pincers of positivism”5. It is possible to argue that, contrary to the principles emphasized in full page newspaper commercials for residential buildings, Örencik Kır Evleri has a human-centered residential approach that established a modest and harmonious relationship with nature, even glorifying it, in a soft voice that was only to be heard by attentive listeners. The structures, which settle gently -even shyly- on the topography, aim to convey not only architectural style, but also concepts of traditional items in the present. The principle of sincerity and honesty throughout the usage of material is integrated with the wooden structural system, although the buildings are not composed solely of wooden veneer. These structures, which object to the idea that new technical means and materials completely phase out the old, remind us that if natural materials are used in accordance with their own spirit, some things do not change. On the other hand, the eaves designed by Emine and Mehmet Öğün within the Topkapı Kültür Parkı (Topkapı Cultural Park) are also remarkable in terms of the interpretation of traditional materials and forms.

It is possible to argue that Hilmi Şenalp’s architectural forms, which bring forward the idea of reproducing the traditional style without imitating it, produce striking products of the final period in Istanbul, at least in terms of the relationship established with tradition. Hilmi Şenalp, who focused on the classical Turkish-Islamic traditions preceding Westernization, and whose mission it was to reproduce this tradition in accordance with the conditions of the present, continued his work by “trying to reflect the mental realm of the traditional, the root of its spirit, the reasoning of its manufacturing technology and the comprehension and elaborateness of its appearance with the material of new buildings by taking advantage of the available technology” and by “aiming to become a bridge to transfer the inherited tradition to future generations.”6

9- Sümbül Efendi Sufi Lodge, before and after restoration

9- Sümbül Efendi Sufi Lodge, before and after restoration

Küçük Çamlıca Köşkleri, constructed by Şenalp in 1998, occupy a special place in this regard. The author Beşir Ayvazoğlu describe the Köşks as follow: “Have you seen Küçük Çamlıca recently? If not, you must go there and see it one day. You’ll be surprised. These are typical Istanbul mansions, except they seem to rest on Çamlıca Hill after jumping out of the picturesque European engravings; they possess the entire landscape. Actually, this is a brand-new architectural poem composed of three mansions and a walled Turkish garden.”7 These mansions can be regarded as an attempt to create a new stylistic composition. Küçük Çamlıca Köşkleri make one think that the aim of the architect has been achieved with the impression they create on visitors; it is as if they are restored historical structures, although they were built on an empty plot as new architectural products. In the first and second structure of this facility Şenalp tried to create a composition that was loyal to fifteenth and sixteenth-century Ottoman civil architecture; this group consists of three mansions built around a garden. The architect preferred a simplified, traditional style for the third structure, more in keeping with the style of Sedad Hakkı Eldem. Steel construction was preferred for the structural system of the building, and structural materials of classical periods were used. It might be thought that there was an attempt to use contemporary construction technologies to help this alliance while reproducing the tradition. Most of the time, Şenalp works both as designer and contractor in his projects, another important dimension of Şenalp’s architecture is that he trained the masters and artisans in the architectural culture, in aspects that were either lost or in danger of becoming lost. Later on, Şenalp provides a habitat for these masters and artisans. It was quite difficult for traditional professions, such as kündekari,8 revzencilik,9 kurşunculuk,10 masonry, engraving or alemcilik,11 to be conserved in a cultural heritage and find a habitat within the contemporary environment of architecture. This had not been possible except for in some restoration works, the quality of which are questionable. In the classical period master builders would have a grasp of the stylistic details of their period due to the robust Akhism organization. It was enough for the architect to merely describe an item of construction he needed, for example a kavsara muqarnas,12 to his master, and the desired product would be delivered. However, an architect who desired to acquire the same product today needs to work much harder to get it. In such an environment - where construction materials, details, standardization and style cannot be sustained - the architect has to be able to describe each detail technically, train the master to carry out the production from almost the beginning to the end, and to brief him about the style, traditional details and the usage of the material. Şenalp’s architecture also played an important role in conservation and the sustenance of these crafts and arts, thanks to the effort to re-establish a connection with the interrupted traditional architectural culture.

10- Küçük Çamlıca Mansion

Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi Kompleksi, another structure in Istanbul designed by Hilmi Şenalp, is a noteworthy example in regards to the renewed pursuit of tradition in Istanbul in the 2000s. A different attitude from that demonstrated in earlier works was adopted in these structures. A more abstract relationship with tradition in terms of form was attempted, with a continuation of the principle of interpreting civil architectural items (jutting elements and wide eaves) and proportions in Sedad Hakkı Eldem’s design. The muqarnas structure of the Seljuk portals were included in facades, designed via cubes in a simplified geometry; this was also attempted in earlier examples. In this project, in which arched masses were broken up to reduce the bulky effect, the administrative sections were composed with overhanging eaves. The prominent features of a Turkish house, such as wide eaves, oriel and vertical windows, were simplified and interpreted in these structures, and materials such as stone, steel and glass were used. On the other hand, the voluminous main storage areas of the archive were established in the form of platforms, and hidden under green roofs.

Another composition produced by making use of the architectural legacy of the Seljuks is the İslam Araştırmaları Merkezi-İSAM (Centre for Islamic Studies) in Bağlarbaşı, built by Tülay and Adnan Taşçıoğlu in 1995-1998. The interior spaces of the masses, which are positioned around a large courtyard, are clustered around separate interior courtyards. It is possible to argue that this attitude is based on the tradition of placing education and science buildings around a central courtyard, brought from Central Asia to the Ottoman world. The brick covered facades of the structures seem to convey the desire of the architect to establish a connection with the pre-Ottoman period. This complex, which bears interpretations of muqarnas and stylized portals, is in keeping with the considerable influence of the Seljuk legacy. The horizontal impact of extensive masses formed around the courtyard is dominant. On the other hand, the simplified interpretation of the muqarnas, representing the most intricate and sophisticated stage of geometry throughout Seljukid-Ottoman tradition, confronts us as a reference that has been used in the national architectural trend.

A reference to portals produced with a simplified geometric step form can also be seen in Behruz Çinici’s Soyak Göztepe Konutları (1988-1993). While an oriel interpretation was applied within these residences, it is open to discussion whether these references reflect the essence of the design as constitutive principles in these intense multistory structures.

Construction activities and large investments take place at a bewildering pace in the Istanbul after 2000, one of the largest modern cities in the world. The challenge to meet this construction style in its own traditional way, which can be observed in any city of the world, confronts us as a demand closely associated with the preference for social identity and civilization. This kind of demand attracts attention as a reflection of a quest by society at every level of the public organization, from the top of the political authority to local administration. Adoption of traditional forms inherited from Turkish history, along with the meaning and principles that lie behind them, gain significant importance in the formation of original structure aesthetics. This ultimate goal is actually sought for in architecture, which is more an intellectual product than solely an activity of construction, within the pluralist environment of the third millennium.


1 For detailed information, see: Halil İbrahim Düzenli, İdrak ve İnşa: Turgut Cansever Mimarlığının İki Düzlemi, Istanbul: Klasik, 2009.

2 Ritmin Gücü ve Ritme Davet by Ülger should be noted as an important text to reveal Ülger’s opinions on this issue. See Cevad Ülger, Ritmin Gücü ve Ritme Davet, Istanbul: İbda Yayınları, 1985. Furthermore, the following website offers some information about the architect: http://mimarcevatulger.blogspot.com/, 15.12.2013.

3 See, http://www.hassa.com/proje/atasehir-mimar-sinan-camii, 15.12.2013.

4 See, http://www.tokihaber.com.tr/haber/Osmanlı%20mimarili%20dönüşüm, 15.12.2013.

5 Halil İbrahim Düzenli and Evrim Düzenli, “Kıyısından Metropole Fısıldananlar ya da Örencik Kır Evleri Nasıl Değerlendirilmeli?”, 1. Türkiye Mimarlık Eleştirisi Örnekleri Seçkisi, Istanbul: Mimarlar Odası İstanbul Büyükkent Şubesi Yayını, 2007, pp. 67-80.

6 See, http://www.hassa.com/hakkimizda, 15.12.2013.

7 Beşir Ayvazoğlu, “Muharrem Hilmi Şenalp”, Aksiyon, 1999, issue 992.

8 Wooden decoration.

9 Stained window.

10 Lead crafts.

11 Finial decoration.

12 Muqarnas decoration.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.