The accelerating construction activity taking place in Istanbul has quickly transformed the city’s macroform to the extent that one can hardly remember its previous state. One of the most important factors that made this great transformation possible was the decentralization of industrial areas which had once been established on the periphery and are now located in the city centre. The physical structures of business enterprises and factories established in the founding years of the Republic with an aim towards achieving an industrial revolution, had also promised this much dynamism and were designed and built by distinguished architects and engineers of this period. Despite the complacent attitude prevalent today, Istanbul still has a rich industrial heritage. And when we look at the transformation that has taken place in the last 30 years, we can observe that the wide parcels belonging to evacuated industrial buildings have made large scale investments possible and the transformation has therefore streched as far as changing the macroform, the social and physical organization of the city. But when questioning how the empty spaces created by the removal of the industry to suburban areas will be blended back into the life of the city, we must remember that the decision-makers, swept up by the wind of globalization, are ignoring issues of concern such as the preservation of the city’s memory and its industrial heritage.
The methods employed for the transformation of the areas-in-question are as important as the ultimate product itself. If we look at the Haliç shores as one of the first urban areas to be cleared of industries, we can see that in the 1980’s, a great clearing operation was conducted firstly through public initiative to rid the shores of all workshops and factories, that the water line was then extended with landfills, that the extended areas still remain unidentified to this day and are abandoned as uncannily empty green spaces. Used by the locals as a Sunday barbecue-picnic area for a long time, Haliç is now going through a second wave of transformation. On the one hand, in line with the local administration’s “Culture Valley” vision, congress centers and dolphinariums are being built. These constructions are completely out of context as they don’t bother to engage in any kind of relationship with their environment and the industrial heritage of the area. On the other hand, the private sector is gradually taking over the shores of Haliç with new offices and luxury residences. And in between these two extremes are squeezed singular fortunate examples such as Hasköy Yarn Factory hosting cultural events, or Lengerhane housing Rahmi Koç Museum, Alibeyköy Electricity Power Station transformed by santralistanbul into a university campus or Cibali Tobacco Factory housing Kadir Has University.
Another continuing transformation that affected the macroform of the city occurred on the Zincirlikuyu-Maslak line, when the factory sites were replaced with offices, shopping malls and “residences” – a word that found its way to our vocabulary with the innovation process of this very area. Instead of the public initiative in Haliç, the innovation activity in this area was carried out single-handedly by the private sector, thus opening vast investment zones in the city centre. The inevitable outcome of this private sector-led transformation move which was carried out with no public planning procedures, was the emergence of urban islets, dictated by market conditions and thus designed as segments. Whilst each building was entrusted to a proficient architect, the relationship with the building on the neighbouring parcel, the liveliness of public life on the pavement level, and pedestrian traffic were all overlooked. As calculations were made to determine whether the building would be the highest one adorning the silhoutte of the city, life in the interim section between the Levent villas on the other side of the street and the Gültepe slums right behind the garden walls could not be envisaged. The transformation of the Büyükdere axis, despite the presence of the private sector accelerating the process and increasing the quality in terms of the buildings themselves, created a city segment with no infrastructure, no plan and no vision for the future, leaving the private sector all alone in its wake.
Along with tranformation models managed solely by the State, or directed by the private sector on the basis of parcels with no adequate planning, Istanbul is now trying out another model and we are yet to see its results. In 2006, the re-planning of Kartal’s central business zone became the subject of an international competition. Zaha Hadid was invited, accompanied by Massimiliano Fuksas and Kisho Kurakawa. The acceptance of his master plan made a considerable impact in architecture circles. Another competition was organized for the planning of Küçükçekmece but unsurprisingly, no steps were taken after the competition to actualize the winning project. Conversely in Kartal, the winning project was adopted. Istanbul Metropolitan Planning Office within the Greater Municipality and Zaha Hadid entered a professional partnership and worked together to actualize the concept on the development plans. Of course, it was not the Municipality’s determination that made this possible. Industrial areas in the central business zone of Kartal were either being evacuated one by one, or adopting new functions. With the likes of Eczacıbaşı, Siemens, Doğuş and Sabancı among them, big companies that were proprietors of these areas came together to set up Istanbul Kartal Urban Development Society and provided financial support, to ensure the sustainability of the the project. Even though there were similar players and parcels on Büyükdere Street, the proprietors could not come together. What created the difference for Kartal and made organized action possible was the international competition.
Of course the process in Kartal was not without its problems. Sixty percent of the area to be transformed was taken up by industrial sites. So the small scale proprietors of the remaining forty percent were under-represented during the project phase and could not play an active role in the decision making processes. Reaching a consensus was thus delayed. Objections raised by the remaining proprietors led to amendments on the project. They also founded a society and became active decision makers who adopted the project at the end a five year project planning phase.
When we compare Haliç and Büyükdere with Kartal – not in terms of the ultimate product but just the process – we can see that competitions are the best method to obtain projects that will cyrstallize the process so that important decisions which will affect the macroform of the city and give shape to public spaces can be influenced by public opinion. Not only in the transformation of industrial sites but in all large-scale transformation projects that inflict social and physical change on a wider circle through the introduction of new functions and infrastructural facilities, neither the private sector nor the current governing bodies should be entrusted with the serious task of projecting the future and taking responsibility for the outcomes.
It doesn’t matter if it is on the scale of buildings, parcels or islets, as far as transformation of industrial sites is concerned, the only transformational tool that will refrain from seeing these industrial sites as a means of speculation and will help them interfuse with the life of the city, is going to be a transparent process and shared wisdom. All eyes are fixed now on the Mecidiyeköy Liqueur Factory. We are watching with curiosity.
* A lot has changed in the time that has passed between the writing of this article and its publication. The building which stood erect on 12th of May 2012 had turned into a heap of rubble on the 22nd of May 2012.