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Architects Take | April 2011

Turkish delights

Winner of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Architect Emre Arolot outlines his philosophies as he discusses some of his acclaimed projects.

Winner of the Aga Khan Award 2011, Architect Emre Arolot is an inspiration to speak to. Where most architects’ designs lay stress on large volumes, ultra modern materials and making personal statements, Arolot simply concentrates on the sensitive aspect of design. He focuses on designs that are suited to the site, use as many local materials as possible, and enhance the experience of the user. His work defines each bit of his philosophy.

Sumisha Arora gets chatting with the award-winning architect at his Istanbul office about his projects, philosophies, and perspective on the industry.

You won the Aga Khan Award for your first industrial project, the Ipekyol Textile factory. Why do you think it won the much acclaimed award?
Architecture is not just about designing a good-looking building. The Turkish industrial sector, mainly the textile production sector, offers very poor working conditions. When I took up this project, I focused more on improving the working conditions of the workers. I emphasised good ventilation, some panoramic views of the gardens and an experience that made working pleasurable rather than just a mere wage-earning business. You may call it the humanistic way of planning – this is what probably struck a chord with the judges as well.

So, is designing the humane way your design philosophy? Do all your projects follow similar guidelines?
Of course! Humaneness is very important, and so is the context. In the race to design buildings that make a statement, most architects tend to become imposing. Their projects, irrespective of the city and country, belong to the same style and project the architects’ philosophy instead of adhering to the requirement of the site.

This is not a good thing. I believe that a project should be functional and at the same time very contextual. A building in India should be different from one built in Turkey. One needs to consider the weather, the country’s economic and social milieu; the design must be in sync with the architectural style of that country. Fitting in with the context is very important; I can say it is the most important thing by my standards.

Could you give us an example of a structure where you have placed context as your foremost criterion?
We designed a building in the centre of Istanbul – Central Instanbul project – which was originally an auto electrical power point station built in the beginning of the 20th century and operational until 1984. Post that, a university took over this entire area and wanted to renovate it as a cultural centre. We converted some electrical power point stations into schools and museums and also built a brand new building there as a Contemporary Art museum. For this new building, we stuck to the context and designed it like the existing buildings to ensure syncrhronisation. We refrained from forcing our own style onto the building.

So what would be your signature style?
Our signature style is having no signature style! While for the Central Istanbul project we went with a traditional design, at the Zorlu Centre Project – incidentally, one of our biggest projects – we have attempted to create a new platform and integrate it with landscaping. It is a mixed use project that deals with contradictions such as grandeur and modesty, public and private, institutional and domestic, social and distinguished, together with structural and topographical considerations.

We have adopted a completely new approach by reconstructing the topographical interpretation, with a kind of shell that is transformed into an in-between layer for the different functions combined in the complex. The shell starts from the Boulevard Level, with a Public Square at the meeting point with the city, and rises towards south and east. It is split into two arms separated by level differences.

The inner route, the Public Topography, reaches to the 28 mt-higher Urban Balcony with marvellous Bosphorus views, while the outer ring ends up with a height of 32 mt and creates the Private Topography of the residential units. At the centre is the Piazza surrounded by the retail units. The Activity Stairs direct the public down to the interior retail units, the Bosphorus Level, which also has another direct entrance on south. The retail level below has the Metro connection and houses entertainment.

In Zorlu Centre, we are more expressionist than contextual. That’s what the project demanded. However, context does not leave our system, which is evident in our plan for a Hilton hotel in Turkey at Antakya. Antakya is a sovereign city close to the Syrian border. Here, there are lots of ruins dating back to the 5th or 6th century BC. So, for the Hilton hotel, we have suggested an unconventional hotel where we retain the ruins, put legs wherever possible in between them and build the hotel above it. Guests are given access to the ruins through staircases.

So, it is basically the location and condition of the site that determines the design?
That’s right. Sometimes the site gives us cues to designs that look attractive, but only the architect knows that the design is such because of the site conditions. For example, take our project – Address Istanbul. Spread over 30,000 sq mt of space, the lifestyle centre was originally to be a parking lot, and thus, has lots of columns. Since the structural columns could not be knocked off, we created a chaotic design that goes between the columns and put some glass cubes as shopping displays in shopping units. The glass cubes are of random sizes, some 50 mt, some 70 mt, depending on the space available. It ended up being a maze-like design, which the owner loved! It is unconventional and has won us much acclaim.

Is there interest in sustainable architecture in Turkey?
Yes, sustainable architecture has gained popularity in the last couple of years in Turkey. The government has laid down some rules, but more than that, the economies of it is what is attracting architects. It sells well, because it saves money for buyers in the long run. Besides, it makes architects feel more responsible. Like, when I designed the Doloman International Airport Terminal building, we put a sunscreen above the whole building. We created aluminium louvers that filtered the light and blocked the heat. Since this was a warm area, and this airport is a summer airport with three to five million people using it every year, this sun-shield has saved the airport owners 40 per cent of commercial duties.

That’s brilliant. Are most of your projects based in Turkey, or do you also do international projects?
Sometimes, we do international projects but Turkey is now a very dynamic country, Istanbul is a dynamic city, and there is so much work happening here that we don’t need to look beyond. Given an opportunity though, I would love to do a project in India.

With his emphasis on holistic, sensitive and contextual architecture, Emre Arolot brings an independent rationale and a set of uncompromising principles to his desi-gns – surely, a philosophy that deserves emulation.

Contact: EAA - EMRE AROLAT ARCHITECTS, Nispetiye Mah. Aytar Cad., No: 24 Kat: 3-4 1.Levent 34340, Istanbul TR. Tel +90 212 284 70 73.

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