oxygen is being
pumped to the
oxygen is being
pumped to the
Hayrettin Günç in conversation with C. Recorded on August 5th, 2013
C: You started a firm with your friend after graduating called Herkes İçin Mimarlık, Architecture for All. Why did you decide to start this firm? Or perhaps firm isn’t the right word.
HG: Organization. It goes back to our college years when we were studying architecture, we had these questions, “Who are we working for? After school what will we do? Will we just go into a design office and go on designing all our lives? Or, is there an alternative way?” We said, we can do something outside the limits of the university, we can go out design something, find the funds for it, and build it. As a student we were not supposed to do that. We should first be an “architect” in order to design something, that’s what we were told.
C: How do you choose your projects and find work?
HG: When we first started we were thinking about a manifesto, how to define ourselves. You know, when a group of people come together there should be a manifesto. But after two months we couldn’t come up with a sentence, so we said “let’s do something and then our projects will define us later.” Our members bring project ideas and now people who see our work come to us and offer ideas. Herkes İçin Mimarlık is a platform where they can turn their ideas into reality; it’s kind of an umbrella to create many different projects.
C: Many of your projects are executed through workshops. What is the role of students in these? Are they designers or just builders and is it sustainable to use this as a means of production?
HG: Up to this stage, all of our projects have been led mostly by student volunteers. When we were in school we didn’t have the chance to do these kinds of projects. So we believe it’s important to raise awareness in this aspect of education, to think about and question what the students will do after graduation.
C: But a student is normally considered a transitional role, you are only a student for three, four years. Does this necessitate a constantly evolving organization?
HG: We are experimenting with that. People who started when they were students are now graduated and coordinating the projects. In a way, Herkes İçin Mimarlık is an alternative for graduates as well. We are trying to get a network of students, mostly through Facebook and also professors in the universities around Turkey, who can mobilize incoming students. We have not had difficulty attracting peers to attend the workshops. Facebook is really powerful. We make an open call and then it’s ear to ear, people tell each other, it’s a different kind of energy and its viral immediately.
C: Many of your projects can be considered to exist outside a narrow definition of architecture and are perhaps further on the side of activism. I strongly believe that architects need to be, at the very least, aware of the political situation involving public space, and better yet, actively involved. It is so important to our profession, our being – I mean, how can you not be? And Istanbul certainly is a hotbed on the front of these issues as a very quickly developing city. How have you responded in the face of these issues?
HG: It’s crazy, Istanbul right now is developing at full pace. The construction industry is the locomotive of the economy, every day we have to build something, or so the government thinks. Taksim project was one of the biggest. We had discussions about whether we should be a part of it. We decided that what we had in common were our beliefs, and we could still keep practicing architecture but we shouldn’t be afraid of being political, if what we believe is political, it doesn’t matter. So we started doing the workshop to raise awareness two months after the project was announced.
C: This project you’re referring to is the proposal to build the replica neo-ottoman barracks that would be a shopping mall, new opera house and mosque in place of where Gezi Park is now, correct?
HG: Yes, Gezi Park is one of the last remaining parks in the city. When it was first planned it was like the central park of Istanbul. But many interventions have been made on it, big hotels were built and now it has been fragmented into many parks; on the last one of these spaces they are thinking of building the barracks. Of course Taksim needs an intervention. It has traffic problems and security problems, but nothing was discussed and they came up with this project that wasn’t solving anything. We tried to open up a space for discussion. We were just 15 or 20 people, mostly new graduates and students, but still, we thought maybe we could enlarge this discussion space through more workshops. We came up with the idea of doing picnic festivals in the park. There were other people protesting the park development, but they were just going to Taksim Square holding signs and chanting slogans, the traditional way of protesting. We thought maybe we can do something else. The government was arguing that the park wasn’t secure enough, and no one was using it.
C: So of course you had to use it.
HG: We had to build something by creating new uses. The festivals were an answer to that. We did maybe 10 festivals and 2000 people attended. Perhaps 2000 is not so many people in a city of 15 million, but maybe it could be one of the sparks that could turn into a huge demonstration.
C: So this was happening before the large-scale protests and crackdowns that have occurred over the past couple of months?
HG: Yea, maybe one and a half years before. And it was just one of the things that we did. While we were doing this we tried other ways to grab attention and create a dialogue. We also did an installation in which we envisioned a parallel world where the Taksim project was done in a collaborative way. We created a newspaper that brought news from this other world where the prime minister was saying “it’s not my business you should talk with the mayor about this project, because it’s not my field.” We also had a fax machine so that people in the room could participate by tweeting with a special hashtag to say what you thought about the project. There is a misunderstanding about the role of architects and urban designers, that they are like gods; if they say so then it should be done like that because they are professionals, but it’s not like that. If something is planned in your neighborhood you have a right to that process, you don’t have to be an architect or designer to say what you think.
C: And it would feed out in the newsroom in real time. This parallel world you’ve created sounds utopic, but…
HG: We didn’t want to portray this alternative as the way we should do it, it’s just an alternative, it could be something else.
But what we needed to do was to discuss it, if you don’t discuss there is no way you can come up with the right process.
C: Do you think things are actually moving in that direction? It seems that as a response to the protests the government has consolidated even more power. They absorbed the independent Chamber of Architects and Engineers, which used to have oversight on large urban development projects, into the Ministry of the Environment and Development, which is a larger state agency. So in a sense the power is becoming even more concentrated.
HG: Yes, but what the government is missing is that the power does not come from the organizations, but individually from the citizens themselves. When the citizens come together they are the power. The government thinks that the Chamber of Architects is responsible for mobilizing people to protest, but they’re missing the essential point.
C: So you think the resistance will continue?
HG: Yes, the most important part is now oxygen is being pumped to the brains of the people. They have started thinking “maybe we don’t need this many shopping malls in my neighborhood.”
This is the important thing, when people start questioning things in their environment, and they realize they have a right to say something about interventions. The union of architects didn’t have power before the protests either.
C: It’s the realization and awareness of what’s happening that empowers people to affect their surroundings.
HG: If one and a half years ago someone came to us with the idea to protest by putting up tents and occupying a space, we wouldn’t believe it, because we are not used to that, we would say “no that’s the American way of protest it wouldn’t work here.” But it did work. Progress. So now people are discovering alternative ways of protesting.
C: Another neighborhood that has been subjugated to controversial development is Tarlabaşı.
HG: Yes, have you been there?
C: Yea, but I had been told it was not a good area. The part of the neighborhood that faces the street is all billboards of new development, all pretty mediocre, totally non-descript contemporary housing and retail glistening under an artificial sun.
HG: Even the renders of the projects, from the people they put in them you can see that they are trying to build a new lifestyle and community there, to just evict the people that own that place now and bring in another community. It’s symbolic.
C: It’s blatant, the use of the renderings to literally cover up what’s existing behind it. And so you can only get glimpses of the neighborhood down these side alleys, and perhaps that’s part of the development scheme, to hide what will be destroyed.
HG: Of course, it’s a problematic issue. First they show that the neighborhood is not secure, illegal maybe because immigrants live there. They prepare the people of Turkey that the neighborhood has to change because it’s not safe.
C: It’s not ‘safe,’ it’s not ‘good,’ or whatever adjective they decide to throw in to build.
HG: Those renders are just tools to make people believe in their argument. And the worst part is that many people believe that those interventions are the only way to make it better.
C: It’s hardly an intervention, it’s an erasure.
HG: That’s the biggest problem, the absence of a platform that could be something apart from the authoritarian system. The city municipality is the only authority that gives the decisions and most of the time they make the wrong decisions. Without independent spaces to discuss the interventions that are going on in the city most of the time you will be unsuccessful.
C: So it’s a two-step process, first to develop an actively aware and motivated public, and then provide a political structure where exchanges between citizens and decision makers can occur.
HG: On twitter, the district representative of where I live is everyday posting photos of different buildings they are starting to work on. And every time he posts something, I challenge him “Who is the architect of the work? How did you decide? Do we need this?” I don’t think he likes me, but maybe if I ask him a thousand times…
C: Then maybe he’ll take the time to figure it out. Or maybe other people will start asking.
HG: Yes, you should do it. Poke him. I am not asking him to make him feel bad, but just to start a dialogue.