by Orhan Ayyuce
Even though they call it the pearl of Aegean Sea, Izmir is no ivory colored postcard. Early on the city surrounded its bay like a necklace all right, but later morphed into a collar first and shortly after, the whole shirt. Mass immigration, increased birth rates and unplanned development have its impact. Imagine pop. 4,000,000 in high density living as a background music while reading this.
It is a port with thousands of containers coming and going, an industrial hub with large factories and labor unions. It has a free trade zone. It is a gateway to Turkish side of Aegean Sea.
Izmir is on a natural trade route with a textbook natural bay. The port cities are the most liberated cities. Goods change hands and commissions, tariffs are collected. Farmers are paid off for their tobacco, cotton, grapes, vine, olive oil, figs. Among many activities, fish is caught and consumed, textiles turned into Tommy Hilfiger and exported, Marlboro's made and smoked and tourism is dependable too.
A massive public works project, Izmir cleaned it's bay free of industrial pollution which accumulated over the years and turned the blue waters to brown, devoid of any sea life. The beautiful bay is back to life and four million people are trying to make peace with the sea. Congratulations.
Ancient Agora in its center is not the oldest part of the city.
They say Izmir was settled for 5000 years.
They say, most likely the blind poet Homer wrote the lliad and Odyssey there.
They say soldiers of Agamemnon healed their wounds in the mineral rich hot springs of Balcova not far from where my umbilical cord was buried in my grandmother's backyard, long gone to eminent domain in the name of modernization and development. Within last 40 years Izmir (and most major Turkish cities) became the speculative developer's heaven. Butt jointed 4 to10 story apartments, kilometers long became the new face of Izmir effectively choking each block from the air circulation, open space and visual relief block after block and like a tapeworm.
Izmir suffered a near annihilation in 1922 during the frantic days of rivalry between the fleeing Greek army who briefly and brutally occupied the city for two years after the WW1 and the pressing soldiers of Ataturk's liberation front. During which the city was set on fire, which still is an open case of whodunit Greek army left the bay on Italian steam ships with native Greek population fearing retaliation, joined them. This was a mass exodus, a community's nightmare. The carnage combining crime of passion, jealousy, hatred and revenge., triumphant and liberated Turks rejoiced and innocent Greek civilians watching their beloved Smyrna burn, crying and feeling uncertain on the deck as the ships were sailing out to unknown future for them.
Greeks, in turn, forced the Turks out of Aegean islands, the Sea is yet to recover from non-voluntary divides.
The Aegean Sea is the craziest of all the seas and on it, winds can change direction in matter of minutes without a warning. I have witnessed its mirror like surface turning into choppy white waters in no time and luckily made the shore no problem. It sneaks up on you.
That sea is a mad love.
Anyway, things got quickly under control and Izmir entered a new epoch with repaired damage and caught up to Ataturk's brilliant reforms. Good tobacco and other native cash crops helped in following years, a boost to recovery, the young republic was a chain smoker. Beaches re opened, there were boys and girls kissing each other on the way to the municipal opera house and open air movie theatres, the joy was restored.
They fast forwarded into late night tangos under the palm trees, in a nightclub called “Mogambo”.
Some Greeks resurfaced, Sephardic community was totally in tune and young Turks in co-ed parties were absolutely dashing. My father was in love with Elena first. But her mother wanted a Greek husband for her beautiful daughter, even though she had already let my father kiss her on the lips in one balmy summer night at the shore.
Year was circa1942 I was told.
That pearly kiss reminded true love to my father for the rest of his life. God bless him, poor Elena could have killed me before I was even a sperm.
This is a point and shoot camera in my hands. I realize the information about Izmir on Wikipedia is so vast, that I would be silly to repeat it. I hope to catch fifteen minute ideas in two minutes, otherwise there is no story. If you want to know what that Burger King doing in a Gustav Eiffel building, I'd rather say “shame”.
Izmir currently dreams of hosting the 2015 World Expo. It should. I say Izmir over Milan. A World Expo would be much more meaningful in Izmir than in Milan who already has everything including the fashion and furniture parties on almost mounthly schedules. Besides being partial, I like Izmir's theme better; "New Routes to a Better World/Health for All". No no, it is not a city all the Starfleet are buzzing around yet, but Monsieur Corbusier did take a close look once around 1937.
A few words of impression on Architecture and Cities of Turkey;
Architecture in Turkey was not a priority until recently and hasn't been since the mid 60's, when it left the public realm and most buildings were done by opportunist developers who didn't have proper education in building trades but as employers they paid the mass educated architects their salaries and gave them design orders.
Currently “architecture” is being re-packaged in the form of; shopping centers, in so called “residence” building types in a nuevo rich accent, and in the form of gated communities behind dubious walls.
It's being marketed to significant amount of wealthy dwellers and consumers. The newspapers and magazines write about them daily as millions of hungry eyes watch with admiration and sadness, trying to feed their families on meager salaries. They deeply sigh on lifestyles of rich and famous. 'So close far away' is a good way to describe the social divisions.
Modern architecture in the hands of privileged few have no tears, and 'that' incredible semi certified economic growth rate does not brighten the poor people's dimmer quarters.
I wonder how much the visiting architectural luminaries such as Koolhaas, Hadid, Mayne, Fuksas, Gehry etc., know about this reality or were told about it, or, do they care?
I guess, you have to be politician's bedfellow to get major projects world over.
Architects as whores?
But of course.
Who would not salivate as an architect to work on a choice geography with thousands of disposable buildings that can be flattened by the current mayor's decree and private investor's capital?
I can't really coin it Urban Slot Machine but that title sure sounds perfect in my mind.
I don't want to crash anybody's party and I predicted that Turkish architectural community was going to gain some momentum as the country regains its cultural importance in the world stage and creative thinking returns after many years of sabbatical. My subscription to Arkitera tells me there are some real talents and ambitious clientele trying to raise the bar.
However, published architecture in Turkey still lacks some originality as the starlets of Turkish architecture try to emulate the designs of world-class stars they have once worked for or studied under.
Although this is not specifically Turkish issue, one can assume an architecture unique to Turkey can emerge if necessary, since the conditions exist in such cultural, physical and historical context. Out of these conditions, physical one is specially important and I would predict that Turkish architecture can play a major role in the development of infra structure-less architecture of the future. Maybe I am getting far flung here, but one must not forget nomadic roots of Turkish genealogy, a mindset requirement, if not the conceptual ingredient of infra-less architecture, which perhaps promises to be the most important development since the modern movement and trumps all previous styles and comfort zones. Autonomous buildings. Turks are interested.
Symposium on Future Architecture Without Infra-Structure.
Turkish population doubled since the 60's when architecture died, to almost 80 million and expected to hit 100's sometime in the next decade. In over populated major cities of Turkey, if two people can pass a narrow path, you can be sure they'll be there to pass it and a third one will be watching for the opportunity if one fails or hesitates.
The density of Turkish cities are blinding, deafening, polluting, claustrophobic and do I dare to say, beautiful. I see that irresistible attraction in that badly constructed urbanity, city planning gone chaotic and instead of denying it, I like to indulge in it without disdain. Is that healthy thinking? Perhaps not, but I like madness, and, you cannot demolish millions of buildings or provide parking to millions of new cars previously did not exist.
I want to live long, but I want to be buried there when I die, my dead flesh fertilizing the dirt, perhaps helping a fig tree to grow. I must do my duty as the ones before me did. I do see my father's eyes when I look at an olive tree near his grave. It matters.
Some human spirits are products of race and some are of geography. I am the latter kind.
I could also help an oak tree in SoCal, my second home, but not to a grass lawn cemetery with designer tombstone, chances are there and I would not want to take that risk over my dead body...
I am against cremation for it is not a sustaining practice.
Izmir, Istanbul, Los Angeles