texts about architecture, common spaces, space politics



Dec '13 - Mar '15

  • Taksim Square: A Spatial Narrative of the Perpetual Reconquista

    Yelta Köm
    Mar 6, '15 10:01 AM EST


    This article is a product of fascination with a certain spatial narrative. It would be equally accurate to say that it was written almost a year after the Gezi resistance, when all was still very fresh. It does not aim to justify or praise any narrative; but to make a personal contribution to a pluralist narrative which includes millions of people.


    How much do we love praise and sanctification? All the pain and all the success we have is bound for praise; each one brings forward a leader, whom we follow and pronounce untouchable. Our eyes, shut tight with all the force bestowed by this sanctification, no longer have any tolerance for the different or the Other. In Turkey, this act of benediction varies only by time and location. Long praised by various groups, nations and people, Istanbul is a city lost in a sea of dissatisfaction. Wherever we are blinded by this sanctification, we need to ask ourselves: While speaking of a city and a past, when do we rid ourselves of all the sacred, romantic memories and actually talk? During the production of this article, the answer to this question was thoroughly reflected on; this may very well be a question that will be endlessly dwelled upon but never really answered.

    Unless this problem is settled, when dealing with a city like İstanbul, which constantly stimulates passion for reconquista, lust may inevitably figure among the likely outcomes. The story of a city, which has constantly fed aspirations for seizure and domination, does surely bare traces of past sorrows and loses. It is during the search for this very narrative that we must speak ofthe language that the authority has built through physical space. That is how we can realize just how critical, essential and dirty this spatial area, dominated by the language of the authority, really is.


    The Maksem building, which stands at the corner of the Taksim Square, can be a good starting point for describing the square. It was built between 1731 and 1733, on Mahmud I’s order, for the distribution of northern forest water throughout the city[1]. It was here that water supplied by the forest was divided into multiple channels. Starting the story of Taksim with Maksem is in fact closely related to the origin of the name Taksim. The verb “taksim etmek”, which means to divide, to distribute, to disperse and to portion out in Turkish, designated the distribution of city water from this location and thus gave Taksim its name. Given this division process and the narrative of the square, it is very much possible to see what has transpired so far as a narrative of division and dispersion. Even though this act of division and dispersion may signify a state of multiplicity, the centralist illusion which seeks to standardize its parts persists intact.

    Had the Erdoğan government never brought up the Pedestrianization of Taksim Project and plans for the reconstruction of the Taksim Military Barracks [2], which once stood on the Gezi Park, we might have never mulled over the spatial narrative of Taksim. The pedestrianization project planned to re-route most of the vehicle traffic leading to the square underground, rendering Taksim, host of mass gatherings, unreachable in a sense. That is how a park, which had been long unspoken of and maybe even forgotten, was catapulted to public notice and to a high position on the public agenda. When Erdoğan announced his project for Taksim, it came as a surprise to the PATTU Architecture that the images for the Ghost Buildings project[3], which they had produced for the 2010 European Capital of Culture event, was used by the Prime Minister[4]. The government not only imposed projects on the square but also promoted them by using images produced for a different purpose. Although this manipulative use of means of communication may seem like a wholly different subject, it should be noted that it signifies the government’s propensity for bending the medium to his own will. The utopian alternative future that PATTU had built earlier at the very same location instantly became reality in the minds of others once the government had announced its project. At the initial stages, the details of the project were shared neither with the public nor with the experts; the society strove to figure out the project through images released once every few months which bore no indication of the identity of their creator or clues to their method.

    The Taksim Military Barracks that the government wanted to reconstruct was built at the beginning of the XIXth century during Selim III’s reign. The barracks, which served as headquarters for the March 31 rebellion that broke out in 1909 after the proclamation of the Second Ottoman Constitution, wasn’t reserved for military purposes; given its location, it was also home to acrobatic shows and horse races[5]. After its sale to the Ottoman National Company for Industry and Trade in 1913, it continued to be a venue for various kinds of shows. Renamed the “Taksim Barracks” in the twenties and thirties, it became the centre for football and other sports games. During the presidency of İsmetİnönü, who showed great interest for the reconstruction of İstanbul, the city embarked on a journey of urban remodelling with Lütfi Kırdar, both the mayor and the governor of the city, and lost its Barracks in its quest to acquire a “modern” square[6]. Nowadays, as we tackle this subject, we cannot help but think that the concentration of power in a single set of hands and the imposition of transformation from above do repeat themselves like an epidemic.

    The very fact that both the governor’s and the mayor’s offices were held by the same person calls the pluralism of local public policy into question. In the forties, the Barracks was demolished according to Henri Prost’s project and the Gezi Park, then known solely as Park number 2, was designed to take its place. This new plan, drawn up during the construction of a new nation as part of the westernization agenda, was marked by another compelling government. The demolishment of the Taksim Military Barracks may be regarded as fitting with the modern atmosphere of its day; however, since it represents a government seeking to assert its power through physical space, it remains problematic. It should be therefore noted that its demolishment in the forties was as wrong as its reconstruction is nowadays.

    The physical manifestation of the state’s desire for standardization and purging may have reared its head yet again at the end of May 2013; but this time, it reminded us of the previous sanitation processes to which we were completely oblivious. It was during the Gezi resistance that we learned that an Armenian cemetery once existed on the grounds of the park[7]; that a genocide monument was erected in 1915 and quietly removed in 1922[8].

    Along with the Barracks and the Park, the Republic Monument, completed in 1928, is a crucial element of the square. Being principal instruments of nation-building, monuments told the history of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s actions all around the country. On one side of the Taksim Republic Monument was depicted the Republic; on the other, the War of Independance. The spatial organisation of official history gained full force during the period; the narrative of official history was embodied in monuments built across the country.

    As we accept the account of an official history, destined to be written, many details that we had erased or presumed forgotten become much more evident in time. Unless we come to realize that history is not linear but a collection of multiple histories, we are sure to meet such surprises and equally certain to continue living in the city that we built in our minds. It is rather difficult to free a city like Istanbul, governed with the passion of individual construction projects, from the grips of this situation.

    Ambition turns architecture into a tool of power and it is at these very points that the direct rapport of the former with power becomes apparent. The reconstruction movement, which began with the “reconquista[9]” of Istanbul, the symbol of westward-looking faces of the newly founded Turkish republic, happens to be among the most principal elements of Turkey’s modernity project. In his text “Representation Starts the Fire”, Bülent Tanju describes the Taksim Square as a stage for urban representation and writes: “All urban means of representation of this transcendental mise-en-scéne appear on the stage roughly in the period between the establishment of the single party government and the end of it (1923-1946). Moreover, the ‘early enlightened’ ones, who were the owners of the mise-en-scéne, draw the disciplinary limits of the enlightened stage, or they sincerely believe that they have actually succeeded in drawing them. The others are expected to appear in the public sphere and to become visible only after they accept those limits. The intent is to construct an ‘us’ from the crowd of others. An old proverb draws the limits of the common imagination or of the historical formation in Turkey : Wherever there is multiplicity, there is dunghill.    “ [10]

    Try as we might to comprehend how rich this “dunghill” actually is, we will not be able to grasp the full potential of plurality as long as we all construct our own safe place and environment. Nevertheless, we need to insist on Taksim as a narrative of multiplicity and of plurality and repeat it tirelessly. The Gezi Park, for which we resisted, or the Park number 2, which figured in Henri Prost’s project, multiplies the points we can touch by facing and coming to terms with the history on which the Park of President İnönü lies. The AKM, a cornerstone of Turkish modernity and next in line to be demolished for reconstruction in Baroque style by Erdoğan, holds yet other issues to be settled and has a prominent place in the city’s memory[11]. The representativeness of AKM, the Atatürk Cultural Centre, has always had precedence over its architecture or its being a building; it represents an era and the modern. It was opened as the “İstanbul Cultural Centre” in 1969 and took its present-day form in 1977, after a fire[12]. The AKM arguably has a rather cold look; nevertheless, it is a crucial element of the square as a manifestation of the modern state mentality. During the Gezi resistance, the AKM became the interface of resistance, bearing symbols of allopinions, it acquired probably the most beautiful façade ever.

    The building, which looks over the square with almost a grim face, served as one of the most essential screens of the resistance. The authoritarian and standardizing political system completed its sanitation project by countering the banners and posters hung by protesters with two Turkish flags and an Atatürk poster. The fact that the Standing Man, amajor protest during the resistance, and all the subsequent Standing Men and Women faced the AKM call for further reflection on the representativeness of the AKM. Lastly, to this day, the centre, which has long been closed down for restoration, remains among the largest police stations of the city since the Gezi Resistance. The Chamber of Architects has initiated legal proceedings in order to free this building of cultural heritage value of its actual situation.

    It would not be wrong to suggest that coincidences actually shaped the Taksim Square, which is roughly composed of the AKM on one side, the Gezi Park on the other while the monument marks one of its corners and the hotel faces the Park. It is not hard to say that our physical environment owes its existence to coincidences more than it does to plans or transgressions. It is not at all possible to really know why the square has its present form and not some other appearance, given the virtual inexistence of urban planning, the impossibility of transparency and the very fact that each and every centralist authority claims ownership of the square. Being in the dark as suchmay lead us to seek help in every and any image relating to the past and see the reconstruction of the Barracks as a remedy for Taksim[13]. This retrospective illusion can prompt us to revaluate all the images from the past that we come across. However, sometimes, certain images of former times can have unforgettable traces; the most important of which, the Bloody First of May, took place at this square of coincidences and ownership claims in 1977. The previous year, during the very first May 1st celebration in Turkey, some five hundred thousand people had gathered at the square. During the days leading to May 1st in 1977, the organization team had worked vigorously, instructing the workers, hanging posters all around the city. On the fateful day, all had begun like a true celebration.However, as Kemal Türkler, the president of DİSK[14] neared the end of his speech, several shots were heard: someone had opened fire on the crowd[15]. As triggers were pulled one after another from an unknown location, a huge panic and stampede ensued. Twenty-five people were crushed to death in the Kazancı Street, which leads downhill by the Marmara Hotel[16], then the Inter Continental. Eight women and twenty-six men were killed in total[17]. May 1st had not been celebrated at the Taksim Square until the year 2010, when the Erdoğan government granted permission. The AKP government, which declared May 1st official holiday and made it more than just a day of rest but a genuine holiday to celebrate[18], allowed the Taksim Square to be used as venue for merely three years, closing it in 2013 under the pretext of ongoing construction for the Pedestrianisation of Taksim Project. The following year, the square was declared inappropriate for assembly and manifestation and banned once again while the new rally venue constructed in Yenikapı, which clings to the city very much like a tumour, was prescribed for the May 1st celebration. This prohibitionary mentality, a manifestation of growing concern over opposition in the streets, wasmet with the resistance of people trying to make their way in to the square throughout the streets of the city. Instead of being home to the Workers’ Day, on May 1st, Istanbul becomes a prison for those who want to for those who want to keep the memory alive and celebrate. All the streets and roads are closed, public transport is halted. The city thus becomes paralyzed, immobilized and as was the case recently on May 1st 2014, the Taksim Square is turned into a closed arena by the police barricades lining four sides of the Square.

    Taksim is arguably the space where İstanbul is translated. It does not coincide with the squares of the West that we imagine and expect[19]. It is a place of gathering, whose intensity and volume constantly varies. The square has been fatigued and worn out by claims to ownership; it has had more than its fair share of various types of experience. Landing on top of years of build-up and of baggage, the imposition of a new project on the Gezi Park was an expression of state oppression felt in all areas of life. The government’s stance stands no chance in the face of reason as the project obviously originates from lust for seizure and has very little –if any – relation to architectural concerns or demands of urban planning.

    After the Gezi Park project had been announced, multiple activist groups declared that this green area stretching at the heart of the city could not be destroyed; the Barracks could not be resurrected and that the project could not be accepted. Thousands of signatures were collected, manifestations took place. The academicians, experts and artists who make up the Taksim Platform (Taksim Platformu) launched the campaign “Taksim belongs to all of us!” (Taksim hepimizin!). The accent on “all of us” signified breaking with the past. This emphasis on “all of us” opened up a wholly new area in a narrative where everybody was used to employing the first-person singular and plural. In time, with the support of labour organizations and professional associations that teamed up in the Solidarity for Taksim (Taksim Dayanışması), opposition to the project gained force. The traditional Gezi Park Celebrations, launched by Architecture for All (Herkes için Mimarlık) in March 2012 sought to put forward a creative spatial criticism by going against conventional protest practice. Around two thousand people participated in the celebrations that lasted between March and November. Meanwhile, the government pronounced a few brief statements on the subject and released less than a handful of images to the press. The civil society’s demand was in fact very clear; a transparent planning process. Solidarity for Taksim regularly held its Taksim Watch (Taksim Nöbeti) at the square. The Association for the Protection and Beautification of the Taksim Gezi Park (Taksim Gezi Parkı Koruma ve Güzelleştirme Derneği) organised the first Taksim Gezi Park Festival on April 14 2013. With the participation of numerous musicians and actors, the slogan of the festival “Stand up for Taksim” (Taksim için Ayağa Kalk) got through toa massive audience. The message was clear: we do not want the government to impose projects on us; we want the park to remain as a green area.

    It is rather hard to define the Gezi Park or the Taksim Square as perfect public spaces and we are aware that they do need certain interventions. However, a particular point seems to be missed time and time again; we cannot initiate dialogue. We begin our speech with an unfortunate “I want…” before even addressing the park issue. We tend to forget that the city belongs to each and every one of us and that a resolution can be reached through conflict[20]. We relegate the fact that it is essential not to discredit conflict and concentrate on its pros and that it is necessary to reach agreement[21] layer by layer when it may be impossible to achieve absolute reconciliation with each other on a given subject.

    On May 27 2013, upon hearing that the trees in the park were being cut down despite all the efforts at establishing dialogue, around fifty people, including members of Solidarity for Taksim went to the Park to keep watch. The peaceful protest grew as more people joined. However, as a mighty coincidence, on May 29, on the very anniversary of the conquest of İstanbul, at 5 o’clock in the morning, the police intervened in the Park, taking off the protestors’ tents and clearing the grounds for construction. The same day, during the launch of yet another controversial project the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge[22], Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proclaimed “Do all you want. We have already made the decision for that location. We are going ahead with it.”[23]

    Drunk with the power concentrated in central government, the unyielding obstinacy sought to quiet all the civil voices. Nevertheless, during the Gezi Resistance, clues as to how the central power begins to dissolve and how the illusion of centrality can be overcome emerged and may become even more evident in the future. 

    I personally do not know when common spaces will no longer be shaped by individual ambitions and when Taksim Square will be transformed by the majority chanting “we, all of us” to the top of their lungs. However, it is not hard to see that standardizing singular stories can never succeed. The collective production realized during the Gezi Resistance can be defined as the architecture of a certain period. The Gezi Park organized itself and put forward a new form of experience, which the politicians or experts could not dominate or become a part of. New avenues will open up before us, once we have appropriated the narrative of the Gezi without sanctifying or romanticising it; then, Taksim will be completely free of individual rivalries  and become a genuinely common space.



    [1] GÜRSOY Çelik, Taksim: Bir Meydanın Hikayesi (Taksim : The Story of a square), Turing Yayınları, İstanbul, 1986, p.11.

    [2] « Bir Çılgın Proje de Taksim’e » (A crazy project for Taksim as well), consulted on May 4th 2014.

    [3] « Hayalet Yapılar » (Ghost Buildings),

    [4]« ‘Hayal-et’ti Gerçek Olacak ! » (The Ghost is soon to be real), consulted on May 4th 2014.

    [5], consulted on May 4th 2014.

    [6] Cumhuriyet Devrinde İstanbul, (İstanbul in the Republican Era), İstanbul, İstanbul Belediyesi Neşriyat ve İstatistik Müdürülüğü, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, 1949.  

    [7] « Gezi Parkı ‘Taksim Bahçesi’yken Beyoğlu’nda Ermeniler »  (Armenians in Beyoğlu when the Gezi Park was the Taksim Garden),, consulted on May 4th 2014.

    [8] « ‘Kahrolsun Bağzı Şeyler’: Alacakaranlık Kuşağının İmkanları » (God Damn, Certain Things: The Prospects of the Twilight Zone Generation ),, consulted on May 4th 2014.

    [9] The conquest figures among the most sanctified elements of Istanbul; the account of Ottoman History is essentially based on its conquests. The Celebration of the Conquest of İstanbul takes place every year since an unspecified date. During these celebrations, which resemble theatre plays held by elementary school students, İstanbul is symbolically re-conquered. Are we prompted to prepare this stage by our deeply engrained habit of organizing plays when we were children? Or, is it the irresistible charm of “conquest”? Our history course books tell us the stories of our glorious conquests and of our devastating invasions by enemies. Nobody mentions the stories of invasion that our conquests had generated. We learn a history of war, over and over again, where we always conquer. The word “fetih” originates from the Arabic word “fatah” which means to open; to open a country to Islamic conquest.

    [10] TANJU Bülent, Asıl Yakan Temsiliyet, Representation Starts the Fire, “İmkansız Değil, Üstelik Gerekli: Küresel Savaş Çağında İyimserlik”, ed.: İlkay Baliç Ayvaz, s.: 90-105, Yapı Kredi Yayınları / İKSV, İstanbul, 2007.

    [11] I personally believe that speaking of the “memory” of cities is in fact a form of romanticization. What is meant here is the collective memory constructed by people.  

    [12] TANJU Bülent, Op. cit.

    [13] « Bomba » ( The Bomb) kpm-Kerem Piker Mimarlık, 1. İstanbul Design Biennial, MusibetIstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, ed.: Nil Aynalı, Benan Kapucu, Tamar Shafrir P. 106

    [14] Türkiye Devrimci İşçi Sendikaları Konfederasyonu; The Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey

    [15] « 1 Mayıs 1977 Katliamı », (The Massacre of May 1st 1977), Sosyalist Barikat, 12, April 2003,, consulted on May 4th 2014.

    [16] The hotel is one of the most important sites of May 1st ; the fire is thought to have been opened from the 5th floor of the hotel. The perpetrators of the bloody May 1st have never been identified. On May 1st 2009, the “Young Civilians” hung a banner from the 19thfloor of the hotel: “Find the assailants who fired from this hotel on May 1st 1977”.

    [17] Sosyalist Barikat, op. cit.

    [18] « Başımızı Eğemeyeceksiniz », (You shall not make us bow our heads), consulted on May 4th 2014, During his May 1st 2010 speech, Erdoğan said that the May 1st celebration was a true testament to how much Turkey had changed, how mature she had become, how she had brought down taboos and the status-quo, how she had freed herself of fears of provocation. However, three years later, the Square was closed yet again.

    [19] We are inclined to imagine ideal shapes for certain urban elements; this is particularly the case with the narrative of period architecture, which categorizes everything. Certain architecture and construction terms create this effect.

    [20] MIESSEN Markus, Katılım Kabusu (The Nightmare of Participation), İstanbul, Metis Yayınları, 2013, translated by DOĞAN Bülent,

    [21] I deliberately chose « agreement » over « reconciliation », which symbolizes the intersection of different opinions on one single point whereas « agreement » gives the image of multiple layers. The juxtaposition of layers gives a much clearer picture of the city.

    [22] The Third Bosporus Bridge has been criticized for threatening the northern forest of Istanbul and for bearing the name of a sultan, guilty of massacring the alevi religious minority. The other bridges are called The Bosporous Bridge and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, which was named after the conqueror of Istanbul.

    [23] Gezi Parkı için Karar Verdik (We made up our mind about the Gezi Park),, consulted on May 4th 2014. 

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  • tomorrow will be a beautiful morning

    Yelta Köm
    Dec 9, '13 8:59 PM EST

    This text written at May, 2012.   “However, this morning the sun was the most provacative situation by not to rise. It was obvious that today is going to be tough.”   Is there an architecture everyone takes part in leaving their egos behind? Even if we notice it or not... View full entry

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