Role of architecture in the public sphere in Istanbul’s representational domain

When Henri Prost, the French architect and city planner was invited by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to plan Istanbul in the 30s he aimed at reshaping the area between Pera which had been transformed by the 19th century capitalism and Şişli which had started to develop in the early 20th century accordingly with the program of new nation state.

A cultural and  recreational oasis was designed between Taksim which had been designated as the Republic’s symbolic public space and new urban sites. The aim was to move the western modernism which had been practiced in private spaces such as theaters, cinemas, performance halls to the public space of nation state. Until then Taksim Military Barrack was used for national celebrations and football games. This grandiose symbol of late Ottoman period was demolished and replaced with a park. Christian cemeteries nearby were also moved to the peripheries of the city.

This huge space was used to build public offices, stadium, Multipurpose Sports and Exhibition Hall, Open Air Theater, The City Theater Company, Radio House and various exhibition spaces…and eventually the Opera House as opposed to the theaters, cinemas and cafes of the  private entertainment spaces of Pera.

“Opera” (AKM) is one of the most important pieces of this program. The first design for this building was by the famous French architect Auguste Perret. The adventure of the building took 30 years and saw many changes to the project which at the end became a Culture Centre and was burnt down soon after its completion towards the 1970’s. It wasn’t as easy to built an opera house as it was to build a stadium. Construction problems, delays, the long time it took to build are all clues for the political situation. The image of “Opera” versus “Mosque” could be interpreted as two different nation state program of two different political elites. A nation state project which was  planned to be built on Islam and the idea of Caliphate weakened after losing the war. However as the city goes through new dynamics of globalization both programs face the same dilemma: how do we update the public space and what is the main subject? With this work I will be analyzing  the role of architecture in public domain.


BIO | Korhan Gümüş is an architect, radio programmer, writer.
Interested in: architecture in public domain and interdisciplinary works. Minorities and the spaces of memory. He works on city development projects which are not based on profit making. His works aims towards opening up the public spaces to local people whose representational power have been diminished by the national programs and  to reach democratic debate possibilities.


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