Spontaneous design from Istanbul

“All men are designers”, Victor Papanek

This article is based on pictures coming from the “spontaneous flora” in the city of Istanbul. So what does “spontaneous flora” mean? Istanbul, whose official population from 1995-2000 was 10,018, 735[1] -unofficially estimated at 15,034,830 in 2006 – has absorbed waves of 500,000 immigrants-a-year from the rest of the country. Almost 60% of the population was born outside Istanbul and over 40% of its inhabitants live in the illicit suburbs of the metropolitan borough. New arrivals must adapt to city life here and although expectations are high, it is hard to survive. The “jungle of Istanbul” is now home to icons of creative illegality. The art of scraping a living in the cosmopolitan capital of Turkey provides plenty of input for design work, and the city’s urban flora conveys extraordinary creative energy confirming the famous saying by the guru Papanek that: “All men are designers.”[2]

The illegal/shadow population invents employment for itself, designing its own “working environment” and creating its own “tools of the trade”, mainly working as “street traders”. The origin of “street traders” date back to the Ottoman period in the 19th century. In actual fact until 1861 an official permit was required to perform a trade or craft, and a member of the community who wanted to open a shop, set up a business or just change an existing company needed a government licence. And this, perhaps, is why the easy way out of just trading in the street has become such a popular practice. Street traders have always been described as the most colourful figures in Istanbul. Anything could be sold on an “itinerant” basis: toys, eggs, water, baskets, ice creams and coffee… Studying the modern-day scene, the idea of “service” is now vital for survival, although the kind of “service” varies from season to season: chestnuts in winter, for example, or watermelons in summer. On a dog-day in summer, converting to selling water guarantees a safe profit. At the moment this unofficial “tax-free” economy composed of people providing goods and services on public soil is a great resource of ideas and input for creative production.

Salep seller, Sirkeci, 2003. Salep is the name of a drink made from mixing milk with Salep flour obtained from grinding the dried tubers of various species of orchid. Drinking hot Salep in winter is a popular practice and the object photographed here is designed for preparing and serving this traditional drink. The apparatus is a cart with all the necessary assembled inside it. The drink must be served hot and the apparatus is specially designed for this purpose. The key feature is a can/kettle heated from below by a burner fuelled by a gas cylinder. A sheet of cardboard is wrapped around the bottom of the kettle to shield the flame from the wind and rain; the plastic cups are piled on top of the can. This is a seasonal installation; obviously the same cart may be used to provide a different service during the hot months.

Biscuit seller, Tahtakale, 2003. A pushchair adapted for selling biscuits. A tray has been placed on and tied to the pushchair’s main frame for carrying around the freshly baked biscuits. The pushchair is the perfect way for the elderly street trader to negotiate all the city slopes. The tray is covered by a sheet of plastic to cope with the changing weather; and a cardboard box sticks out from the pushchair over by the street trader to act as cash till.

Quick-escape seller, Sirkeci, 2003. This trick for running away from the municipal police is perhaps the most creative, striking and illicit of all. The illegal market for selling anything in the streets requires a special approach. This simple tarpaulin is a stall for selling all kinds of products: shirts, trousers, shoes, toys etc. A rope runs around the outside of the tarpaulin so that when it is drawn the plastic sheet turns into a bag to help the street seller run off with his goods and hide his illegal business.

No parking, Galata, 2003. Creativity in the streets of Istanbul is not confined to just sales devices. The “survival scenarios” in the city are just as surprising as the personal services and solutions.

Toy seller, Sirkeci, 2003. A basin full of water in one of the liveliest parts of the city centre is no longer just a washing bowl. It is a prop for promoting business which, in this case, involves selling a plastic mechanical doll that can swim. The product could also be sold in its packaging but the service is designed to offer a “live” demonstration of this fascinating toy. The key thing here is that it is a temporary business: at the end of the day the trader goes home taking the empty basin and foldaway stool with him and might never do this job again.

Target shooting, Sultanahmet, 2003. There are lots of shooting galleries set up in public spaces. The owner of the business creates the game and designs the gallery. It has a simple structure: some inflated balloons arranged in parallel rows and a compressed air pistol set up where the person firing it stands. The player pays for three shots. The money invested in this business goes towards the shooting pistol and coloured balloons. The gallery owner loses if the player wins.

Broom Vendor; Postcard, Pierre de Gigord Collection Perihan Sarıöz, Bir Zamanlar İstanbul, IDEA Publications, Istanbul 1996, p.284

Toy seller; Sirkeci, 2003. Photo by Ayşe E. Coşkun Orlandi

Biscuit seller, Tahtakale, 2003. Photo by Ayşe E. Coşkun Orlandi

Salep seller, Sirkeci, 2003. Photo by Ayşe E. Coşkun Orlandi


Quick-escape seller, Sirkeci, 2003. Photo by Ayşe E. Coşkun Orlandi

No parking, Galata, 2003. Photo by  Ayşe E. Coşkun Orlandi

Target shooting, Sultanahmet, 2003. Photo by Ayşe E. Coşkun Orlandi

[2] Papanek, V., Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, Pantheon, New York (1971)

BIO | Ayşe E. Coşkun Orlandi born in Delft, Holland. Lives and works in Istanbul. She received her BA as Industrial Product Designer in 1997 at Marmara University (Istanbul), Faculty of Fine Arts. 1998, received a Master in Design degree at Domus Academy, Milan, Italy with her master project on Strategic Design-Corporate Visions- with Marco Susani and Emilio Genovesi. During the Domus Academy master programme she has participated in various workshops and projects in different fields of design where she also has won a special prize in Baci Perugina Packaging and Creativity Design Competition.  In 1999-2001 worked as a designer in different projects on corporate identity design in Istanbul for various firms. In 2003 received an MA at Marmara University (Istanbul) Industrial Product Design Programme, with her dissertation focusing on the title Necessity and Design to coordinate the design solutions executed by their users, particularly for the examples in Istanbul. In 2009 she has got her PhD with her dissertation titled ‘Industrial Design as Added Value and Global Competitiveness for the Turkish Jewellery Industry in 21st Century. A Model Proposal with Reference to the ‘Made in Italy’ Model at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University (Istanbul), Institute of Science and Technology Industrial Product Design Programme. She has been lecturing, researching, publishing in the field of industrial product design since 2000.  She is currently working as Asst. Prof. at Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey.


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