Narmanlı Han under restoration

Narmanlı Han under restoration

Ömer Erbil - ISTANBUL
Narmanlı Han under restoration While walking down Istanbul’s İstiklal Avenue, it’s impossible to miss the striking building on the right side. 

The historic Narmanlı Han, which was used as a studio and a residence in recent years, has hosted many artists such as Aliye Berger, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar and Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu. The building was also a Russian prison, serving until 1914.

Throughout years, Narmanlı Han has decayed and almost collapsed because of the construction of annexes and unnecessary interventions. 

Recently, the Narmanlı Han’s restoration has been occupying the agenda. The Beyoğlu City Defense group described the restoration as gentrification and claimed the restoration was against the soul of the historical building. 

Sinan Genim, the architect of the restoration, said his goal was to keep the building alive. He recently spoke about the restoration process. 

Q: Will you demolish the building and rebuild it? 

A: I am 70 years old. I can’t soil my name after this age. I don’t have the intention to languish in prison by ruining a registered structure. I receive lots of project proposal to make money. But I want (to ensure) the protection of this historical building. My goal is to keep the structure alive and restore it faithfully.

Q: Then why are people objecting? 

A: You need to ask them. I offered them to speak but nobody wanted to speak. They objected without listening to me; without knowing what will be done. Let them look at the Pera Museum, the Galatasaray Culture Center or the Istanbul Research Institute. This is not my first job in Beyoğlu. 

Q: You were supposed to explain it to them…

A: Look, we first explained (the project) to the Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Board as well as the Beyoğlu Municipality. You need to explain it to them in order to get permission. If they [opponents to the project] asked me, I would explain it to them, too. 

Q: You say you will restore it faithfully. What will it become after the restoration? 

A: First of all, we will reinforce the structure to keep it for future generations. We will fully protect the outside walls and as well as the strong inside walls. We will make some changes to the inside but neither will the height of the building change nor will new annexes be built or will the outer facade change. 

Q: What do you think about gentrification criticisms? 

A: This is not a public property but a private one. You cannot say, “Open small stores and sell them at cheap prices so only a certain income group comes here.” We will open seven stores, two restaurants and a café. One of the restaurants will be a luxurious one on the second floor, overlooking İstiklal Avenue. Two of the stores will be on the İstiklal side and the other five will see the backyard. We will make a café in the backyard. There will be a connecting street between İstiklal Avenue and Sofalı Street. I will make the garden of the building like a street. Why would I make a place away from public? Every kind of people will come here. 

Q: You brought caterpillars (heavy machinery) so everyone thought the Narmanlı Han would be ruined…

A: I think nobody knows about the punishment of destroying a registered structure. The outer walls have become unstable throughout the years. Its static structure is not strong. The foundation, which looks like a rock, is actually earth; when water comes, it is broken into pieces. We have dug 150 pits around the building. We fill them with concrete to reinforce the structure. We get seven trucks of earth from every pit. We use caterpillars to remove this earth.

Q: Old graves have come to light from around the foundations of buildings. Did you get permission from the museum to dig? 

A: There are no graves around here. We have the permission of the protection board. Nothing came out from the pits so far. The museum got a complaint, they came here to examine (the area) and they said it was ok.