The rebirth of an iconic building

The rebirth of an iconic building

“Buildings carry our memories,” said Gökhan Avcıoğlu during a chat about what is old and what is new in architecture. “That is why we lose a part of ourselves when they are demolished,” he said.

Avcıoğlu comes from a generation of young and bright Turkish architects who have shaped the better part of Istanbul’s skylines and neighborhoods. For him, the entire debate about the Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM) runs deeper than its name, its symbolism or even its rough exterior.

For my generation, it was a starting point for young college students in Istanbul. It was where we camped for hours to get tickets to the Istanbul Film and Jazz festivals. It was the hub for buses that would take us to the Bosphorus. 

Years later, it became the symbol of Gezi Park protests and thus attracted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s anger. For ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters, it was a building doomed to be knocked down. Once a hip building featured in Wallpaper Magazine, the AKM has been left in ruins for more than eight years. Rumor has it that the land had been sold to

Qataris along with Gezi Park in order to build a shopping mall.

But something happened in between, that changed the air of animosity. Murat Tabanlıoğlu, the son of Hayati Tabanlıoğlu, who had originally designed the 48-year-old Atatürk Cultural Center, took on the challenge and said he would take up the project to replenish, renew and recreate the building.

With its newly announced design, the Atatürk Cultural Center is a homage to the old one, with a touch of fun and color hidden on the inside. Apart from certain technical specifications regarding the gigantic concert hall, its round red cupola is almost like a beating heart hidden inside a hard shield. Tabanlıoğlu protected the iconic façade, which is a huge sigh of relief for AKM fanatics.

With the way it looks now, the new AKM is a bright and proud symbol of arts and a showcase of new materials.

“We wanted this building to live on 24/7,” said Tabanlıoğlu during an interview with private broadcaster NTV. “We are adding a street and connecting Karadeniz Technical University, hotels and the Vodafone Stadium to the Atatürk Cultural Center. There will be bookstores, cafes and design stores along the road that will take people inside the main building. We do not want people to go to shopping malls but to come here [instead], read books and work on their computers etc.,” he said.

So can the new Atatürk Cultural Center be as significant as the old one? Its exterior also has a big surprise for passersby. Once the prime example of brute architecture, the revamped facade of the AKM will turn into a giant screen that will showcase the arts at night.

Are our memories safe now? Does the peaceful spirit of the Gezi Park protests have a better place to rest and be creative again?

One can only hope. But President Erdoğan’s vendetta with Taksim seems to have come to a peaceful resolution even if it is only on paper and 3D animation. Inside that tough yet battered surface of the Atatürk Cultural Center, beats the heart of a young and bold generation that will defy all pressures and threats.

Architects such as Murat Tabanlıoğlu show the way for Turkey’s future. The new AKM may just be the beginning.

Ahu Özyurt, Opinion,