Tabanlıoğlu to showcase projects at Venice Architecture Biennale

Tabanlıoğlu to showcase projects at Venice Architecture Biennale

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Tabanlıoğlu to showcase projects at Venice Architecture Biennale

Tabanlıoğlu Architects, a leading Turkish architecture firm, has entered six projects in Singapore’s World Architecture Festival (WAF) contest, and will showcase a few public space projects at the upcoming Architecture Biennale in Venice. WAF is a great opportunity, according to Murat Tabanlığlu, founding partner of the firms.

Tabanlıoğlu Architects, a leading Turkish architecture firm, has entered six projects in Singapore’s World Architecture Festival (WAF) contest, and will showcase a few public space projects at the upcoming Architecture Biennale in Venice.

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News, Murat Tabanlıoğlu, a founding partner of the firm, said he also would serve on one of the competition boards in Singapore in October. “WAF is a great opportunity for young architects and we attach utmost importance to our junior partners’ experience in this competition. Twenty-two projects [from Tabanlıoğlu Architects] are participating in the festival contest, which means a strong presence. Unfortunately we cannot say the same thing about the Architecture Biennale, aside from a few individuals.”

Tabanlıoğlu said one of the impediments to Turkey attending the biennale, scheduled to open on Aug. 29, was the lack of teamwork and a general lack of communication between the chief actors in Turkey’s architecture scene. “These actors are the Chamber of Architects, the Independent Architects’ Association [TSMD], the Culture and Tourism Ministry, architects and academics. Because these actors barely get along with each other and therefore do not have close relations, it makes it hard for us to get together and push an initiative. And only one of the direct results of this is our absence at the biennale. I have heard about a few individual efforts to establish a Turkish pavilion, but I guess due to a lack of an all-encompassing initiative, these efforts yielded no results.” He added any sort of an individual presence at the event depended on close relations with the curators. “But it is not that we are completely out of the biennale. Some of our colleagues are taking part in the side exhibitions with their important projects. And we were invited to show some of ours at Foster + Partners’ booth, which is one of our global business partners. This type of individual participation means so much when we are not represented with a national pavilion.”

Tabanlıoğlu’s business relationship with the prominent British architecture firm encompasses several prestigious public space projects including the Astana Media Center in Kazakhstan. The firm is among the few select architecture companies that have been invited to open an individual booth at the biennale, which is as much related to their interesting projects as it is to the previously mentioned relations with the curator. “The company is preparing a video about public space architecture, which is their chief business focus. They asked for our visual contribution with our public space projects. But I haven’t seen the finished video yet.” Tabanlıoğlu Architects will be represented at the Foster + Partners’ booth with their Bodrum-Milas International Airport, Astana Arena and Balçova Asmaçatı Shopping Mall in the western province of İzmir. “We decided to send one airport, one stadium and one shopping mall project because today these public spaces gather the largest amounts of people in them.”

Participation and sponsors
Although Tabanlıoğlu is not completely pessimistic about Turkey’s absence from the biennale thanks to this limited side event participation, he immediately noted that the establishment of a Turkish pavilion within the biennial depended not only on the Culture Ministry’s determination but also some good sponsors.

“An application on behalf of Turkey could only be made by the Culture Ministry. But a great majority of the participating countries could go there only through sponsorships. And we also will need a sponsor once we finally get a lot there. And this should be undertaken by giant groups in various fields of the construction sector. Some of these companies are already inviting some guests to these big events. I don’t think they would abstain from funding a national pavilion.”

Tabanlıoğlu is also teaching a class in Istanbul Bilgi University’s architecture MA program, within the course of which students are expected to visit a metropolis every year for field study. This year the students will visit Berlin, and Tabanlıoğlu said these trips were possible thanks to the Eczacıbaşı Group’s sponsorship. “They fund the accommodation and travel every year. When I talk about the need for sponsorship, this is the kind of support I am talking about.” Tabanlıoğlu said sponsors should not have a say in determining which projects or architects get to go to the biennale, or who should be the national pavilion’s curator. “We are preparing an exhibition at Salt Galata on the Atatürk Culture Center [AKM] and we have sponsors for the show. But we get to decide on the contents, not the sponsor.” The exhibition, which is to open in September, is the result of Salt director Vasıf Kortun’s Architecture Archive Project, the first step of which focused on Hayati Tabanlıoğlu and the architect of the famous AKM in Taksim Square. “After the archive study, an exhibition we would provide the resources and exhibition materials for was proposed. We developed models and visuals to help us explain the architectural elements of the building. The AKM has a special place in Turkish architectural history. It is the first modern building made in the ‘60s in Istanbul. And it is a design product from the floor to the ceiling. Every item used in the building was specially designed, which my father worked on with local and foreign designers and artists. It combines beaux-art and architecture well.” The exhibition also includes interviews with the designers who participated in the collaboration led by the late Tabanlıoğlu. The curators of the show are Pelin Derviş and Gökhan Karakuş.


Asked how a cultural center in Istanbul needs to be designed in order to meet the needs of the public, Tabanlıoğlu is precise. “An ability to naturally transform its immediate surroundings,” he said, so that its periphery also shares the same cultural aspects. Otherwise, it cannot remain a center. “Just like the case of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which slowly changed its surroundings. Now the neighborhood around it hosts several galleries and artists hang about in the neighborhood. The same thing happened in Istanbul with Istanbul Modern. Now the coastline up to Karaköy hosts art galleries and lovely cafés. Culture centers transform their surroundings slowly and naturally. And when designing a culture center, this capacity should be taken into account.”

Tabanlıoğlu said another important aspect was preservation, to which the firm gave utmost importance in renovating the Hasköy Wool Yarn Factory. “We have turned it into a culture center without demolishing it. It hosted several exhibitions and the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts used the building for its events.” He said it was of paramount importance that these kinds of centers should be well integrated into urban life, to which its doors should always be open. “This is what we had in mind for the original AKM renovation, but we could not do it.”


Murat Tabanlıoğlu’s first design for the long-debated restoration of the AKM, which is expected to begin soon, was stopped by a court order. The firm prepared a second design removing the aspects that had been rejected by the court. Now the renovation is set to start based on this second project. “I call it a soft project,” Tabanlıoğlu said, adding that all parties had agreed on its execution. “This second project provides for the refurbishment of the building with today’s technology.”

The first project included a cafe-bistro within the culture center premises, exactly like the Istanbul Modern museum which Tabanlıoğlu also designed. “This restaurant idea was met with protest. The other rejected aspect was to add boxes to the opera house. The original design of the opera house included boxes. My father gave up on them afterward, probably because he wanted to design the hall as a culture venue that could host different art events rather than hosting only operas. We wanted to put those boxes in, which was also necessary for acoustic reasons. The prosecuting party rejected the boxes, and in the prosecution process the court experts did not request our explanation at all. If they had we could have told them why we wanted to add boxes to the venue.”
In the first plan, the ticket booths were to be moved into the building. They previously were outside the venue. Tabanlıoğlu said the change was to make the space open all the time, but they wanted to be able to shut it down at times.

“We took on this project for free. Sabancı Holding has been announced as the sponsor of the construction. But we are the first sponsor of the whole project.”

Now contractors are working on the project, according to Tabanlıoğlu’s estimates, and as soon as the construction license is granted they will get to work.

Tabanlıoğlu said they would “hopefully” pay regular visits to the construction site to check whether the process was going as planned, abstaining from further comment.

“We have always been in full control of the projects that bear our name as architects. And we think our presence would do no harm, on the contrary it will be of use. The culture minister also wants to see us there. Therefore, I can’t give any further answers to your question apart from saying we hope to be included in the process,” he said.