Atatürk Cultural Centre
City, Art and Architecture
The construction story of the Ataturk Cultural Center, which was realized with great difficulty and over a long time (1956-1977), has reached a new stage in the light of the experiences of the recent history. The building reflected the architectural understanding of the time of Hayati Tabanlıoğlu in every sense, especially for being one of the few buildings designed by a Turkish architect.
As a value that has served the arts and the city for many years, Ataturk Cultural Center, which has the infrastructure and the equipment as the constructions built in Europe during its period, is an important example of Modern Architecture. But yet, the building remained neglected for about ten years and worn out. As of 2017, it has been determined that it is not possible to continue its existence as a construction. Like any building, the structure got old and weaker in 60 years. Also, the present-day needs have changed in terms of its function. Hence, alternatives to the reexistence of the building with contemporary possibilities have been sought in the reality of the new world.
The discussions in setting the principles of preservation (including reconstruction or destruction as solutions) of the architectural structures of the 20th century have begun to take place only very recently. Since these academic values are not sufficiently discussed and settled, many of the countries in the world today retain much older buildings, while the new old buildings of 1960's are being demolished.
Searching for an answer to the question of “how to handle the architecture of the 60s” especially those having complex functions like opera, dealing with contemporary art, architecture, and urban understanding simultaneously, the new Ataturk Cultural Center project, with its technical infrastructure and space approach meeting the contemporary needs, also takes special care to preserve the aesthetic, physical and social values that inherited from its predecessor projects.
Considering its unique place in the memory of the city and for citizens individually, it would not have been possible to develop the Ataturk Cultural Center as a brand-new project. For a certain community in Istanbul, each Friday evening or Saturday mornings it is the haven for classical western music concerts, or Sunday mornings reserved for Classical Turkish Music; or better, an international opera ballet theater performance during festivals. For many, the building was perceived as a familiar structure to meet in front of, an urban cornerstone.
However, the new cultural structure had to be gained in a way that would respond to different common goals, leaving behind the elitist and closed attitude of the last century, with an understanding that "the city and the citizen go through", prioritizing the ideal of being open to everyone.
Even if the project were considered as a reconstruction, updating would still be inevitable. After the fire in the first building which was opened in 1969, Hayati Tabanlıoğlu, who was reassigned to rebuild AKM; seven years later, loyal to the vision, he took the advantage of developments and revised the project in accordance with the actual culture-performance needs as well as benefiting new production opportunities.
Like all structures that perform such complex functions, the main issue for an opera house is the complex stage systems and interspace relations behind the seen. While the most important characteristic to be captured is natural acoustics and comfortable viewing angles in the hall, which we experience as the audience, however, performances cannot take place if those complex and vital systems, feeding the gigantic system behind the stage, do not work correctly and precisely.
Ataturk Cultural Center, which will be amongst the most qualified cultural centers in the world, is designed as an urban model both in terms of administrative rationality and architectural context. Determining the border of the Taksim Square- hosting the most intense urban movement of Istanbul and Turkey - as the previous AKM building did- the new project adds a new route into daily and cultural life. The axis is formed by the combination of units articulated in the direction of Gezi Park.
With reference to mass scale, proportions, and facade design of the previous AKM, the main Opera House is developed in the height limits of the old building, with additional structures situated efficiently ensuring the conditions for intensive public use. as well as being one of the respected opera houses, with its annex, situated where once is the parking lot, the cultural center is designed as a 21st century cultural structure with the idea of reviving the Taksim Square.
The building is evolved in two joint fragments. The first is the main opera stage, which is located in lieu the old Ataturk Cultural Center and preserves its symbolic and urban memory. The second component is the new structure that articulated along Mete Street and extends towards Ataturk Library and Istanbul Technical University forming a culture lane, which brings together the social, artistic, and cultural performance units and secondary functions that will stimulate the urban flow.
As in the urban context, the project aims resilience in terms of material and function. Benefiting the modern technology and systems used in all functions and units such as halls, stage, backstage, sound, acoustic, lighting, electromechanical equipment, security, heating, cooling, and ventilation, starting from the façade to minor details, the complex will continue to provide high quality services for long years. It is planned to save energy by making optimum use of daylight at interiors, mainly the foyers.
By the use of materials produced with the opportunities provided by today's industry, like technical glass, the efficiency and productivity of the building is increased. In addition to the unarguable cultural achievement that the Ataturk Cultural Center provides life to arts and performances, the application of local products and natural materials as many of the materials of the old building were imported is valuable in terms of being an indicator of the increasing production capacity in Turkey today.
Open to the broad connotations, it is clear that the establishment of the new cultural center, the structure housing the main hall and the complex all together, will be a case study for professionals of various disciplines, from architecture to urban planning, from restoration to philosophy, from art history to sociology.
In the execution of the profession, the architects are intermediaries who evaluate the opportunities, possibilities and all the data available with an analytical view and combines them with his/her know how to accomplish the optimum solution, and transfer this to the city with the approval of the decision makers. Beyond the design, they are coordinators and conductors who carry out a very comprehensive and complex process.
In addition to basic requirements of a building process, such as the ventilation, air conditioning, circulation of the building, feasibility in construction and operational costs, an issue that does not fit into the framework of the architect's coordination is the administrative model, especially considering such a complex with the multiple functions that require special management capacity. In this context, from maintenance and repair to the management of the cultural enterprise as Hayati Tabanlıoğlu particularly emphasized after the fire an interdisciplinary approach would be beneficial to coordinate such an inclusive public structure.
Compared to the 20th century, in this 21st century, from software for the design process to engineering solutions, we have so wider opportunities, besides its capacity and quality, I would say that Ataturk Cultural Center is a design that is at peace with the environment and society, and I hope that with its new configuration, AKM creates a space and urban background that is heavily used by wide circles as well as artists and audiences.