This photograph has been in the making for about 20 years, maybe even more. When I first thought of taking a photograph from this point, on the exit connector from the freeway, the trees were not nearly as tall nor have the looming towers were built. The apartment buildings are situated on the slopes of a hill and a little lower is a graveyard now covered by the trees. The transition from the facades of the apartments to the gravestones was allegorical but the impact has diminished considerably. However, a metaphor of Istanbul burying itself is still there, from the tower to the grave!
Small Town vs Large City
I grew up in a small town in southern Turkey, Adana, and now live in an even smaller town Warwick. Of course, the size of your town is a relative concept. The population of Adana was around 100,000 when I was growing up but it was spread over a wide area. The center, Seyhan, where I lived was much smaller than that. When I was in college in the 60s, the population of Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, was about 1,300,000. Although the city boundaries have not changed, the current population of Istanbul has grown to somewhere between 14 to 17 million, including the commuters from outside! Just for comparison, the population of New York in 1960 was 7.8 million and today it is around 8.1 million, a sensible growth rate.
The reason behind the population statistics is to provide context for the discomfort I feel in Istanbul. First, there is the sheer size of the city with its huge population and sprawling settlement. This, I feel partly in a time comparative way from the 1960s to today, and in part location comparative from my tiny town of Warwick to Istanbul. Second, the growth in Istanbul has happened in ways that make no sense at all, with high-rise buildings popping up at unexpected places while the infrastructure remaining mostly unchanged. The roads are still narrow, the traffic is heavy, driving 5 miles can take 1.5 hours which is why distances are mainly measured in time rather than miles!
Second, there is the eye-hurting construction in every direction you can look. It is not possible to drive without seeing a construction with one or more cranes perched on top of it or a building being razed. There also seems to be a competition to erect rather ugly towers as each one surpasses the previous one in some respects. Now in vogue are the buildings with curves, curves, curves everywhere! Some even look like fun-house mirror distortions, I kid you not as you will see one example among the photographs below. Gaudi, they ain’t! Gaudy? Yes! Interestingly, in a very strange way, many of these buildings are empty, they cannot sell or rent them but the construction moves on!
I read a couple of books on and by Louis Sullivan, the father of skyscrapers, and mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. He preached and practiced the use of decorations that organically fit the architecture (see left) and “form ever follows function.” In most of the new buildings in Istanbul, the decoration is the main reason and belongs to a strange aesthetic school, or so it seems to me. Search for Sullivan and his work, you will marvel at his style and use of decoration.
So, given the extraordinarily crowded city, narrow roads, and eyesores where you look, Istanbul is a stressful place for me bar the dead-end street where Ergun and Binnaz live in their two-story house with a large field in front. If it weren’t where we spent most of our stay it would have been even more stressful for me. I know many Istanbulites and many of my friends love Istanbul. I used to, but the Istanbul I loved is not there anymore!
About The Photographs
Now a few words about the photographs. The first few are the new Acibadem hospital at Alutnizade, near where we stay when in Istanbul. It displays good lines, interesting glass side, but the roads on all sides are traffic traps with narrow two-way traffic and unusual parking! The fancy exterior is matched by its fancy and posh interior, apparently appealing to the wealthy healthcare tourists from the Arabic countries. The lobby is immense where a half a dozen people greet and direct you where you want to go. The translucent doors between the waiting areas and the offices have no door knobs, just wave your hand in front of the sensor on the wall!
The next several photographs present the Bosphorus Bridge, its traffic, and surroundings. I took most of these photographs from a moving car except a few. You can see the “towering towers” over the city, one I titled Istanbul Behind Bars is a metaphor for the city being taken prisoner by the construction. Then, pay attention to the image I used in the opening, which links the towers to the graveyard connected by an array of about 25-year-old apartment buildings.
Then you will travel with me on one of the highways decorated by many construction sites and more “towers!” Some finished, some still under construction, yet others are just starting. You will see the curved buildings, round ones, some even look like fancy Lego structures. Don’t miss the one that looks like a fun-house mirror distortion and the one that has the title at the gate “Istanbul Medeniyet Universitesi” or Istanbul Civilization University! One of the dozens of “universities” in Istanbul. The series will end with a few sensibly designed buildings. The Toyota building reflects some Japanese simplicity and elements and the side view of the new Yapi Kredi Bank building shows an effective use of glass and clean lines.
Come, ride with me! The virtual ride will be far faster than the real one.