THE LONG-LIVED SHORT STORY OF A SQUARE IN TÜRKİYE*
Halil İbrahim Düzenli
Translated by : Feyza Şahin
*This article was published in Turkish in the Hendese May 2020 issue. http://www.hendesedergisi.com/#hendese9/1
“Beyazıt Square did not emerge as a result of the will to create a formal square. There is a lively relation between buildings and life. Until the traffic destroyed this relation, Beyazıt Square continued to live. Reviving it, depends on reestablishing this exchange, that is, the relationship between the pedestrian and the historical monuments.”
Turgut Cansever, 1961
Turgut Cansever, Architecture and İstanbul Projects
Turgut Cansever was born in 1920 and died in 2009. He was a thinker and an architect who has made important contributions to Türkiye’s architectural agenda with his architectural discourse and the buildings constructed by him. Although the number of structures that he had the opportunity to build during his 60 years of professional practice did not reach 20, each building that he had created a new agenda with its intellectual and materialistic dimensions. Adana Kadirli Open Air Museum (1957-61) and İstanbul Büyükada Anadolu Club Hotel among his early work make a statement with their planimetries and tectonics, whereas this statement is deepened and urbanized with Ankara Turkish History Association building.
Whereas The Çiftehavuzlar Blocks stands as an authentic attempt at cost management, precast utilization and material preferences; The Bodrum Ahmet Ertegün House and The Bodrum Demir Houses stand as distinguished indicators of the will to fulfill the potential of space, location and material as well as the desire to bring the old and the new, the yesterdays-todays and tomorrows together. It is also possible to observe the manifestations of same attempt throughout the building process of the Burgazada Ayşin-Rafet Ataç Home, which is a single house (1983-86) from the ground up.
Turgut Cansever completed the restoration of seven different single houses in İstanbul, beginning with The Sadullah Paşa Waterside Residence (Çengelköy, 1949). These are as follows: Çürüksulu Waterside Residence a.k.a. Muharrem Nuri Birgi House restoration (Salacak, 1968-71), Tollu House restoration (Süleymaniye, 1988, with F. Cansever), Caner-Zerrin Şaka House restoration (Rumelihisarı, 1988, with F. Cansever), Güner-Haydar Akın House restoration (Vaniköy, 1989-91, with E. Öğün), Hadi Bey Waterside Residence restitution and restoration (Kandilli, 1994-1999, with E. Öğün), Recep Safer House restoration (Kadırga, 2004, with E. Öğün). Restoration is not merely a physical and technical matter for Cansever. He approached all his buildings with the same principle, regardless of the job being a restoration or a construction. In both cases, work is comprehended and built with the flow from yesterday to tomorrow and the knowledge of process.
The Sadullah Paşa Waterside Residence restoration was his first architectural practice, and this is what he had to say about it: “Hereby we revived the layout of the Turkish home; the ultimate house plan that corresponds to the fundamental İslamic faith that preserves the right of a person to be open towards the whole wide world. Sadullah Paşa Waterside Residence gave me the opportunity to acknowledge the true sublime beauty of a solution that was found in the past.” His priority in architecture was thinking about ornamental character of the material and the surface as he restored the Ahmet Ertegün House in Bodrum twenty-one years later (1971-73). This project, won him the Ağahan Architecture Award, with ornamental elements like being a re-establishment of the matter and the space rather than a restoration, its interiors coalescing into the garden and its ribbed white joints on exteriors that gave the gauzy effect at the Bodrum Bay.
The Importance of The Beyazıt Square Pedestrianization and Layout Project (1958-61)
Why talk about all these things in an article on Beyazıt Square? The Beyazıt Square Pedestrianization and Layout Project (1958-61) is the most important project of Turgut Cansever as it includes all of his approaches mentioned through his various projects listed above. It is especially significant on four aspects. First of all, it is the project that best reflects the meaning Cansever attributes to “space” as an idea and a being. Secondly it is the first and probably the only square project that seeks the architectural continuity in yesterday-today-tomorrow progress. Third point is this project’s being a rare source of exemplary and rich “place stories” of idea-design-execution versus discourse-criticism-obstruction-opposition processes in Türkiye. Fourth and the last point is that this project is a “design” in the “heart of İstanbul” where space and history get involved in a meaningful relationship with matter.
Cansever has penned several articles and reports and has given several speeches about the Beyazıt Square. The 71-year-old theoretician who spoke thoroughly on the subject during an interview in 1991, and the 41-year-old architect who spoke at a municipal meeting in 1961 are the same person. Cansever’s attitude and discourse on Beyazıt Square never changed during this 30-year period, that is, the stability of his ideas and actions remains solid and visible through time.
Cansever defined the square as follows in the 1961 Meeting of Beyazıt Square Projects Examinations Proceedings (Beyazıt Meydanı Projelerini Tetkik Toplantısı Zaptı): “The true identity of Beyazıt Square came to life after Fatih Sultan Mehmed built his first palace and the palace walls where the University stands now, and Bayezid the 2nd building the complex of the mosque, the madrasah and the baths afterwards. This part of the city used to be a very important social gathering center during the Byzantine era, under the name of Taurus Forum. The whole square became a very important historical and cultural center with Fatih building the Old Palace and Bayezid the 2nd building the mosque complex. The addition of the foreign-looking Bab-ı Seraskerî Facilities with the Versailles lookalike archway to the site that is already covered in historical artifacts has resulted in incompatibilities that have still not been resolved. The directions of the mosque complex and the Bab-ı Seraskerî arch are in contradiction with each other, hence the incompatibility. The main goal of our project is to eliminate this duality and to establish a humane, art and culture friendly environment.”
Cansever explains the project as such before the examination committee, articulating the difference of world-views reflected in space through the phrase “creating Versailles lookalike archways” and continues to explain further and establish his holistic discourse way into the 1990’s.
The meaning Cansever gives to space is manifest in the following quote: “Islamic faith says time and space are two fundamental and intertwined categories that carry everything except Allah. Therefore, movement is a very important element during which it is essential to notice the entity. An opinion directly contrary to that of Renaissance, which is satisfied by seeing an entity from a given point of view and holding that to be sufficient to comprehend the whole. The faith is that a creature could be comprehended by the moving eye that observes all of its fronts.”
Cansever explains his fundamental thought process in regards with Beyazıt Square as follows: “It is not the shape of a building that matters for Islam; what matters is different attributes of architectural elements in the limitless space, the distances and the directions; the movement of a human being inside and outside of all these, and how he comprehends himself… As far as Islam is concerned, a place only exists within its historical context and in relation to all of its physical surroundings. The man-made buildings that specify “the place” are around the place and in the place are multi-faceted unlike Renaissance buildings (which can be understood by one facade) can be found out from top to bottom, bottom to top and inside out.
The Beyazıt Square physically exists along with the buildings located inside and around it. Examining the square physically is possible through the human being that moves inside and outside of these buildings. The life of a walking man is the whole sequence of what he encounters during his act of walking. The spots that he stops within this whole act have a higher level of importance. We have to take into consideration that, what the walking man has experienced during his approach towards the square to be the foundation of how he understands the mosque and other structures as he arrives at the square; and go through our examinations with this fact in mind.”
Model of the Square, Turgut Cansever Mimarlık Ofisi
An Attempt At Understanding Through
What Is Seen and What Is Unseen
Turgut Cansever explains the design process of Beyazıt Square step by step, as you can read within the following pages of this article. There is a lot to learn from a project of this magnitude within the last century of Türkiye; which is not understood as an idea, not completed as an architectural practice and not given its due. He asks, “what are the main values here?” and goes on to point at primarily toward the “great monuments” and then the “palace wall that stood right across these monuments.”
Turgut Cansever explains the design process of Beyazıt Square step by step, as you can read within the following pages of this article. There is a lot to learn from a project of this magnitude within the last century of Türkiye; which is not understood as an idea, not completed as an architectural practice and not given its due. He asks, “what are the main values here?” and goes on to point at primarily toward the “great monuments” and then the “palace wall that stood right across these monuments.” His essential point is that the space between the monuments and the traces of the wall must be defined as the Beyazıt Square. The Beyazıt Square project is an attempt at adjusting the contradictions of each structure which have been built in different ages and restoring the honor of square with the major constituents of it, so to speak.
The transformation of Beyazıt Square can be traced through various period maps, aerial photographs, other photography and videos taken from several angles during a 174-year period from 1845 to 2019. (This traceable transformation is open for viewing online at -evvesehirvakfi2019.tumblr.com- by Ev ve Şehir Foundation, which was established by Turgut Cansever. It can also be found in the current issue of the Hendese.)
The following can be stated shortly in regard to the mentioned transformation. A map dated 1845 shows the traces of the Old Palace walls, the first palace of Fatih Sultan Mehmed Han that was built before the Topkapı Palace. A map dated 1847 more clearly depicts the spatial relationship between the Old Palace wall and the mosque. Engravings dated 1850 depict the square with the Beyazıt Mosque and the gate right across the mosque.
The most important interference in the space is the Harbiye Nezareti Kapısı (the Gate of the Ministry of War, now the gate of Istanbul University), which was built in 1860’s and the road to the Harbiye Nezareti, which became more and more visible after 1865 and especially after it was lined with trees on either side. The monument-based focal area of the square was given a sharp turn of view, and the combined focal area of the mosque-madrasa-ministry (which can be seen at 1845 and 1850 maps) was reduced to a single focal point.
An oval pond was built on the central axis of this single focal point in 1926, reinforcing this focus, while a roundabout was built around the pond as well. Those were the years when street cars and automobiles were just beginning to swarm in İstanbul. Thus, the pond, which started out as a reinforcement for the focus on the Gate, had been turned into a traffic point and inevitably harboured a new era.
In 1958, square had been built according to the project of Sedat Hakkı Eldem, which removed the pond and reorganized the square to handle the traffic. The pond was replaced with a full roundabout, which would take its place in the movies of the era as a background with the pointsman in the center and a mayhem of vehicles and pedestrians all over the place. As the square was sacrificed thusly for a solution of traffic issues, there were four projects for the square on the tables of the relevant ministry and the municipality in 1959. These projects were that of Prof. Hans Högg the chief architect of Munich, Prof. Luigi Piccinato the president of the Italian City Planning Institute, Prof. Sedat Hakkı Eldem and Turgut Cansever. These projects were presented and debated on before a committee of almost 40 academicians, experts, architects and bureaucrats during what could be called an invitational competition, and the project of Turgut Cansever was accepted unanimously in April 1960.
The first and foremost decision of the Turgut Cansever project was to eliminate all motorized traffic from the square and an absolute pedestrianization. This decision is a very early attitude for a country that has only just begun to internalize motorized vehicles and the roads to support them, it is even a pioneer of pedestrianization rulings in Turkey. A necessary action was the arrangement of the vehicle road as an underpass interchange to Vefa Bakırcılar Çarşısı (Vefa Coppers’ Market) for the absolute pedestrianization of the square.
Other important decisions are defining the main level of the square according to the levels of the gates of Beyazıt Mosque and Beyazıt Madrasa; and design being based fully on the axis of the Qibla.
A set, which was parallel to the axis of the mosque, was built in front of The Gate of the Ministry of War since it was 45 degrees off the axis of Qibla. Cansever draws attention to the direction of Beyazıt Square as he talks about the transformation of İstanbul Post-Tanzimat period and summarizes the above mentions as such: “The flow of Beyazıt Square was turned 45 degrees off to Qibla through the Ministry of War axis. This change puts forward a desire to fully deny the great virtue that built İstanbul as it is; considering the destruction of the place for an imagery of a boulevard, the placing of the Reşid Paşa Tomb 45 degrees off of Qibla, the rudimentary road lined with planted trees, coming out of the Ministry of War instead of the open-ended Beyazıt Square that was a social living space ever from the beginning of the 19th century until 1870s, adorned with the Beyazıt Mosque, the Old Palace Walls, houses and grand trees as tectonics.”
The set in front of the Gate of İstanbul University (old Ministry of War), or the view of the sea from the square-mosque-Ordu Street are important to mention for the multiple-perspective viewing area they provide. Designing this area as a “plane of infinite sight” is among the “usual and in-depth” set up elements of the square. Defining this plane as a “green set” with arbor is another important point. The idea of coalescing the garden of the university with the greenery of the square in an attempt to increase the element of nature says a lot when compared to several square designs of today. The Square thus becomes much more than a hard ground bereft of trees, on the contrary, invites nature in as much as possible.
The hexagonal brick-and-stone stairs carry those who have gazed on the view on this infinite plane down towards the main level of the square. The most important side of these hexagonal stairs is that they too provide the pedestrian with “multiple choices of movement”, just like the “infinite plane”.
Among other decisions of the design is a sub-square on the Ordu Street level, and a wide ramp that carries the pedestrian up to the main square step by step, giving him an opportunity to take in the view. In my opinion, ascending toward the main square through the wide ramp from the sub-square is the key point of the whole project. Cansever’s sketches and the photographs he took for this wide ramp shows that this is much more than a mere attempt at connecting two levels masterfully; it is a manifestation of reaching the sacredness of the mosque step by step as the wideness of the ramp provides the pedestrian the means to use his will and to pick his path as he ascends. The steps of the ramp surround him with the sets that hold the monuments, connects him to the main monuments, allows him to build relationships with his surroundings. The forestation of sets, addition of little gardens and structures provide several opportunities for the user. The trees all around the square generously shading the pedestrians enforces the nature-square integrity, just like the garden of the university and the plane in front.
At this point, it is possible to digress and point out to the thing that comes to mind from all of the above. Cansever does not consider the issue at hand to be merely physical whether he may be designing a plane, or stairs, or ramps, or sets, or others. He constantly reminds us that any given element has something to contribute to the whole meaning of the place as he gives the material side of the design its due. The flexibility of the place, human’s to choose direction of his own will, the movement are among the meta-concepts that make each element come to life.
Cansever draw several sketches on how the square would come to life. He would constantly observe the square, from 1960’s to his passing in 2009, and be happy and get excited to see the people’s way of using the square, to have been able to touch their lives through this project.
This could be considered a summary of the design process of Beyazıt Square; the project that belongs to Turgut Cansever, which obviously has the ability of “re-offering” all these decisions and the good that would come out of that decisions, to the city of İstanbul.
The Cansever Stairs that have carved their place in the minds of people, that connect the University Gate level to the main square level
Some objections to the square project from today’s view
It is possible to say that the public knows little about the design of the square and the process between 1960 and 2019 as to what the Cansever Project actually is and what must be executed today. I would like to state some of my opinions after the summary above. It is imperative that we protect the basic decisions of the Cansever Project. Some opposition may arise from the architectural opinion towards the attempts at doing so. For instance, it is possible to come across architects who claim that the project is old, that it must be renewed, that there must be a new invitational for a new project. First of all, the process that shall take place is the restitution of such a project by putting forth the first version of the project and what has been executed of it so far; then preparing a restoration project in accordance with the restitution, and working on some minor improvements that have become necessary today (which has already been prepared, as will be mentioned later on).
Those who oppose the restitution and restoration of the Cansever Project must be reminded of DECOMOMO (DOcumentation and COnservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighborhoods of the MOdern MOvement) initiative and institution, which fights to preserve “modern architectural heritage”, and which is supported by most of the architects. Therefore, those who oppose the Cansever Project should be quite familiar with. The Behruz Çinici design TBMM Mosque was considered by those a “modern architecture heritage” when it was discussed to be rebuilt, so was the Hayati Tabanlıoğlu design Atatürk Kültür Merkezi (which is presently being rebuilt). And these are among the heritage. Yet somehow the same architects don’t seem to be so mindful of heritage when it comes to Cansever’s Beyazıt Square Project. This is a contradictory attitude that requires more attention. Is the Cansever Project less valuable than the others? Or, has this singular square project, which has no equal in the country, not been able to pass the finish line that says “heritage” on it? Is it mandatory to be “a building” to become a piece of heritage? Can a square not be a part of heritage? Have we not reached a level of consciousness that requires a square to be protected as well?
As for the improvements necessary to the project today; the project does not need major changes. Pedestrian movement, directions, grades, terraces, flooring materials, additional little civic units and such issues that can be considered as the outline of the project have been worked on by Cansever thoroughly, and they have also been actively tested for 50 years. Solutions for disabled citizens and little additions like elevators, stairs or ramps can be adapted to the project.
The widespread opinion of the project “to not have been executed” must be addressed as well. All of the main decisions of the project, the main square grades, the university grade, the main stairs and the main set, the ramp, the terrace in front of the madrasa, the sets between the main square and Ordu Street, the sub-square on Ordu Street, the wide ramp that connects the sub-square and the main square have been executed to minute detail. Most of the coating has been executed (except for the brick coating proposed for the main square). The main square coating has been replaced with large granite coating. To summarize, the main square which was designed by considering the gates of the mosque, the madrasa, and ground levels of them, the ramp that allows free pedestrian movement, the university stairs have all been rock solid for 60 years as a part of the civic memory, up until the 2010’s now. The minor additional units on the Ordu Street side have not been executed, but the sets that they would be built on were constructed. The trees that have been planted have grown there over the years have now the similar desired effect.
Questioning the “actuality” of the Square Project requires more thinking. Why update a unique and qualified work? For instance, would it be plausible to propose renewing the floorings of Greek architect Dimitris Pikionis in Athens, which is an example of modern heritage? Or should we rather protect it as a civic treasure in this age where towns suffer from amnesia rapidly? Would that not be more in line with the “zeitgeist of preservation”? The second, in my opinion.
The Square Project has been a hot topic for years, even in 2000s. The arguments heated after a new project was presented in 2010’s. The Municipality of İstanbul has passed a new project that is completely oblivious to the essentials of the Cansever Project, which was also approved by the protection boards. The statements of the municipality that “they took into consideration the essentials of the Cansever Project” seem to only have soothing purposes for the public. That the project was in effect was understood when construction work begun in the square in 2017 after several years of silent waiting. The municipality stopped the construction upon the objections of the central government and the public, and it was decided that the project would be re-considered in accordance with Cansever Project. The project was completed gratis, along with some minor revisions, and was presented to the municipality. As of May 2020, the project is being presented to the protection boards. Meanwhile Beyazıt Square waits with tons of concrete that was poured over it. Hopefully no more harm will be done in 2020 and Cansever Project will be revived.
It must be only natural to preserve the work of a “master” like Turgut Cansever, unmatched in the history of the Republic. Sometimes a photograph taken at an executed point of this project tells a thousand words, being the town’s memory caches that they are. On place, on history, human, movement and flow…
 “Beyazıt Meydanı Projelerini Tetkik Toplantısı Zaptı” (The meeting at the Town Hall on March 7, 1961), İstanbul’u Anlamak, 2nd edition, Timaş Yay., İstanbul, 2008; “Hürriyet (Beyazıt) Meydanı Projesi Üzerinde Yapılan Tartışmalar Dolayısıyla” (date of writing: 1961), İstanbul’u Anlamak, 2nd edition, Timaş Yay, İstanbul, 2008; “Bir Cennetin Yokoluş Hikâyesi”, Mimarlık ve Şehir, vol.2, 1961; “Beyazıt Meydanı Yayalaştırma ve Düzenleme Projesi”, Mimarlık ve Sanat, vol.2, 1961; “Beyazıt Meydanındaki Eski Eserlerin Durumları ve Restorasyonları Hakkında Rapor” (date of writing: 1962), İstanbul’u Anlamak, 2nd editionı, Timaş Yay., İstanbul, 2008; “Beyazıt Meydanı Meselesinin İç Yüzü”, Milliyet Gazetesi, 22 Mayıs 1964; “Beyazıd Meydanı Düzenleme Projesi, İstanbul, 1958-1961”, Mi-mar, vol.11, 1983; “Beyazıd Meydanı Yayalaştırma Projesi, 1969”, Arredamento Dekorasyon, vol.18, 1991 (It was also published in the book İstanbul’u anlamak under the title of “Dünden Bugüne Beyazıt Meydanı”);
 “Beyazıt Meydanı Projelerini Tetkik Toplantısı Zaptı” (The meeting at the Town Hall on March 7, 1961), İstanbul’u Anlamak, 2nd edition, Timaş Yay., İstanbul, 2008. p. 320-321.
 Cansever, T., “Dünden Bugüne İstanbul: ‘İstanbul’un fethi mimarî fetihle tamamlandı’”, Kubbeyi Yere Koymamak, İz Yay., İstanbul, 1997, p. 209-210.
 “Beyazıd Meydanı Yayalaştırma Projesi, 1969”, Arredamento Dekorasyon, vol.18, 1991, p.114-119.
 Cansever, T., Kubbeyi Yere Koymamak, İz Yay., İstanbul, 1997.
Beyazıt Meydan – Notes*
Main Decisions at Design and Application Process
*These images and summary are taken from evvesehirvakfi2019.tumblr.com
Cansever talks about his design for Beyazıt Square…
Turgut Cansever speaks about
comparing his design for Beyazıt Square to the other designs.
Lets take a look.. There were projects to design this area here as the square like this. The project of Sedat (Hakkı Eldem) Bey, (Luigi) Piccinato’s project, (Hans) Högg’s project. They took this area as the basis for the square.
My proposal, the one here: The road is not the basis. The main square shall not be one that will open up to the road. What is the base then? These great monuments, for one. There used to stand the Old Palace Wall across these monuments, a curved wall. That is, there was a wall following this line here. That means we have to take these monuments and the trace of this wall here and make the space in between these corner stones the main Square of Beyazıt. We must make calculations as to how we should connect the square to the road here. That is possible with a ramp on the opposite side of Beyazıt Mosque, corresponding to the narthex of the mosque, so to speak, that would lead to the road. If the ramp leads to here, one can get to the square here and the students can get to the university gate through here. Those who come from the bazaar direction can get to the gate from there, as well. This axis here, does not really exist in the original design of the square. It is a civic space used by the public. I did not put it in this book. The axis is built when the Old Palace was torn down and the Ministry of War was built instead. It is quite symbolic, quite important.
See here, that is the Reşit Paşa Tomb, which has a square plan, but the placement of the tomb does not correspond to that of Qibla; it is placed diagonally. This was done. The issue at hand can be solved through a complete analysis of the place along with everything that surrounds it, and this was my contribution. Sedat Bey, Prof. Högg and Prof. Piccinato were all attempting to solve the traffic issue within the area of the square, like you saw in that picture. The roads that would pass through would either be more harmful or less. Whereas, this has always been a pedestrian space. Mispargo’s photograph shows how beautifully the public utilizes this square. This is supposed to be how it is used.
There is a religious complex, a bazaar, Kapalıçarşı, a university here, one here. This is the meeting point of all of them. It is clearly inevitable that this place has to be pedestrianized. My proposal was to carry the traffic around the square using bypasses. There was
one issue though: how would the connection from Fatih direction to the Grand Bazaar be accomplished? Piccinato was proposing to make a road through this square. The level differences between the monuments forced us to add sets that carried the Gate axis outside of the square, which made it possible to build an interchange that passed from under the sets and surfaced here and solved the issue.
Video to text by Mustafa Aygör, M. Esat Karaaslan, M. Sefa Akbaba, İbrahim E. Karaköse.
Link for video:
Sketches of Cansever About Beyazıt Meydan