Istanbul 'must preserve historical heritage'
Sarah Lowengard was gazing at the historic waterfront mansions of the Bosphorus in Istanbul.
"I love the way it looks," says Lowengard, a professor of the history of technology at Cooper Union College in New York City.
"There’s a lot of water in New York [but] you don’t have houses built along the water except in a few districts," she notes.
Lowengard was one of dozens of other scholars from around the world who came to Istanbul to attend a two-day international symposium this week to discuss how Turkey could modernize its architecture while preserving its cultural and historical heritage.
Mehmet Akif Kirecci, a professor in economics, administrative and social sciences at Bilkent University and member of the executive board of the symposium, said Turkey is one of the fastest modernizing countries in the world, but at the same time contains a very rich history.
"We [Turkey] can do a bit better in terms of organizing our cities and in terms of reflecting our heritage and culture to new buildings," Kirecci said, adding that historic preservation is a sector that needs to be developed in Turkey.
He said Turkey’s historical heritage should be integrated into the education system in engineering, architecture and even finance in order to keep its heritage while the country modernizes.
"Istanbul is still influential in spreading its culture, its views, its silhouette to the rest of the country so therefore we have to take care of Istanbul," Kirecci said. "We have to be keen of Istanbul in terms of preserving the cultural side, the historical side and also presenting modernity."
On April 11, prominent figures in Turkey's construction sector gathered for an assembly in Istanbul to discuss an urban transformation process that began in 2012, aiming at improving the quality of housing in a country, which has been a victim of several major earthquakes.
Turkey's Housing Development Administration (TOKI) has built 710,000 residences in the last three years, according to its president Mehmet Ergun Turan. The aim for TOKI is to build 1.2 million residences by 2023, Turan told the assembly.
Old vs. new
James E. McClellan, a professor of history and science at the Stevens Institute in New Jersey, said there is not as much contrast between new buildings and historic ones in the United States compared to those in Istanbul.
"Hagia Sophia was built 1,500 years ago, there were things going on in America 1,500 years ago but it’s a completely different order," McClellan said. "In the [United] States there’s not so much contrast…[there are] some old stuff [from the] 19th century stuff then a new skyscraper."
"Is the modern simply going to erase the past? Or are there efforts to integrate the past into the modern?" McLellan said, adding that the architecture of new buildings should be in harmony with Istanbul’s historical heritage.
UNESCO recognizes architectural monuments like the Hagia Sophia and the Suleymaniye Mosque – among many others – in Istanbul "as unique architectural masterpieces of Byzantine and Ottoman periods".
Hagia Sophia, the most visited tourist attraction in Turkey in 2015, was originally built as a 6th century Christian basilica that was converted to an imperial mosque in the 15th century before becoming a museum. The Suleymaniye Mosque was designed by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan in 1550-1557.
McClellan said he was not only "blown away" by the size of the mosques in Istanbul but also by their "openness and their accessibility for the community".
"Just to see all the mosques all around is very impressive and to realize that you’re in a Muslim country …[I have] never been in a Muslim country before," he said.
Last Modified: 2016-04-15 11:47:43
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