11 March 2008

A New and Improved Istanbul!! Brought to You by the Kind People at Purdue

While searching for aerial photographs of Istanbul for the Remote Sensing class that I am currently teaching, I came upon this “gem” of academic fantasy: http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2008a/080109SozenAnimation.html

In this bulletin, it is stated:
Istanbul is at such high risk for a devastating earthquake that engineers at Purdue University and the Republic of Turkey have come up with a bold new proposal: build a second city.

A second, satellite city would provide immediate refuge to inhabitants of the old city in the event of a catastrophic earthquake and soften such an event's effects on the nation's economy.

This proposed project is another excellent example that visions of urban utopias did not die with Corbusier, Wright and Howard (Hall 2002, McAdams 2006). While I am not an advocate of urban utopian movements, there are some that I find more benign than others, such as the New Urbanism movement. However, the New Urbanism movement is merely an updated version of Howard's Garden City movement that has been turned into a marketing devise for exclusive upscale housing development. The concept is fragmented without a real overall vision and does not possess some of the spirit of the Garden City movement. Nevertheless, there are positive threads that may lead to an overall shift in the planning of cities and compatible with sustainability. On the other hand, the proponents of the utopian visions of Wright and Corbusier have the intention of creating cities consisting of either: high density monolithic commercial and residential structure with low density Bauhaus inspired industrial complexes; low density ‘disposable’ commercial/industrial and pre-packaged homes or a combination of both earlier described urban landscapes. It is clear that the creators of ‘New Istanbul’ have been inspired by the Wright/Corbusier utopian concept.

At my first glance at the website mentioned, I thought it was a spoof, but then realized that these professors were serious—making their efforts tragic instead of comic. It is stated further in the webpage, that the National Science Foundation funded this project-- which makes you wonder what their criteria they use when dividing up the grant monies. My research grant proposal on the " Teleportation as an alternative mode to alleviate urban congestion" may just have a chance with the NSF. The whole proposal reminds one of a Buck Rogers episode and the 1939 World’s Fair City of Tomorrow, except it does not have flying cars and people in costumes. Maybe they can update the webpage to include them.

Regardless of the my personal disgust with this project, I think these academicians should get an F for creativity. “Istanbul 2” is "Corbusier warmed over" with some 3-D animation thrown in to show that they were being innovative. I showed this to one of my graduate classes. One of the students in the class stated that the plan looked very similar to Brasilia, which is almost universality regarded as an example of bad urban design. Yet, the academic team at Purdue has no problem in transporting their version of Brasilia to Turkey. In fact, the website mentions Brasilia so there is no doubt that this what these professors used as inspiration for New Istanbul. (Also, it should be noted that their plan of New Istanbul is placed on a flat plain. I am curious to where this is as Istanbul does not have this type of topography.) As good students of urbanism know, Corbusier wanted to redesign Paris into his vision of a modern city. We are generally thankful that his utopia was never fulfilled in Paris. I say generally because there may be some “rogue” urbanist who may think differently. I doubt that anyone in a decision making capacity in Istanbul and Turkey is taking these ideas seriously. The website mentions there was cooperation from the Republic of Turkey, but this seems fabricated and fantasy as is this entire project. As far as can be discerned from the web site there was participation from some engineers from Turkey that cooperated, but they do not represent the Republic of Turkey.

“New Istanbul” is totally unrealistic and ultimately offensive to those who cherish Istanbul with its incomparable history, irreplaceable buildings and chaotic urban environments which remind its citizens of the pageant, the tragedy, the promise and the dynamics of urban life. Most citizens of this city would be lost if they had to live in the sterile urban environment that the folks for Purdue have planned for them after the earthquake. I and many citizens would take personally take up the bricks of Topakpi, Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Aya Sofia and countless other buildings and lovingly restore them after the ‘Big Earthquake’. To leave them in ruins and start live in a faceless and “modern” Istanbul would be unthinkable to most residents of Istanbul. Istanbul has survived many earthquakes. It will survive another one and continue on as it has for over three thousand years.


Hall, P. Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Blackwell Publıshers, 2002.

Mcadams, M. The Information Age City: A Bourgeois Utopian Dream. Urbana. Autumn 2006. ttp://www.tamuk.edu/geo/urbana/Fall2006/index.htm
(Accessed March 12, 2008 ).

No comments: