Istanbul (1938-1949) / Public Squares and the Politics of the New Spatial Order

Istanbul (1938-1949) / Public Squares and the Politics of the New Spatial Order
Project of Ataturk Boulevard at 1/500 scale by Henri Prost

“Espaces Libre” is one of the most important and essential elements in Henri’s Prost plan on the transformation of Istanbul. In the perspective of an urbanist, the term “espaces libre” is the general term to describe public space in the city including parks, promenades, boulevards, panoramic terraces, esplanades and also spaces for sports and social activities. In the past, the planning and the use of the public space was closely linked to the Islamic culture which is no favoured by the republican government as to create a secular and modern city. Influenced by the Haussmann’s planning practice in Paris, Prost introduced a network of boulevards connecting some of the major public spaces and historical fabrics in the city.

 

Project of Ataturk Boulevard at 1/500 scale by Henri Prost
Project of Ataturk Boulevard at 1/500 scale by Henri Prost

The Three Major Public Squares in Istanbul

Prost’s proposal of the construction of Taksim Sqare was controversial as it required the demolition of Taksim Artillery Barracks which was a historical monument built in 1806 as a part of Ottoman military reforms under the reign of Selim III. At the end, the Taksim Square was constructed to act as a greenbelt connecting the city and the surrounding fabric. The second public square, Eminonu Square also abandoned the old city fabric and resulted in the demolition of the Harim of the mosques and the shops in front t of the Egyptian Bazaar. By doing so, it took away the memory of the religious and commercial activities in the old Ottoman time. Lastly, in the planning of the Faith Square and the Ataturk Boulevard, the ancient monumental structure Valens Aqueduct was integrated with the boulevard and turned into an observing platform, so the citizens could enjoy tremendous view travelling along this scenic route.

 

The expropriation area according to the Prost's Plan
The expropriation area according to the Prost’s Plan
Eminonu Square after and before the implementation of Pros Plan
Eminonu Square after and before the implementation of Pros Plan

New Spatial Order and its Political Significance

The new public squares and the boulevard networks planned by Prost significantly increased the area of green and social gathering space of the city and it also improved the hygienic quality and aesthetic of the perception of the new Istanbul. Besides, these new fabrics echoed with the ‘public sphere’ as a place to socialize and exchange intellectual knowledge that the initial concept was proposed under the Ataturk’s social reform. However, it was criticized by the public of not respecting some of the old heritage, so there was a heat debate on how to strike a balance between preservation of the old and the modernization of the city. With no doubt, the intrusive spatial intervention of the city implemented by Prost had a close linkage with the political idea behind as to clearly distinguish the present Istanbul with its Imperial time by imposing a new spatial order. More importantly, it also symbolized the transfer of political power from the Ottoman monarchy to the Ataturk’s republican period.

 

Reference:

Bigre YILDIRIM (2010), Transformation of Public Squares of Istanbul between 1938-1949

Cana BILSEL (2011), “Les Transformation d’Istanbul”: Henri Prost’s planning of Istanbul (1936-1951)

1 Comment on “Istanbul (1938-1949) / Public Squares and the Politics of the New Spatial Order

  1. I totally agree that sometimes the driven force of changing a city is highly influenced by pursuing political achievements, just as the renovation project of Hai River in Tianjin. Another evaluation standard is certainly needed to evaluate projects whose purpose is not aiming to what it supposed to do. Besides, I am curious about the criticism that “the new plan is an spatial intrusion of the city”. I wonder what is the traditional urban planning idea in Istanbul before the modern Haussmann’s planning idea. Like in China, you may call it “Emperial city” or “Li-Fang” idea.

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