Ankara (1929-35)/ City as a Stage of Politics: Architecture translations and the Republicans ideal – Case study of the Bahçelievler (1935-36)
As mentioned in the previous blog posts, the republican elites agglomerated and built villas along the way to the Presidential Palace as means to accumulate political capitals. In the original master plan by Lörcher and later Jansen in 1929, they envisioned a garden city in Ankara, the street front with uniformed styles of housing and identical height with no more than three stories (Akcan 2012). However, the development went to a totally different direction from what Lörcher and Jansen envisioned, especially along the boulevard. The mishmash of residential architectural styles displayed along the boulevard was being widely criticized as “expressions of the unbridled greed and the unrefined tastes of the republican elite, ranging from the highly ornate Ottoman revivalist to the abstract geometric compositions of Central European modern, locally dubbed ‘kübik stil’(Cubic Architecture), and being interpreted as “often conflicted attempts to define the new Turkey’s “high culture” within the domain of residential architecture” (Kezer 2015).
Indeed, the new-born republic was in shortage of technologies and professionals, and invited foreign professionals to assist their reforms. Despite the fact that the Viennese Cubic Architecture brought by the Austrian architects Clemens Holzmeister and Ernst Egli had ‘violated’ Jansen’s master plan in certain extent (discussed in previous posts), how the republican elites perceived ‘modernization’ and ‘westernization’ was perhaps the crux of the problem. Therefore, we would look into a residential project of Bahçelievler, Ankara by Jansen in seek of the translation and mistranslation in the process.
In seek of the future image of Ankara, the Bahçelievler Housing Cooperative was founded in a context of population boom and housing crisis (from 74,553 in 1927 to 122,721 in 1935) in 1935. While people were facing problems like lack of sufficient housing, expensive rents, forced nomadic lifestyle, and scattered individual houses that failed to contribute to the image of a well-planned modern city, ownership of a single-family “garden city” house was being connected with nationalism by the strong advocates of the Kemalist regime, stating “apartment is a symbol of rootlessness and temporariness and modern house shall allow attachment to life and country to cultivate roots and continuity (Tör 1936). Soon after its foundation, the Cooperative purchased a site in the western part of Ankara and Jansen was responsible for drafting the master plan. The client required separate rooms for different functions instead of multipurpose ones as in traditional wooden houses, furnished with European style furniture instead of traditional divans (multipurpose platforms). Balconies instead of closed courtyards, and indoor toilet and kitchen. The Cooperative requested a school, children’s square, marketplace, casino and sport fields, which was more luxurious and Westernized than what Jansen originally regarded “suitable” for Turkish families.
At last, Jansen came up with 3 basic residential types (free-standing, double, row house), emphasizing on the functionality of his design as a criticism to the buildings at that time that were not implementing true “modern” values despite its modern outlook. He tried to integrate local architectural elements, such as connecting the neighbouring free-standing houses with one-storey high garden wall, providing private courtyards, using extension bays (çıkma) on the upper floors overlooking the street, and integrating a loggia into the double houses as a space reminiscent of an exterior sofa in traditional Turkish houses, etc (Akcan 2012). However, the client was unhappy with its ‘countryside’ and ‘oriental’ outlook and asked for a ‘metropolitan’ character, and Jansen responded and defended for it was “modern to respond to local climate”.
Akcan suggested four reasons in this translation process. First was the little knowledge the cooperative towards ‘metropolis’, thus aspiring a metropolis with low density housing without congestions. Second was the opposing roles between foreign architect and the local inhabitants in the degree of translation, while one was trying to assimilate, one was trying to put an end to ‘tradition’. Living in Westernized style was a proof of social status and superiority. Thirdly, Jansen claimed to represent the Turkish more truly than the population itself could and forth, He used recent developments in Germany under National Socialism as a justification for his architectural approach. Eventually, the built project went totally different. Interior dimensions and spaces were either eliminated or changed, most importantly, the garden wall was lowered thus changing the whole neighbourhood’s appearance.
The case of Bahçelievler dimmed a constant negotiation between westernization and nationalism during 1929-1935 in Ankara. Rather than an immediate effect, it was more about a continuous process in search of its own national identity and representation, and how citizen, or in Ankara’s case, the upper-class elite, perceived and “being taught” about westernization. By how Clemens Holzmeister’s cubic architecture got so popular among the upper-class elite via promotion in various media, depicted in “Modernism and Nation Building” by Sibel Bozdoğan, we can see how architecture was used to differentiate classes along the modernization process thus the domination of elite class in Ankara had posed serious impact on the overall development in Ankara. In the coming post, the ideal and the aftermath would be further discussed.
Akcan, Esra. Architecture in Translation: Germany, Turkey, and the modern house. the United State of America: Duke University Press, 2012.
Gökay, Bülent. “Volume 31: Turkey, March 1927 – December 1929.” In British Documents on Foreign Affairs: Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confindential Print, Series B: Turkey, Iran, and the Middle East 1918-1939, 11-12. United States of America: University Publications of America, 1997.
Kezer, Zeynep. Building Modern Turkey: State, Space, and Ideology in the Early Republic. United States of America: the University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015.
Tör, Vedat Nedim. “Vedat Nedim Tör’den gelen cevap.” Karinca, 1936: 83.
 Well-known criticism appears variously in the memoirs of Falih Atay (Çankaya: Atatürk Devri Hatıraları) and foreign observers such as Paul Dumont (Mustafa Kemal invente la Turquie moderne: 1919-1924 [Brussels: Editions Complexe, 1983]) as well as in fictionalized accounts of Early Republican Ankara and its ambitious new elite in the novels of Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu (Ankara; and Panorama [Istanbul: Remzi Kitabevi, 1953])
 Namık, “Yapı kooperatifleri”; Uzgören, “Ankara Bahçelievler Yapı Kooperatifı Nasıl Doğdu?” “Ankara’da Yeni Bir Mahalle Kuruluyor.”