The architectural as well as urban development of Istanbul have much to do with its political circumstances. For it had gone through a rapid change in political status in the region since early 1900s. These series of threads aim to examine the relationship of these dependent factors that cultivated the swift transformation of Istanbul and even Turkey since the 1930s.

Before the fall of the Ottoman Empire, there was an attempt from the nationalist party, namely the Young Turks, to undertake a social and political reform to revive the declining status of the once most powerful Muslim empire in the world during 15th and 16th century, after overthrowing the absolute monarchy and setting up of the constitutional government. The aim of the Young Turk government is to reform and modernise the political and military condition of the Empire while remain its religious heritage in the world and one significant movement carried out by the government was the Ottoman Revivalism[1]. Through the entitlement of Ottoman revivalist architectural style, which was re-interpreted by the western architects who were heavily influenced by the nationalism of the government, as the official architectural style that is widespread nationwide in civic and public architectures especially in Istanbul. The nationalist government took the style as a instrument to render a strong “modernised Ottoman” image in the people’s eyes, in hope of demonstrating the political ideology of the ruling party. The style is widely accepted and adopted despite it short life due to the political shift with the fall of the empire.

Istanbul in particular enjoyed the architectural style with successful examples such as the railway terminus in Haydarpasa. Expression of classical Ottoman architecture and usage of wide-roof overhangs, tiled ornamentation and arches could be seen in institutional buildings. Architecture played an important role in reinforcing the expression of the deep rooted religious culture and political state which the Republican People’s Party had to deal with after the end of Turkish War of Independence in the 1923.

“The barriers, passages, compartments, thresholds, and adjacencies that the built environment engenders shape the rhythms and routines of everyday life and, therefore, are instrumental to disseminating officially sanctioned notions of identity, order, hierarchy, and authority.” [2]

Similarly, with the vision of divorcing religion with the ruling authority, secularising the country in every aspect of life possible and allowing modernisation to take place with the western world as a standard, the Republican People’s Party used architectural style as one of the means to express their political ideology as well as carried out a widespread secularisation of the Ottoman architectural heritage left behind right after its fall. As simple as it may sound but also as power it was, the Republican People’s Party abandoned the Ottoman revivalist style in favour for the western Modernist style. While removing all Ottoman and Muslim symbol that were placed on the entrance of facade of the Ottoman revivalist architectures, all the new buildings being built followed the establishment of the new nation state. The streamlined, unornamented, cubic architectural style, Yeni Mmimari in Turkish words, (the New Architecture)[3] was adopted over civic, institutional and domestic architectures. Example such as the People’s House in Kadıköy, İstanbul shows that the change of architectural style successfully rendered a modernist image in the people’s eye on a day to day basis. They see the rejection of old stylistic forms and embankment on a”new and logical path”towards modernisation is a reflection of rationalist and secular ideals of the Kemalism.

One point to note, despite all the effort made by the Republican People’s Party, Istanbul was immune from the rapid shift of the architectural style as the political center of the nation-state had already shifted to Ankara at the time where only a few of new large scale and civic buildings were built in Istanbul[4]. This allows Istanbul to preserve most of the Ottoman Revivalist architecture. Nonetheless, the ability to assert political ideals and authority to the people in the most proximite way is exhibited in the use of architectural styles.




[1] Murat Gul, “Istanbul between the Crimean War and the First World War,” in The Emergence of Modern Istanbul – Transformation and Modernisation of a City (I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, 2009), 66-67.

[2] Zeynep Kezer, “Nationalising Space,” in Building Modern Turkey – State, Space, and Ideology in the Early Republic (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015), 159.

[3] Murat Gul, “The Neglected City,” in The Emergence of Modern Istanbul – Transformation and Modernisation of a City (I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, 2009), 78.

[4] Murat Gul, “The Neglected City,” in The Emergence of Modern Istanbul – Transformation and Modernisation of a City (I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, 2009), 79.

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