Istanbul (1956-1961) / Embodiment and the Symbol of Menderes’s wish to develop a brand new Turkey

Between 1956- 1961, Turkey witnessed a series of contradictory social, economic, and political issues. The rapid and unplanned urbanization and industrialization caused massive immigration from rural areas towards cities resulting in housing crisis and the illegal implementation of informal settlements (Gecekondus)1 in public lands. The industrialization in Istanbul made the city one of the most attractive and lucrative place for the rural population.

During the Democrat Party (DP) governance, there was more attention towards infrastructure projects and the mechanization of agriculture. The DP also invested heavily in the energy sector with the aim to attract the private sector’s interest and tried to tackle the accommodation problem created due to high immigration rates by allowing gecekondu houses and permitting densification of the neighborhoods and construction of multi-story apartment buildings.

This all changed when Menderes came to power, as he came up with the idea of reconstruction of Istanbul. He was not happy with the unorganized settlements and the associated infrastructure created due to the influx of immigrants. Moreover, haphazard planning and unplanned migration resulted in an increase in population. In addition, with rise in incomes, there was an increase in motor vehicles which created traffic problems (Refer to Image 1). Menderes wished to develop a brand new Turkey and wanted to showcase his political power and attract foreign visitors. 


Image 1. Congested traffic in the European landing of the Bosphorus Bridge. Photo by Gizem Akdoğan.


With this objective, Turkey allied with the US and received abundant financial and military aids sponsoring road making, industry and education. One of the main objectives of Menderes plan was to ease traffic congestion by opening up boulevards and creating arteries that connect major commercial centers (Refer to Image 2 and 3). It was in this atmosphere that “making the traffic flow like water” became a national concern across Turkey, and Istanbul was no exception. The governments’ agencies took inspiration from Robert Moses and his alterations to New York’s, expansive highways. Furthermore, the plan was to regularize the existing street patterns.


Image 2. Arteries and Highways: connecting commercial centers 
Image 3. This kind of planning led to massive demolition


Major construction and demolition took during this time. Menderes’s plan seemed to be quite radical as he started the demolitions for unapproved construction projects. This situation appeared to be chaotic as the demolitions were done without proper coordination with all other large-scale projects. Menderes “reconstruction” of Istanbul contradicted with the former governments and had negative effects on the poor due to the rise of the real estate prices. This raises the question of whether Menderes’ idea of reconstruction was the right approach.


Image 4. Destruction of the Vernacular. Urban Demolition, Ordu Avenue in historical peninsula Istanbul.


[1] Turkish, meaning a house put up quickly without proper permissions, squatter’s house


  1. Akdogan, Gizem., Marwan. Ghandour, Claire. Cardinal-Pett, Hsain. Ilahiane, and Iowa State University. Architecture. Dealing with Rapid Development [electronic Resource]: Creation of the Informal Urban Economy and Gecekondu Housing in Istanbul.
  2. Akpınar, Ipek. “Urbanization Represented in the Historical Peninsula: Turkification of Istanbul in the 1950s.” Mid-Century Modernism in Turkey, 2018, 56-84. doi:10.4324/9781315751849-4.
  3. Okata, Junichiro, and Andre Sorensen. Megacities – Urban Form, Governance, and Sustainability. Springer Verlag, Japan, 2013.

1 Comment on “Istanbul (1956-1961) / Embodiment and the Symbol of Menderes’s wish to develop a brand new Turkey

  1. You conduct a good and detailed research on how the political power and riots decided the urban planning concepts and its morphology. The big context was that after WWII, the aids from US, the rapid urbanization and industrialization caused big changes of population structure and land allocation in Turkey. This context was somehow similar to the Hong Kong in 1950s to 70s. The difference was the policies and thoughts applied by the government. It is quite an interesting topic. And you could talk more about the response of the public towards these series of events.

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