Istanbul (1956-1961)/Conservation: The Common Understanding Of Turkish Architect Circle And Its Influence On The Planning Of Istanbul

The historical context of Istanbul has long been valued by Turkish people, especially the architects. Their attitude towards the historical remnants of Ottoman state and previous empires was rather conservative, which can be seen in their constant rejection of urban plans made by foreign planners in the early 1950s. The cultural awareness manifested by Turkish architect circle did prevent Istanbul from turning into a standardized metropolitan city devoid of regional identity under the wave of modernization. Nevertheless, the broadly adopted understanding of conservation at that time was relatively incomplete.

Menderes’s Redevelopment Act was largely accepted by the contemporary Turkish architects, partly for its proposed strategies tackling the historical remnants of Istanbul. With the intention of glorifying Istanbul through beautification, Menderes wanted the grand mosque and other historical buildings of similar importance to stand out in the new city image he envisioned. To achieve that, vast areas adjacent to the grand mosque needed to be cleared out for better presentation of the relic. This eventually led to a massive demolition of vernacular buildings, which were too part of the historical remnants. Further proposed by Menderes was the regularization of existing street patterns in the city center. Again, vernacular constructions were sacrificed for the beautification.

The Valide Mosque and its vicinity before the Redevelopment Act. Source: Altinyildiz, Nur. “The Architectural Heritage of Istanbul and the Ideology of Preservation.”


Clearance of vernacular buildings adjacent to important historical relics. Source: Altinyildiz, Nur. “The Architectural Heritage of Istanbul and the Ideology of Preservation.”

The appraisal Turkish architects offered to the plan later changed to harsh criticism due to the destructive demolition work carried out. However, they demonstrated a neutral attitude, not to say agreeing, towards wiping out the vicinity of the grand mosque. While largely concerned with the historical relics that have significant aesthetic, religious or cultural meanings, they tended to be oblivious towards the vernacular, including buildings and the urban fabrics. The historical value of the vernacular as a counterpart and complementation narrating in a subtler manner was by then not fully recognized.




Altinyildiz, Nur. “The Architectural Heritage of Istanbul and the Ideology of Preservation.” Muqarnas 24 (2007): 281-305.

Ayataç, Hatiçe. “The international diffusion of planning ideas: The case of Istanbul, Turkey.” Journal of Planning History 6, no. 2 (2007): 114-137.

Gül, Murat. Architecture and the Turkish City: An Urban History of Istanbul since the Ottomans 2017.

Gül, Murat. The Emergence of Modern Istanbul: Transformation and Modernisation of a City. New York: Tauris Academic Studies. 2009.

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