30 May 2012
From The newsdesk blog
Istanbul is one of those cities that makes even Britain feel like part of the New World.
Maybe it is this very profusion of the ancient that means Istanbulites take their heritage for granted.
I’ve just been there, meeting local architects and learning about the 8,000-year-old Turkish ceramics industry.
In four days I saw little and understood even less of this fascinating and complex city.
But even from the plane you can see that the domes and minarets of dazzling Ottoman mosques are being challenged for skyline dominance by 21st-century towers.
And then there’s the saga of the Ataturk Cultural Centre, a 1969 modernist masterpiece by Hayati Tabanlioglu. It has been closed for years, the subject of a row about how – and even whether – to preserve an “ugly modern building”.
In 2005 Turkey’s then culture minister said it should be torn down. A public outcry led to its designation as a cultural asset and the authorities agreed it should be renovated instead.
The architect’s son, Murat Tabanlioglu who now runs the family practice (one of the world’s biggest), offered to do the job. His plans included turning the top floor into a restaurant with views across the city.
But, bizarrely, the pendulum of conservation taste had swung so far the other way that this was forbidden. The work that is finally just getting under way will be a strict restoration of the original. Missed opportunity?
Istanbul is a city not a museum but it still needs thoughtful curators to tackle these questions.