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A Building that Become Master Over Time: Atatürk Cultural Centre

16 April 2024
A Building that Become Master Over Time: Atatürk Cultural Centre

The richness of a scroll that changed hands from father to son, countless memories, countless testimonies… Atatürk Cultural Centre, standing tall against time, with its back to the Bosphorus and its face to the square… We pay homage to the great work that has been a showcase for Istanbul for generations and to the Turkish contemporary art that sprouted in its shadow.

What makes it special is not only its face turned towards Taksim Square. Even being Turkey’s only opera house for years is not enough. Its story does not even consist of its long years of project processes, the fact that it was not defeated despite the tragic events that befell it, or even if it was defeated, it came to life with its head held high. Even considering it as an indicator of a new national identity is not enough to tell its story. The Atatürk Cultural Centre is a partner in the memories of several generations, a meeting point for the enlightened face of Turkey, and a symbol of a city that has been transformed by art while mastering time in the hands of a father and son.

A Building That Become Master Over Time: Atatürk Cultural Centre
Atatürk Kültür Merkezi

ON SCROLL OF HİS FATHER

Despite the limited means of the Middle Ages, Archimedes’ scrolls are undoubtedly the reason why he survived to this day. Since it was very expensive to produce the animal skin paper on which he wrote his history-shaping notes, the writings were erased, cleaned and prepared to be written again. This method, called palimpsest, stands as a confirmation of the history of the Atatürk Cultural Center.

Its iconic façade meets digital technologies, artworks integrated with the space are presented in different forms, and it has turned into a cultural space that lives 365 days a year, one step beyond its mission in the 60s. With its libraries, cafes, restaurants, exhibition halls, and spaces for children, Atatürk Cultural Center seeks to breathe new life into the city while keeping its nostalgic atmosphere intact. But in order to understand its history well, we need to rewind time a bit and remember the story of the Tabanlıoğlu family…

A YOUNG THEATER LOVER

While the world had not yet recovered from the shock of the Second World War, Hayati Tabanlıoğlu, a young and idealistic architect, set off for Europe. Tabanlıoğlu, who took courses at Istanbul Technical University from the doyen names of the architecture world such as Emin Onat and Paul Bonatz, first fell in love with the value of art when he arrived in Europe in 1950. While working in various architectural offices in Germany and Switzerland, he took part in the design processes of important cultural buildings such as Bochum State Theaters and Munich National Theater. He was an idealist, but more than that, he was passionate about theater. While simultaneously working on his doctoral thesis at Hannover Technical University on “The relationship between the audience and the playing space in the theater”, he examined many buildings in Europe and advocated the construction of an opera house in Turkey as a necessity, not a luxury.

While the young architect, not yet in his 30s, was building his future, the foundations of another ideal were being laid in Istanbul. The cultural and artistic momentum rising with the establishment of the Republic had created the need for a grand opera house in Turkey to stage Western arts. This would be an ideological breakthrough, a symbol for the new national identity. In 1939, a project was drawn by French architect Auguste Perret, but it did not advance beyond the design stage. In 1946, the architects Rükneddin Güney and Feridun Kip began to implement Perret’s project, altering it substantially. This time, the economic and political conjuncture of the country did not allow it. No matter how much effort the then Governor and Mayor of Istanbul, Lütfi Kırdar, put into this project, his calculations did not match reality.

A Building That Become Master Over Time: Atatürk Cultural Centre
Atatürk Kültür Merkezi

The incomplete project was handed over to the Ministry of Public Works and in 1956 Hayati Tabanlıoğlu, known for his work in this field, was appointed to head the project. Tabanlıoğlu did not want to carry the classicist tendencies of the previous architects to the new project. Tabanlıoğlu complained about the technical difficulties and bureaucratic obstacles of working on a ready-made skeleton, and although he said that “the architectural project prevented the architect from unlimited freedom,” he did not give up.

He designed an additional foyer area in front of the facade completed according to the old project. It was at this point that his characteristic touch to the façade facing Taksim Square emerged. This characteristic façade, which he said, “Particular efforts have been made to make this façade unlike any other existing façade in the world, but with a claim to art,” suddenly transformed the neoclassical and heavy air of the Perret project into a transparent, modern expression. When Gerhard Graubner was invited to Turkey to examine the project, the architect, an expert on theater structures, gave full marks to the work of his former student Tabanlıoğlu.

A Building That Become Master Over Time: Atatürk Cultural Centre
Atatürk Kültür Merkezi

FROM ISTANBUL CULTURAL PALACE TO ATATURK CULTURAL CENTRE

The building was opened in 1969 under the name Istanbul Palace of Culture. Although the name drew reactions from art circles, including Muhsin Ertuğrul, it became one of the favorite venues not only in Istanbul but also in Europe with successive successful performances. The fourth largest opera house in the world and the second largest in Europe was now in Istanbul.

Read more about the Atatürk Cultural Centre in the Armband Uhren Saatolog 2023-2024 issue…