The arts light up Istanbul

Nick Myall
09 Nov 2017

A new Opera House will act as a centre for the arts and culture of twenty-first century Istanbul

Initiated in 1946, as an "Opera House", and later in 60’s as a Cultural Center, designed by Dr. Hayati Tabanlioglu, the Atatürk Cultural Center was 23 years in the making before opening in 1969. Sadly after a fire in 1970, it took another seven years before the second opening of the Atatürk Cultural Center, which was - again -  designed by Hayati Tabanlioglu. A relic of the 1970s, the project to create a new Atatürk Cultural Center is now, for the third time, designed by Tabanlioglu Architects and Murat Tabanlioglu who is the son of the first architect of the centre.

On 6th of November, 2017, at the official launch, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan introduced the Atatürk Cultural Center project to Turkey indicating that the contemporary culture center will appeal to larger crowds. Although it will mainly serve as an opera house, the center will also have venues ranging from cinema and theatre to exhibition halls, cafes and restaurants.

The Atatürk Cultural Center will be built to accommodate performances to international standards according to contemporary requirements and technologies. As a very comprehensive urban structure, the center is also expected to be a major attraction for the city's residents and thousands of tourists visiting from around the world.

Murat Tabanlioglu, explaining the project during the launch, said: "It is very gratifying to have taken over such a heritage, beyond that, of course, we need this cultural building to be permanent for Turkey and the world. I was very excited to be invited by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism months ago to work on this project.” He shared his feelings and added," Since the needs and functions of a cultural establishment and the building have changed over time, they have to be renewed in spatial terms with current solutions. It is inevitable to incorporate technical requirements and possibilities into such a structure, especially at the point of performing a very special and complex function like opera. Eventually, architecture, technology, infrastructure and systems needed fresh blood for the performance of opera and ballet, and the recent condition of the center did not meet the need, moreover like people, in terms of structure the buildings get old and weaken. So, of course with the principle of staying true to the collective memory of the city, we kept the dimensions and its significant façade of the 60's, and conveyed the building into the 21st century."

The building is assessed on the sustainability criteria, and evaluated in the scope of technological and architectural aspects, and restructuring the surroundings as well the building. AKM aims to reach a status as one of the world's best opera houses and cultural centers, providing the highest quality for rich performances that require complex technologies.

The arts and culture units articulated to the main building, which houses 2500 seats, large-sized hall with natural acoustics. Hence, the new AKM will be transformed from a single unit into a large, comprehensive cultural complex.

Alternative and secondary features such as smaller concert halls, theater halls, cinemas, libraries, design shops, and cafes and restaurants between them, will be located at various levels along the culture street that is passed through the annex; the low-rise serial buildings connected to each other, and ultimately to the main building, via their lobbies. These capacities are also independently accessible from the street level.

Through the cascading extension with a green landscaped roof, a second entry, so a secondary piazza, is granted that will be formed in the direction of the congress valley where Atatürk Library and Technical University are located. 

Being public buildings, one of the most notable elements of opera houses are squares. AKM defines the edge of the Taksim Square, and the new project enhances the relationship with its unifying and connective accomplishment through art and cultural activities.

More transparent than the old one, AKM's façade will be reconstructed,  enlivened by  one of the biggest screens of the world, so that the performances realized on the stage inside will simultaneously broadcast on the screen for the public, through the high quality display.

This transparency will provide a clear view of the red outer shell filling the volume of the main opera hall; the powerful image of the bright semi sphere will emphasize the presence of the Opera House.

On the roof of the main structure, there will be a restaurant granting panoramic views of the Bosphorus. Other than opening the spectacle to public, it is envisaged that this meeting place will provide an advantage for financial support for the operation of the cultural center.

Besides the unquestionable cultural advantage to be gained through the re-establishment of AKM,  local products and natural materials will be used in the construction, recalling the fact that many of the materials came from abroad during the period when AKM was first built.  Now, thanks to the production capacity that Turkey has achieved today, local products will be used. 

Architecturally, with its multi-layers and alternative functionalities, AKM is also defined as a basis for sociocultural consensus; a valuable metropolitan tool that lives every hour of the day, with contemporary aesthetics and a high representation value, and at the same time, an inclusive and embracing urban magnet.

One of the most important modernist buildings of Istanbul, AKM will survive preserving its significant values through the creativity and richness of the original architecture while updating the requirements of its functions, as well as meeting the qualities of urban life of the new century.

The new Ataturk Cultural Center, planned to be completed in 2019, will also serve as a case study on the architectural structures of the 60's, a base for academic discussions in setting the principles of their protection, as many of the countries in the world today retain much older buildings, while the 1960's buildings are being demolished.

Nick Myall

News editor

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