Erosions of Engagement

Beyazit Meydan

Today’s contemporary cities are suspended in a schizophrenic dichotomy between preservation and development: the desire and need to sustain a national heritage and the need for growth and development. This conflict maintains a strong presence in Istanbul which has seen a dramatic population increase since the 1970s, from 2 million to 13.9 million today.**1** While the notion preservation developed out of the rapidly changing industrial and modern environment, raising questions as to what to keep, we are entering a (link: conservation text: new age of stasis where 12%) of our global environment is already classified as ‘preserved’.**2** This is all the more present in our site, the Beyazit meydan, situated within the historic peninsula. The city was declared a World Heritage Site in 1985, and the entire historic peninsula is “protected”.

We propose that in today’s climate the question is no longer what to keep, but instead, its negative form, (link: erode text: what to erode). The two tendencies are actually mirror structures who work towards the same goal: to preserve cultural heritage while making way for development, growth and new forms of occupation and being in the city. The question becomes instead: Which structures hold more potential in their erosion than in their preservation for the future development of national and cultural heritage and value?

Historically, the site can be read as a series of cumulative erosions that privilege one entity of power over another: (link: entities text: the ottoman mosque, the military, the university, transportation infrastructure, and so forth. In these iterations, the site does not belong to the city, or the public, but becomes a privatized and owned space,) regardless of the vastness and scale of the site. Today, however, Beyazit Meydan seems to have fallen into a no-mans land between various institutions. We see the lack of ownership as a great potential of the site and for a public space that is not owned, but shared between. The problematic of the current condition is that, although it is not owned, the space in between is not engaged by its surrounding institutions. It is an abyss between. Thus, through further erosions, our proposal aims to bring these disparate entities of the site back into dialogue through the space of the meydan.

Lewis Mumford argued that the city, the museum, and cinemas acted as public archives.**3** Today, architecture and the built environment have supplanted works of art as the primary cultural medium. Such as, we see public space as a space of encounter and negotiation, not only with the other but also with the past and future of the city. The construction of selfhood and nationhood rely as much on the public encounter of the other, as on the public dialogue with the past and its corresponding internal reflections and projections onto the future. (link: publicmemory text: Public space is an accumulation of memory.) However, as much overlap as there is between the preservation and restoration of works of art and of the building environment, the city is not a museum and cannot be treated under the same policies. Thus, while a museum can be selectively curated to preserve the cultural heritage of a city, the city has a life of its own and must deal with those strains coming from external contingencies that in fact make up the life of the city itself. Its curation cannot be solely based on cultural value, but needs to also take into consideration the city as a living and breathing entity. Public space is the location of confrontation between the preservation of heritage (cultural memory) and the evolution and development of the contemporary city. It is not a preserved artifact.

Looking at the potential of Beyzait meydan in particular, we see (link: activitygrowth text: erosions) as a form of excavation, revealing the past to allow for the recollection of memory. Erosion holds the dual potential of opening up the site for new activity and growth, while simultaneously looking back toward the past, becoming a site of public memory. Looking forwards and backwards in simultaneity, the erosions act on the peripheries of the site as an expansion outwards to draw activity and institutions inwards. We see erosion as occupying the space in between conservation and development as well as a new type of authenticity between Viollet-le-duc’s notion of restoration**4** and Ruskin’s ruin**5**, and between the underlying streams and ambiguities within preservation including the opposition between cultural nationalism and state nationalism. Cultural nationalism “champions ethnic lineages and historical hierarchies, and views capitalism with suspicion”.**6** It emphasizes tradition. State nationalism on the other hand embraces modernization and urbanization and is concerned with tourism. State nationalism has a tendency to favour Viollet-le-Duc notion ‘to restore’ that casts the built environment into a state of ‘fakeness’ and timelessness while cultural nationalism can be understood as aligning with John Ruskin’s notion of the authentic ruin, which restores the reality of time through authenticity.

Our addition to the site of subtractive erosions situates itself within the latter category, concerned with fashion of selfhood and nationhood through a (link: continuityofhistory text: continuity of history and authentic time). Erosion has the dual capacity to carve out space for future development while registering traces of its process, revealing the palimpsest which composes the site. It simultaneously looks forward into the future, creating new spaces and forms of inhabitation, while preserving and engaging with the past histories of the site. Volumetric erosions are focused on inhabitation while surface erosions, which contain the volumes, record the traces of various periodicities allowing them to cohabit a single plane.


Emily Kappes