In May 2013, protesters fed up with the government’s increasing totalitarian tendencies occupied Gezi Park and TaksimSquare in Istanbul, which abuts one of the main architectural landmarks from 60’s Turkey. Named after the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey, Atatürk Cultural Centre (ACC) holds a 1307 seat main opera hall among five other spaces for art and culture.
Inaugurated in 1969, the ACC is a prominent example of modern, functionalist architecture in Istanbul representing the republic’s founding generation. The building gained its listed status in 2007 upon which plans for its demolition came to a halt. Nevertheless, it’s been shut since 2008 for a chronically underfunded and delayed refurbishment period. The government today still aspires to raze ACC and Gezi Park in order to redevelop the site into a new shopping mall.
During Taksim protests, the westward public facade of ACC was transformed via numerous flags and banners. The crowd wished to at once protect the historic facade as inherited culture, and to amend it into a reflection of their generational identity. However, this attempt had limited success. The singular, monolithic reading of the building’s facade remained. The visual movement and multiplicity captured in the building's bri-soleilpattern could never overcome the singular facade which, to the protesters symbolized the government's unbridled grasp on power. In his seminal essay ‘The Politics of Facade’ Alejandro Zaera-Polo argues, “ The emergence of new political forms runs in parallel to the development of envelopes that resist primitive modes of faciality.” With banners, the protesters demonstrated against the imposed politics of an entrenched government. By doing so, they also demonstrated the evolving architectural challenges of a cultural landmark that can truly reflect a contemporary society.
An attempt to literally represent each fraction of society in a cultural building design would be wrongful and naive. A landmark building could never replace a landmark square. Such pluralistic design approach is bound to undermine the architectural value and yield to an expression no greater than the banners on a facade. Instead, the increasing sense of cultural multiplicity should be acknowledged as a design opportunity and be incorporated as a fundamental parameter. The construction technology no longer requires a clear distinction of the facade from the roof and it has moved beyond the complications of fenestration. We have the opportunity to break down archaic hierarchies, respond to pressing ecological necessities and most importantly, through architectural design, express the dynamic socio-political multiplicities of our generation.
The protests of 2013 in Turkey as well as others from all around the world such as Occupy Wall Street and Tahrir Square showed that Generation Y cannot be categorized under a single roof nor a single facade. Today, the level to which a landmark building design can house and reflect the interpretations of an increasing cultural multiplicity must take place at the bases for decision making on its cultural merit.
Zaera Polo, Alejandro. "The Politics of the Envelope." Volume 17 (2008): 76-105.