August 23 2012

Architecture as a Political Tool: Proposed Plan for the Biggest Mosque Ever Made, Istanbul, Turkey

Mosque's Speculated Location on the Camlica Hill

Works of architecture that are aimed for the public almost always bear political connotations. However, when incompetence in understanding the relationship between architecture and public use is present in those who are in charge, outcomes are, to say the least, funny.

The most recent example I have seen is the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s desire to build a mosque which will be designed in a way that it can be seen from everywhere in Istanbul on the largest remaining hill on the sides of the Bosphorus, Çamlıca, as he announced on May 29th. Then an architect was selected after a personal request by Mr. Erdogan, and according to this architect, the mosque will have 6 minarets, and the dome will be bigger than those of our ancestors. The minarets will be the tallest ever made.

As you might have expected, many architects and scholars were infuriated by these statements. Their appeals can be roughly organized in two categories:

1)      The location in question, which is occupied by a forest and a number of TV towers at the moment, doesn’t need a mosque that big simply because there aren’t that many people living around that area.

2)      It is not a bright idea to try to build the biggest ever made, since the fact that you have the biggest dome or the tallest minarets don’t serve a purpose in our contemporary time. It is also far from a bright idea to try to compete with the architecture of the past, or more specifically, Sinan’s work (who as an interesting side note wasn’t that crazy about minarets), as going bigger is not the way to cherish the past than understanding it and reinterpreting it according to the standards of our epoch.

In short, we wouldn’t be wrong to state that there isn’t a mosque needed at that spot, and this whole incident is merely an attempt to make a political statement through architecture, which has been a popular move throughout history. However, I believe the aesthetics of mosques that are built in the last several decades are mostly disgraceful. Then, how are we supposed to build mosques? A groundbreaking example, in my opinion, of a modern interpretation of a mosque is drawn by Emre Arolat, a recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture among many others, and it is definitely worth it to have a look.

What do you think about politics using architecture and inflicting critical impacts on cities and urban life in order to make a political statement?

Credits: Data linked to sources, image by author.

Erman Eruz

Erman Eruz is a graduate student at Rice University where he is pursuing a Master's Degree in Architecture. He graduated from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, along with certificates in Architecture and Urban Studies. Having grown up in Istanbul, Turkey, he is interested in a wide variety of topics related to the built environment and how people interact with it. Erman is fascinated by the interdisciplinary relation between architecture, engineering and urban planning. His main interests are urban housing in large cities and the relationship between technology and architectural production.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 at 4:36 pm and is filed under Architecture, Government/Politics, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


4 Responses to “Architecture as a Political Tool: Proposed Plan for the Biggest Mosque Ever Made, Istanbul, Turkey”

  1. Kaner Says:

    Politicians and politics use different channels to progress their ideologies and agendas. Some politicians, like Mr. Erdogan, want to make their mark on the world. When you look at the buildings you can easily understand who was in charge of the government, not only mosques, but also through statues and monuments. For example, the current government is taking advantage of Islamic believers, and they are building Mosques to increase conservatism in Turkey.

  2. Ahmet Uzun Says:

    because of the relentless construction industry in turkey (especially in istanbul), the govenment has increased its general welfare and power. and this made the government spoilt and senseless in urban issues like conservating ecological an
    d historical structure of istanbul.

    speaking of welfare, there’s one more thing to think about. the welfare based on construction brings with “urban solecism”. and in this geography, we are very familiar that solecism from the well-known arabian city, Dubai. In fact, we called that “arabian solecism”. It’s like an turkish idiom actually. the same scenario seems like to happen for istanbul. and I’m afraid the “turkish solecism” is gonna born and the beloved city of istanbul will turn into Dubai or Sao Paulo.

    besides, in political history of turkey, you can see nobody is interested in to protect the built environment or natural riches of old İstanbul. I can definitely say that nowadays there is no conservation consiciousness in turkey.

    shortly, this mosque project is actually unnecessary for the city but i think the government considers this as a show of strength. but frankly, it’s a completely worrying example of vulgar populism.

    (from facebook)

  3. Erman Eruz Says:

    Thanks a lot for your insightful comments. It actually makes me upset how easy it seems to radically change the urban environment without much dialogue, and the current government is willing to use its tremendous power to do so. I think Kaner’s point that they are interested in “making the mark in the world” is definitely spot on. What better tool to achieve that goal than architecture?

    I also like the term “urban solecism”. That is what generated the tallest building on the face of the Earth where there is absolutely no need for high rise building, since you don’t have urban congestion in the middle of a desert. In order to prevent that from becoming prevalent in Istanbul and Turkey in general, the public must question what is happening to the environment they live in, start to think about architecture and how the city they live in functions. I think that is what is lacking at the moment, and bringing up this consciousness is more important than to make pretty buildings, in my opinion.

  4. Politics vs. Culture: Municipality’s Rally Square Project in Yenikapi, Istanbul, Turkey | The GRID | Global Site Plans Says:

    [...] I was fortunate enough to work on this project 3-years ago, and at the same time as the excavation, there was a subway project going on to connect the two sides of the Bosphorus – underwater. This subway project was aimed to have been finished in 2007; however after it was realized that there were extremely valuable archaeological artifacts, the project was stalled after a lot of debate. However, the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was anything but happy, because these groundbreaking findings were responsible for the delay of the subway project. These “several bowls and pots,” the expression the Prime Minister had chosen to describe the artifacts, meant an obstruction in the course of completion of a project that was supposed to strengthen the political standing of the current leading party, creating a situation in which the culture is sacrificed by politics, and projects related to the urban environment being used as political tools, similar to what I have discussed in one of my previous posts. [...]

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