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Sirkeci Station – Senses and Collective Memory

Stations, very first places that we encounter with a new city, in which we feel the sense of curiosity, wondering or astonishment to this strange habitat, or places that greets us at the first sight. Railway stations are significant urban thresholds and interconnection points for transportation. Especially after industrialization, they became important on spatial ground and also on urban scale architectural production. Before lead in the subject, to make a definition; these places can be identified as permanent structures which host temporary guests on it’s special environment, a spatial composition containing intense circulation. Until last five/ten years, Old Sirkeci Station was one of the buildings that leave mark on our urban spatial domain but nowadays it started to lose it’s special identity.

( Sirkeci Station – South Facade, Main Entrance )

Sirkeci Station was designed by German architect August Jachmund with neo-baroque style that is related with european orientalism. Construction of the terminal structure was completed in 1890. The idea was to design this building to behave like a gate for both inner and outer arrivals/departures and as a representation of orient culture in which İstanbul situated on the very edge of it. General spatial organization and architectural approach can be easily observed on the main facade of the building. According to a functionalist perspective, building complex responds to the basic and subsidiary needs for passengers. Main station building consists from one big rectangular structure which is divided to two wings by monumental main hall. It was the main entrance in past but today entrance is shifted to building’s longitudinal west side and secondary waiting hall. Administration office, ticket offices, restaurant, waiting zones are situated in these two wings. Recently, Sirkeci Station is inactive but the building is serving as a passage and a breathing space for the people who are passing through the Old Sirkeci Station to Marmaray Metro Line.

(Sirkeci Station – Concourses)

  Historical buildings like Sirkeci Station are not only significant for their historical value but also for their symbolic meanings that they acquire in time by being a subject in people’s lifes in long while. In specific to Sirkeci, first, it became a symbol for Orient Express and in it’s early times it was reflecting the economical and technological situation of the Ottoman Empire, later on, in 1950s Sirkeci Station was involved in movies as a matter of space for labor migration to European countries. In several movies and tv series, the station was associated with a new beginning, or a starting point for people who are arriving from or departing to Europe rather Haydarpaşa Station was highly involved in İstanbul-Anatolia relationship. Moreover, because of it’s slighly monumental but not mighty, horizontal design, station building was much more intertwined with ground level and more important with the citizens. Ironically, when you’re walking on the conourses of Old Sirkeci Station, you feel desolated from your recent reality because people are rushing from opposite side which is a part of a later addition to the building. Furthermore, due to it’s highly eclecticized architectural texture –horseshoe arch, rose window, different ornaments, mansard dome, etc.- it is hard to examine the dominant pattern on building context. When reading or evaluating a space/place it is necessary to analyze various variables such as user experience, historical development and changes, architectural characteristics and spatial layout. In natural language, it is the meaning and grammatical rules that provide links between words. Likely, in form language, forms establish links between forms.(Alexander, 1979) In conclusion, as a result of these links, subjects are formed by the convergence of the words and on the ground of forms, buildings, paths and spaces are exist as a result. In terms of urban experience, people read the environment that they live and experience in every day and they develop a culture of it over time. The memories, as the traces of previous events are kept in memory, which establish relationships between past and today through individuals and city, by exposing the images of one’s personal experiences. In fact, the most important feature of Sirkeci Station is the presence of spatial recognition over people’s minds.

(Sirkeci Station – Waiting Zone)

General opinion is to think the buildings as concrete, non-living objects but indeed, they are living organisms that corresponds to the human-environmental activities on their surrounding and inside themselves. That respond to external impacts might either be an adaptation or decadency. Also, about stations, Henrik Reeh mentiones that: “A main station is an urban microcosm that allows travellers to feel the presence of many milieux of the city. Fellow travellers, railroad employees, shopkeepers, masses of employees commuting from the suburbs, as well as the subterranean world of crime and social exclusion, all mingle in one single space. Displaying both movement and inertia, the main station presents in condensed form the life of the city in which you are about to arrive.” Even so, they are not just functional spaces of mass structure but a hybrid platform that embraces social and cultural flow through crowds. Hosting the agglomeration of memories, activities and temporary life circles. All of these entities are leaving a mark on building and it’s collective memory, both affecting/constituting it’s environmental atmosphere over time. While wandering over main hall, you can taste an instant moment of past time in a particular space. This may be triggered by a smell, an illumination, a reflection, a breeze blowing through crack, sound of old door and else. The production of imaginative space of multiple times through senses. As Pallasmaa indicated in his The Eyes of the Skin, architectural experience has interrelationship with our physical and mental reception. Our perception is can also be altered upon the motion of the building, sum of the movements, lights, sensations that we get, condition, memories and else. All are gathered and filtered in our minds and taken into a cognitional process to create an identification of a specific moment.


Alexander, C. (1977) A Pattern Language

Pallasmaa, J. (2005) The Eyes of the Skin

Postalcı, E. (2006). The New Urban Memory

Redwood, R. (2008) Collective Memory and the Politics of Urban space: an introduction

Reeh H. (2009) Arrivals and Departures: Travelling to the Airports of Berlin. In: Staiger U., Steiner H., Webber A. (eds) Memory Culture and the Contemporary City. 

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