Urban Spatial Memory Diminished Under Standardization – Case of İstiklal Street

Cities are living organisms that are being formed up over time. They develop some unique schematics in tandem with the layout of the elements that they contain, formation of spaces and the routines which consist from daily life practices. Moreover, cities in the recent world, are constructing the characteristics of modernity/postmodernity, being one of the elements of central form of globalization. Especially in large metropolises –like Istanbul-, global and local axis and the tension between these dominant features form the main spine of the power relations that are shaped. They create a multi-dimensional network of relationships, in urban life where we experience things in economic, political and cultural sense in which they are spreaded and reproduced again and gain. (Aytaç, 2017) In this article, urban spatial standardization and stereotypification will be argued and criticised within the context of spatial memory, public sphere and urban transformation as mainly focusing on squares and public spaces.

The most significant factors that distinguish cities from the rural settlements are their multilayered structure, wide function range, spatial poliyphony and embracing the enormous heterogeneity that comprise from different life styles. Even though the organic growth is observed on rural settlements, spatial variety and the level of diversity among the building units are very low due to the limitations of space/place dynamics and the similarity of life styles. That’s why we face with monotony among these habitats. Contrary to that situation, the most appropriate example/case that can be argued about this multi-layered/cultural structure that is mentioned above is the Beyoğlu region and in specific Gezi Park- Taksim Square-İstiklal Street axis in İstanbul.

An urban square, in it’s simpliest form, is a defined space either completely open or surrounded by buildings from some edges. -Kevin Lynch describes it as a node, an intersection point in his book, The Image of the City.- Street and building plots be articulated to it and form an urban pattern. One factor that gives them public space characteristic is that they’re located at the intersection point which created through various road axis and naturally being at the center of the main circulation. In contemporary urban design approaches, the square is considered as a space that should be created by a variety of elements such as landscape, modular furnitures, open/half open space relationships and etc. Also a space of social interaction that enhances public sphere rather than just the space for people to gather or walk and pass by. Taksim Square is designed as an interconnection element between Gezi Park and İstiklal Street. It’s environment is surrounded by various structures and square-street-building-park interaction is provided in time. Also Republic Statue provide an identity to the square. What is significant about this statue is that it provide monumentality to the space thereby it helped to create a spatial memory. Moreover, as mentioned in Prost plan AKM Building is a complementary element for the entire assembly of square-street relationship. According to the recent situation and issues that we face in Taksim Square and it’s surrounding, spatial changes affect collective memory of the place and society owing to that some values must be protected. In this sense, from our urban transformation period to now on, squares have become a multifunctional challenge, even starting from the agora to the day-to-day tradition, gradually losing the variety of functions in the process, and turning into examples of public open spaces that host a single function. This change has caused the Istanbul’s city squares to be either not used or misused, and has also triggered the process of losing the identity of the urban squares and the process of losing the identity of the city which is on it’s unstoppable growing process as a whole. Urban pattern, architectural attributes, spatial interfaces, public spaces, monuments and streets creates the imagery of place as a whole. Spaces are not only being perceived via their physical appearance but also with their cumulative memory values.In addition to the differantiation of spatial typologies, function variety is also gain dynamism to the place. Altough Taksim Square is considerably modern rather than contemporary in terms of architectural style it’s space and place dialects provided an opportunity to develop over both organic and planned attitude. That made the whole axis vibrant as we know until 2010s. Urban Transformation provided a basis for application of makeshifted design practices and this rapid transformation process lead the urban atmosphere to practicing the hollow spatial arrangements at different places with same kind of examples over and over again in time. In this scope, squares are just some vast open spaces that are used for gathering by purpose or some kind of disfunctional interchange stations. In parallel with the political ideology of time, they’re reflected as large, plain concrete blocks where the public sphere is diminished and the interaction is highly reduced.

It’s better to mention about urban spatial memory notion. It is essential to analyze various variables such as user experience, historical development and changes, architectural characteristics and spatial layout while reading or evaluating a space/place. 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. There is also another important fact concerning the constant change of the built environment: rebuilding the buildings, monuments, reshaping the squares and streets, changing the names of streets and equipments so often cause breaks in urban memory. (Postalcı, 2006) However, since urban transformation period causes to the repetition of the same practices, a poor homogeneity is being gained in terms of spatial memory. According to that kind of understanding, parks become pale, plain green fields, streets are just some circulation paths, squares are empty, undefined spaces, buildings are shaped concrete blocks. Instead of innovative and well designed issues, we are choosing standardized units. Similar sub-cities are created and similar urban designs are imposed. Furhermore, the assembly of uniform satellite settlements, which are scattered around numerous peripheries, looks like each other. As a inevitable result of this, choices are condensed on concentric, straightforward spaces like shopping malls instead of focusing on space variation and alteration. Spatial memory is being strained by creating duplicate fields that accumulate the same function.

Capital-focused new city structures destroy the spontaneous nature of public spaces. They have also become tools in which individuals identify their assets in the consumer society and continue to relate over certain lines they redefine. This is what is seen in streets and avenues. They are all turning into commercial based corridors where urban scenarios are highly limited. Thereby, creating spaces without considering the upper context is a dangerous issue for our living environment. What we experience today in Istanbul is creating mass production of spaces with poor conceptualization in social praxis and illusive realities which pop-up from fully materialized environment where there is nothing considered about human-space behaviour. The place is an element that has a social dimension as well as a physical environment. However, in Istanbul, the forms created for different purposes of use are extremely decadent and degraded and this process is still ongoing. The main reason for this is the development of the urban space in the modernization process in the direction of capitalism and political policies in our country. This is a detrimental issue for urban life dynamics because it’s both shaping upon the society and society is being shaped around it.

If we turn back to the subject of İstiklal Street’s recent circumstance, it can be easily seen that the street is losing it’s identity day by day. It was an early form of an urban corridor in İstanbul. What is meant by urban corridor is that a formation of different spaces in a heterogenious manner which creates a dynamic, continiously developing structure in city pattern. A structure that is shaped via people in time with it’s passages, theaters, multi-functional spaces and signature buildings. According to Rossi (1982, p. 130) the city itself, it is the collective memory of those living in the city, It is the locus. The concept of Locus, by Rossi, the relationship between buildings within it “and “both singular and universal”. The social relations that take place in Locus are the subject and it directly affects the formation of the character. In this context, the city’s buildings, streets and other physical components together generate with an urban memory as well as within the locus. As Çetintürk said, “The primary needs of the users in trying to get to the public space are getting comfortable, resting and getting rid of the troubles of everyday life passively and actively interacting with the environment, adventure and surprise. There should be spaces that offer the best articulated environment in terms of visual and physical sense to those who use comfortable public spaces.” Thereby, destruction of the memory places all over the street like Rumeli Passage, Circle d’Orient Building, Deveaux Apartment, Atatürk Cultural Center, Old Movie Theaters that we confront with turning, renovating or remaking them as solely commercial based and hotel functioned places will directly lead us to the point of no return on urban context within transformation period. Because the entire street region is a well example of social praxis shaped through the cumulative social needings of citizens. An organic participatory designation that bolster all over it’s environment. During the twentieth century, movie theaters and passages have been transformed into spatial and social memory elements for a long period of time but today we are still losing them gradually, especially in Beyoğlu region. They have lost their identity and characteristics of distinguished cultural holder in society during the time that they changed and transformed. Conservation and preservation approach to characteristic places in our country is equal to keeping the building facade as it is and demolishing the whole history instead or changing their location to another place. Therefore that kind of applications are far away from referring the old architectural and social memory. People, their memories and experiences throughout the time was embedded into these places and a century which we live our social dash from early republican period to second millenium. Our society tried to find their urban characteristics and about a century, İstiklal Street and it’s surrounding were one of the top public spaces/places which have direct connection with street life and citizens.

To conclude, public space and urban context that is involved in our living environment is being diminished by standardization movements. Today, metropolis regions like İstiklal Street are coexistent with their multicultural spatial characters and different experiences on urban texture produces its own spaces as well as its own problems. When addressed to the context of publicness, the city has different temporal and spatial patterns that have flexibility and can appeal to various groups. Over and above, today, the urban context, which is defined as a multi-layered, complex phenomenon. If is re-readed in this consistency frame, except for the usual point of view, It may be the social texture that changes everywhere in the city, especially the new urban life patterns by intertwining with existing socio-spatial form. These networks do not stand on the current context, but they are leaking into it to create a unified form. Therefore they produce a new meaning as part of it. Nowadays in the center of the city; historical spaces, traditions, innovations brought by modernism, new values emerging in intercultural sharing and their reflection space uses are the main factors that create a constant change and transformation. At the end, when architecture and urban macroform are treated as a whole, all these components makes one, uniform piece. Apart from the standardization, stereotypification and monotony disposition towards urban transformation, we need to develop a strategy that is coherent with both contemporary and respectfull approach to historical pattern, not affected by populist design approaches or unconscious urbanization movements. Only in that way there can be a creation and preservation of urban spatial memory and a neutral public space.


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