“Looking for the Right Question”
Na mostarskim Danima Orisa (21.04.2018. godine) tim AABH je imao priliku za razgovor sa poznatim turskim arhitektom Hanom Tumertekinom. Na prijedlog da uradimo kratki intervju, usaglasili smo se uz ljubazni komentar: “Uvijek sam zainteresovan za diskusiju o arhitekturi, satima ako želite”. Tokom predavanja, gospodin Tumertekin pokazao je svoja zapažanja po pitanju svakodnevne kreativnosti anonimnih građana, kao i njegovog rada i metodologije za traženje pravog odgovora na pitanja koje svaki projekat treba da odgovori. Uradili smo ovaj intervju, nakon predavanja, u sjenci trijema Kulturnog centra Herceg Stjepan Kosača.
Razgovor preveden sa engleskog možete pročitati ovdje.
AABH: Our intention with this interview is to instigate discussion among architects, beyond their projects, about methodologies, context we are working in, or contemporary position of the profession.
Han Tumertekin: I agree with your intention. Architects are so introverted, we are so occupied by ourselves, this is what is always missing, a discussion among architects. I remember, when I was student, at university, I learned much more through discussion with other students, with my friends, than at the official program of school.
AABH: It appears that you are excited by observation of anonymous everyday life. But, how do you incorporate these things into your practice?
HT: I don’t think there is a direct way to use things that you learn in your life. Forget about architecture, in anything, it is not like you learn this and then you use it to solve particular problem. It is accumulation of things that help to solve problems. I was lucky that my parents were geographers. Because they were geographers, they would talk all the time about space, environment, physical environment and such. My father who was an urban geographer would had talked about cities, public spaces and I am sure he had that way of looking around, it was something innate; so to say, I have it in my genes. Then, without thinking about using it, I like observing, it is really fun for me to see the incredibly creative way people solve their everyday problems. It comes unconsciously, I use all of the observations. It is a residue of the unconscious process.
AABH: It is a kind of memory of the senses?
HT: Yes, senses. I am really obsessed with senses when I design a space, I don’t say when I design a building, because building is not the only way to design a space: a shadow of a tree creates an incredible space. Every detail, every corner of the space must be taken seriously, and I don’t believe there is a hierarchy in the spaces. To me, as I told in the lecture, there is only one space, the whole world.
AABH: From your presentation, we could see that your projects start with very site specific observation, with experiences of senses. But, final result, the way the object is formalized is very systematic, like a generic object. Are you interested in purely generic projects that are not meant to be in specific place?
HT: When you look in detail, the development of any of our projects, you will clearly see that we do not design buildings, but we design systems. It is always a set of standards, set of modules that we deal with, but every time we do our best to anchor that generic system to a specific place. Then, it is always these two extremes, and we are working inside this huge span. I am happy that this is something visible, because this is exactly what we are obsessed to do. It must be simple as any generic system, but also hyper specific, so that you cannot move it, you cannot change it. If you move it half a meter, than you have to start rethinking everything. We have few projects for adaptive reuse. For example, a project of cultural center in former ottoman bank headquarters. There is a drawing showing 13 variations of the floors of the project. We developed them till final design phase. During work we noticed we have certain problems with the proposal at the third floor. Instead of solving problem where it occurred we have a tendency to go back to the beginning, and restart questioning, and restarting design of the whole building.
AABH: There is a certain rigor in your projects, even in the way you present them and talk about them. There is a lot of self-discipline. There must be many project options in the trash bin?
HT: That is something I do very easily! If it doesn’t work, no matter how much time and money we spent, immediately project goes to the trash. It is because we know that if we do not intervene in the process, in this phase, the price will be paid in the future, life will pay the price.
AABH: How do you make these decisions, are there a criteria, a set of rules or it is intuitive.
HT: It is totally intuitive. I am so rationalist through the whole process, the design phase, but at the end if it does not feel right, than it has to be discarded. If it does not feel right here (chest) it does not go further.
AABH: Does this kind of feeling come with experience? Does it become more clear and strong with years?
HT: No…No. that is for sure. I find experience very dangerous as well. It is something you must handle carefully. Because if you have bad experience on something you might not wish to try it again. Experience is something I am trying to be at the distance to it. For example, that archeological museum, I have shown. We had four weeks for the competition. At the end of third week we completed project. It was a very nice looking building, functioning perfectly. So we had one week for presentation drawings, and we started doing it. I took a plane for a site visit to another city. But I had that feeling that it is not done, that it is not right. Analytically, everything was working really well. I did not know what was missing. The morning before I left for the airport I defined the problem: the task is not to design the building but to design the journey to the past. How to create that journey of 10.000 years. By just entering a building, an entrance hall you cannot achieve that. This was a starting point for the new design.
AABH: Does a scale of a project challenge your approach. How do you progress from simple observations when you deal with big scale projects?
HT: The only thing that becomes problematic with bigger scale is to find enough time to develop project properly. This is where technology is very important, to save us a lot of time we need to develop project. That is what I teach my student: talent is maybe 10 %. You have to be much disciplined, hardworking and never, never give up. You must develop strategies to save time. Good architecture, or every mastery needs time.
AABH: Maybe your approach of looking for the right question saves time?
HT: At the beginning it takes so much time. Many of my clients are good friends of mine. They know me, so if I don’t react immediately they are not panicking. But new clients, in a polite way control their panic: what is he doing, is he doing his profession in a proper way, because I need time. But when you take totality of time I spent I am a bit faster than other architects. At the beginning I takes me time, but once a problem is defined I progress very fast.
AABH: Many times architect emphasize social or political aspect of their projects. We don’t find this attitude in the way you explain your projects. Could we say that you are more of a phenomenologist than conceptualist?
HT: Yes. It is very good question. I think sometimes the most political thing is to do something perfectly. As far as you achieve that level of perfection you have a very strong political expression. You can change the world by just details. The way you approach problem. You spend time to know what you have in your hand. Instead of having political discourse like politician I prefer having this kind of discourse. Because I am not politician.
AABH: But experience of space can have political meaning? Like bringing certain publicity, or openness to an institution. Could we question power of an institution through the experience of space?
HT: If people are living and working in a happy way, in your building, than it is in itself a political position. It will affect lives of many people. This is the way I consider political.
AABH: Your career, luckily, overlaps with the period of big changes and development, especially economic one in Turkey. How do you see a change of position of architecture in this 30 year time span?
HT: I started my career at the beginning of 1980’s. After the military coup in 1980. We had a prime minister championing international capital. Economy started to grow and Turkey started to be integrated to globalization trends. It was a very good period for young architects because many international companies started to come to Turkey, and rent huge office spaces. They would spend considerable money in interior design and it became popular job for young architects. I started to do realizations of series of Rolex shops in Istanbul. But every opportunity has it dangers. With my friend and business partner I was doing numerous interior designs. We were earning well, becoming locally recognized and everything was well for us. But I said to him I do not want to be an interior architect. I want to be an architect, so I decided to leave that partnership. We just had won a competition for a very big job of interior design. I told him I leave. It was a very long lunch. He said you can do this, earn money till you are 40 and then you can do architecture. But I could not wait. So I left and then started my office with my wife. You know, a very talented generation of architects become interior designers. They could have become very good architects. , but they become interior designers. It is not pity for them, I just want to say that opportunities have a good but a bad side also. You must always know what you want to do and how would you feel happy and confident.
AABH: Do you ever go independently to the client: proposing possible projects, your visions?
HT: I wish I could, but I really don’t have time. I don’t have time to do even competitions. This is another issue. Because competitions are so many energy and time. So moral of the office is destructed. But I always feel responsible to share if I have knowledge and capacity to solve. Instead of proposing solutions I prefer spending time on education. I teach. I was founder of the program for Bilge University in Istanbul. I find time to give lectures and I feel I do something as a social responsibility. I don’t go to a possible clients but every year I do couple projects with municipalities.
AABH: Your work belongs to 3% of elitist architectural production. On the other hand we see an enormous production of mass housing produced by certain clinch of market and state. How to control quality of this 97% of production?
HT: Now I see a made a mistake by not showing our residential project we have done and still working on. We do mass housing project as well. I like very much to work on them. This is another issue I seriously believe that if I have capacity to make spaces that make people happy this is the best and broadest way. Actually, there are group of projects in Istanbul, a housing with 400 units in Istanbul. We have proven that we can higher the standards of housing.
AABH: Can a market bring standards or state has to enforce them. Market will always go for the lowest price.
HT: Unfortunately, operations done by the state agency for housing are really problematic. Unfortunately, because they are professional, they are serious, very well organized. They are producing as creasy, hundreds of thousands of sq. meters of housing. However, they are obsessed with some cultural images. It does not work: it is insult to our cultural heritage, which is one of the most developed and precious in the history of the mankind. Just by adding ridiculous arches to the openings on the facades, they think this will be attached to our heritage. All of these buildings will have serious technical problems in a period of maximum of 10 years. Because it is not correct, by its building nature, it is not contemporary building built by contemporary building techniques. They are just taking some caricaturist images from so called history and fixing them to new buildings. So in few years these elements become old. Sometimes it is said: this is Seljuk façade, by people who have not looked at Seljuk façade for 10 minutes in their life. Of course, private sector is much cleverer, they ask for contemporary building. It does not mean that contemporary building has no links to the cultural heritage.
AABH: Does Agha Kahn award put some pressure on you. Is it a sort of obligation?
HT: Indeed, yes. Without winning any award I am obsessed with doing better every time. In 10 minutes, I can demolish intellectually every of my buildings. Immediately I can do it. Every failure I know.
Han Tümertekin is a practicing architect based in Istanbul and principal of Mimarlar Tasarim Danismanlik Ltd., a firm he established in 1986. His work includes residential, commercial and institutional projects primarily in Turkey, as well as in the Netherlands, Japan, United Kingdom, France, China, Mongolia and Kenya.
Mr. Tümertekin was trained in architecture at Istanbul Technical University and completed graduate studies in historic preservation at the University of Istanbul. In addition to his built work, he has been teaching architecture since 1992 at universities including Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design; Istanbul Technical University; Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne; Ecole Speciale d’Architecture, Paris; Yıldız Technical University, Istanbul; Uludag University, Bursa; and the Ecole d’Architecture in Strasbourg. He is one of the founders of the graduate programme in architecture at Bilgi University, Istanbul.
Mr. Tümertekin’s works have been widely published in international architectural journals. A monograph of his work was published by Harvard University Press in 2006. Mr. Tümertekin has received several architectural prizes, including an Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004 for the B2 House in Ayvacık, Turkey. He served on the 2007 Master Jury of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and has been a member of the Award Steering Committee since 2008.*