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A former gas factory and warehouses transformed into exhibition spaces; no less than four museums in the making in the new Tersane district, spread out around the old arsenal rehabilitated by the famous Istanbul architect Murat Tabanlioglu; a former freight port transformed into a marina and a new promenade along the Bosphorus to the mouth of the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara… Istanbul is in the midst of a transformation. 

At the heart of this mutation, the old working-class neighborhoods, far from the Ottoman splendor of the old city, once neglected, where contemporary art spaces are now flourishing; Beyoglu and Dolapdere, on the European side of the megalopolis; Moda in Kadiköy, the trendy “village” on the Asian side… No less than two major museums have been built in Karaköy, on the banks of the Bosphorus, in the redesigned port district, which has been returned to the walkers and named Galaport; Not to mention the new Istanbul Modern Museum designed by Renzo Piano, on the waterfront, and a few hundred meters away, the new Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture by Emre Arolat.

While waiting for the long-anticipated opening of the first one, we were able to walk through the impressive cubic volumes of the former warehouse transformed into a museum by Emre Arolat, the other big name in contemporary Turkish architecture (no less than 80 awards in fifteen years, including the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2010 and the Mies van der Rohe Award in 2015 for his fantastic Sancaklar Mosque).

For this champion of the trace (to which he has dedicated an essay, Le Parfum de la trace1), works of architecture are palimpsests incorporating within them the strata of the past, present and future, and must absorb the soul and vocation of a place, and of its entire environment, in order to find their place and their appropriate form. It is in order not to erase this “urban memory” that, during the reconversion of the old building, the architect wanted to preserve its reinforced concrete structure. Emptying it of all its covering (walls and slabs), to fill it with “containers” – large projecting blocks giving rhythm to the façade by cubic “overhangs” – he increased its presence tenfold and sought to exploit all the formal and scenographic resources of this “grid”: a basic constructive element of Turkish architecture, the “carcass” is here brought to the fore. Energized by these overhanging caissons glowing in the dark, it even appears at nightfall as one of the beating hearts of the megalopolis. An interesting inversion, between tradition and subversion.

  1. The Scent of the Trace, EAA-Emre Arolat Architecture, ORO Editions, 2020

Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture, Kılıçali Paşa, Meclis-i Mebusan Cd. No: 2, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey

Stéphanie Dulout