Founded in Istanbul in 2001, architecture and interior design office İglo Architects’ portfolio includes a breadth of architectural, design, and applied projects for domestic and international clients from various sectors. The winners of multiple awards, İglo’s detail-oriented team takes a functional yet frugal approach to solving various design challenges without sacrificing either their own integrity or customer satisfaction. In the same breath, they immerse the users of their work in the design process in a way that is completely novel. We recently sat down with the firm’s co-founders, architects Esen Akyar Karoğlu and Zafer Karoğlu to talk about their now 19 year-long journey in architecture, their vision and how its transformed industrial buildings, what they currently are working on, and what they think about natural stone.
What’s the story behind İglo Architects? What lead to it birth?
Zafer Karoğlu: I finished high school -Kabataş Erkek Lisesi- in 1986. I got accepted into Yıldız Technical University that same year and majored in architecture. By the time I had graduated in 1991, I was already employed at MTM Architects. I worked for them for 5 years, then, I did my military service. As soon as I got out of the army, I joined Ada Architects and worked for them for another 5 years. Between 1999 and 2000, my colleague Esen Akyar and I decided to go freelance, while at the same time supporting one another. It was towards the end of 2001 that we decided to launch İGLO Mimarlık together-and, towards the end of 2003, we decided to seal the deal and tie the knot. Now we are the proud parents two girls.
Esen Akyar Karoğlu: Our first commissioned work as a firm were detached house projects in Bodrum. In 2002, we designed a factory in Gebze for a French automotive company. Right around the same
time we started recieving design requests from across Turkey from the then newly emerging fast food sector. Meanwhile, our Bodrum-based projects began to multiply. Suddenly, we found ourselves sucked into a rapidly expanding world that would eventually make us question our expectations about the future. Furthermore, we were torn between trying to decide whether we should relocate to Bodrum or to remain in Istanbul and continue to orchestrate everything from there. In the end, Istanbul-despite its risks and its exhausting magnitude-won because it allowed us to reach our architectural goals; thus, we turned Bodrum down. Our decision lead us focus on decoration and fast food / cafe projects. 2004 marked a recovery period for Turkey and for Turkish industry following the financial crisis, things began moving again. Word got out among our peers of the factory we had designed during the early years of our firm. Before long, we started attracting the attention of mainly foreign, but also local investors. From that point forward, high quality project requests for industrial buildings began pouring on to our desk. In 2007, we were invited to compete in a design contest for Logipark and won. That then granted us the opportunity to realize not only Turkey’s first but also its largest-ever logistic park on a 270.000 sqm piece of property. Thanks to that, we now get requests for 100.000+ sqm projects. And the rest is history…
ZK: I wish to insert that our interior design and food sector projects had really picked up around 2008. That said, we had to make a strategic decision for the sake of our firm’s future. Having to split our concentration between finicky interior projects and -scale-wiseever- growing architecture projects posed a major dilemma for us. Both require immense time and care. Ultimately, the latter won. We did, however, decide still to the interior decoration work on our own projects-beyond that we left interior design behind for good. Just as we expected, our architectural projects started piling up. With the exception of large interior architecture projects or special requests from old clients, not doing other projects is our loss only.
Does your firm’s name have anything to do with your approach to design?
ZK: The reason why we choose İglo is… well, because it reflects our out take on life, really. İglo (igloo) is a type of structure that disentangles a living being from a material -in this case snow- that otherwise makes their habitat difficult to inhabit. It is the art of untangling problems, both philosophically as well as physically speaking. The first thing we do when we take on a new project is
to try and properly identify and prioritize what problems we have to solve. We then use that data to arrive at a solution that blends function, aesthetic, and our perception about life together. Every building should find the right answers to the right questions whilst taking into consideration a whole slew of contextual details such as location, the profile of the user, program, climate, orientation, and culture. We have two mottos that best describe us: “There is always something better,” and “the solution lies within the problem”. We place top priority on energy efficiency, sustainability, and using just the resources. We all have a part to play in this world, be our role large or small. This particularly falls on the shoulders of architects.
What sorts of handicaps do you encounter when putting theory to practice?
ZK: We have access to virtually everything in Turkey both technology and material-wise. Despite that, we do lack one critical thing: skilled artisanship. This means that have to push a buildings limits or take a risk in the name of aesthetic and function. Artistic lines produced by unskilled artisan can only spell disaster. The result: All your money, your hard work, and your courage go down the toilet.
Tell us about your team. Who do you work with?
EAK: Our firm is rather petite in comparison the scale and number of projects we hold in our portfolio. We had always envisioned this for ourselves course. We wanted to be like a small group of highly talented SAT commandos, a team that is multi-functional, flexible, and that can get the job done. Our basic set up is a staff that can think and that can adapt in situations that swell during collaboration and shrink during crises, all without carrying the burden of either on their backs. One inherent problem that lies there within is trying to communicate to our clients that we can put forth the same quality work as our competition -i.e. firms whose employee base exceeds into the hundreds. It is quite the challenge to convince people that a team as small as ours can, in fact, undertake even the largest of projects, and that- more often than not large teams may not be anywhere near as qualified as we are. However, when they see that a tiny wee firm can yield enormous results, then they don’t even twice about giving us a diverse array of work. I should not that at present our team is comprised of five architects and two industrial designers, the latter of whom truly puts the icing on the cake in terms of final quality.
How do you go about a new project? What basic elements drive how you shape it?
ZK: It doesn’t matter in the world you build something, when you do, you’re automatically responsible for the environment and people around it. Not only do you have to answer to what the user of the building expects from you, but you also have to factor the building’s setting, nature, and even passers by into the equation on top of that. When you plan a building, you have to deliberate over all that goes into a function scheme. Moreover, elements such as climate, texture, geography, culture, and establishment can all serve as points of reference, sometimes they whisper at you, sometimes they scream.
Given your experience both here and abroad, how different and how similar are architecture and the approach to architecture in Turkey versus other countries?
ZK: We see that Turks, in general can be -individually speakingsuccessful in many areas. I can’t say the same however for us as a society. Turkey has produced a number of excellent architects. Despite that, I don’t think that a distinct Turkish architectural style per-se exists. Individual successes here and there cannot have an impact on the greater whole. A society’s culture, not just its architects create architecture. Architects are but one piece of society and the feed off of that organism.
On the rare occasion you encounter investors with a sound vision and good architects, then the fruit of that can be outstanding. Alas, what is blocking good architecture is the fact that all we look at in general is our pay cheques. Architects can’t hone themselves if society doesn’t demand high quality architecture from them. We choose architects based on where they come from and who they know rather than what they know. The longer that continues, the less likely anything is going to change. Private schools are multiplying, and yet the quality of education they provide is plummeting. If someone doesn’t step in and fix that, then I feel that everybody and their dog will lunge at the nearest exit. All the public is concerned about what ever is trending in fashion and receiving likes. If feeding that flame are architects, then there is Turkish architecture’s is future looks bleak.
You have placed your signature on many successful projects and of different typologies at that. Industrial and logistics buildings hold a particularly important place in your portfolio. What is it that you look out for as you during the process of them? What types of dynamics are there?
ZK: In a nutshell green building principles, well-thought solutions that speed up how the function scheme operates, and raising the bar in terms of providing a comfortable, social environment for all those who work in the building. We care about buildings that set an example both for their milieu and their sector.
What, to date, have been your most exhilarating projects? Moreover, could you tell us about how you designed it/them?
ZK: Our first ever factory project that we did for that French firm and we were given only 4,5 months to finish it in! After that, Turkey’s first and largest ever logistics park. Oh, and our first concrete plant that had been passed onto us from another architecture bureau. All of these were high tension, high thrill projects. That said, we’re always rubbing shoulders with new and dynamic projects: a research and development building we designed out of shipping containers, our first ever green-certified building, a housing complex the size of an entire neighbourhood and complete with a mini-lake, and the largest industrial campus in Europe, just to name a few. Right now we’re sinking our teeth into an industrial facility that generates organic plant and animal-based food stuffs and is 100% green. Projects like that motivate and energize us!
Another project you have been working on as of late, the Balıkesir Organic Food Factory, is a first for Turkey because it will be an entirely self-sustaining industrial building. Could you tell us about what its sustainability criterias are?
EAK: The Balıkesir Organic Food Factory sits on a 135.000 sqm plot of land and is anything but your run-of-the mill factory building. It will operate within a self-sustainabliy loop, so to speak. Not only is it a first in Turkey, but it will do wonders economically for the reigion as well. When its up and running, it will be a key employer for Balıkesir. It moreover has been designed wıth a system that repurposes processing waste and so-called “lost” energy. For example, the water resulting from cheese production will get re-purposed as a high protein adjuvant admixture material. It truly will be a one of a kind example in the world, in that it won’t pollute the environment, it won’t generate any waste whatsover, and it will be super clean. Three other ultra important criteria are Industry 4.0 principles that it will run according to, hygene, and food safety. We designed the building according to DGNB or German green building principles, and will be the first-ever instrustrial building of its kind on Earth.
Your design is behind the major investment that will be carried out by the Taiwanese steel firm YC Inox at the Dilovası Organized Industrial Zone for Machinery. What can you tell us about this project?
ZK: YC Inox of Taiwan ranks among the world’s five largest steel producers. It obtained two pieces of property at the Dilovası Organized Industrial Zone for Machinery, one 35.000 sqm and one 20.000 sqm. İglo Architects is designing two factories that will sit on both. Excavation work is also currently underway for the construction series of enclosed spaces totalling 60.000 sqm. The Pandemic hasn’t stopped the Project from continuing full speed ahead. The pre-production testing phase is expected to take place towards the end of 2021.
How much room to make for natural stone in your projects? What is your take on this material?
EAK: We incorporate natural stone and marble into whatever living space we design, namely as flooring and on walls. We also often use it in furniture as well -especially tables, panels and coffee tables. We feel that wooden furniture cladded with natural stone -using special technology- pairs well with flooring that, too, is made from natural materials. Choosing natural stone or marble always add quality and comfort to a so-called “wet” space’s atmosphere, by that, I’m referring to all of our interior design projects thus far. We frequently use both materials for kitchen and bathroom countertops. The same applies, most of the time, to windowsills and thresholds as well. Why you ask? Aesthetic, plus the fact that we can cut a single piece of natural stone down to exact dimensions in one go. We like softer stones for interiors and sturdier stones for exteriors. We also love
integrating natural stone into swimming pools and fountains; they add a sense of elegance to them.
ZK: Sustainability is always at the heart of our decisions when it comes to choosing materials. Just to give you an example, one recent trend that we’ve seen over the past couple of is the tendency to use natural stone not as a filler material, but rather as a recycled, re-purposed material. I think that, as architects, we ought to look into this subject more and be more innovative, as the use of such materials becomes more commonplace.
According to what criteria to you select your colour palate for natural and marble?
ZK: We want the colour palates for the furniture and for the accessories to contrast one another, in short. For instance, if the elements in an interior space use brilliant colours, then we prefer
that the natural stone on the floors and walls be of natural or pastel colours. Or, vice versa. That is, neutral furniture and accessories juxtaposed against natural stone -and especially marble- with colours and designs that almost scream. The same rule applies when choosing hues of colour as well: a dark floor, light furniture, or the exact opposite.