What lead the both you to pursue architecture? How were you trained?
Ayça Taylan: I’ve had a close relationship with art ever since I was a little child. I was first introduced to music when I was only 6 years of age. It was around that time that I would have learned how to play the piano. I still love playing the piano. As I entered middle and then high school, I grew an interest in visual art. I can recall how simply over the moon I’d feel whenever I got to get my hands into the paints and create pictures. While at Üsküdar American Academy, I remember how much I loved not only art, but also science and math class. I loved all of them equally, at that. Hence, by the time I reached university and had to select my major, I settled on architecture because of both its artistic as well as its technical nature as a profession. I remember standing in front Taşkışkla and hoping that I would one day find myself there. And… I eventually did. It was there that I began studying architecture. I went on exchange during my third year of ITU to Italy to study at the Politecnico di Milano. While there, I also worked at an Italian architecture firm that specialised in revitalising old buildings. I also got the chance to do a 3-month internship in Shanghai, China at an international architectural firm during the summer term of my final year (of university). Both experiences proved to be great as well as enlightening.
Nail Egemen Yerce: I got to watch the house I was living in get renovated during my last year of high school. What’s more, I was able to directly get involved with the construction side of things as well, due to my curiosity. That said, the idea of bringing something that you envision in your mind to life and then making that apart of someone else’s life is pretty much what appealed to me about architecture. When I look back on my childhood, I can remember always having a special fondness for spaces, be they manmade or found in nature. You might even say that all of this is what lead me down the path of architecture. Later onwards, I ended up studying architecture at Dokuz Eylül University. As a student, I was lucky enough to simultaneously work at an architectural firm, and work both on architecture as well as on drawing projects. Once I finished my Bachelor’s, I head off to Italy to do my Master’s in Industrial Design. I ended up leaning towards [studying] ergonomics upon developing a closer relationship with the human scale. I did a number of projects on the subject. The title of my thesis was “Installation and its Space,” which looked where art intersected with architecture.
How did (both of) you end up setting up your own practices? Moreover, how did that shape your careers?
AT: I began working at one of Turkey’s leading architectural firms, Erginoğlu & Çalışlar Mimarlık-a firm that I had been following throughout my university years. This was right after I finished my degree. I worked there for 8 years. Step by step, I meandered by way up the ladder, taking part in various award winning national and international projects. The higher I moved up, the more responsibility I took on, going from designer architect to project architect to project manager. By 2016, I’d felt that I reached a certain level maturity. It was at that point that I co-founded ZAAS, an art, design, and architecture studio.
NEY: I had worked in a number of different positions at various architectural firms and construction sites both during and [immediately] following university. Along the way, I had also gotten the chance to take on a handful of minor projects of my own. Once I felt as though I’d built up enough experience, I set about founding Yerce Mimarlık in 2011. I’ve been working there ever since.
We’ve seen Yerce Mimarlık and ZAAS’s names side-by-side on many a project. What sorts of work do you collaborate on?
NEY: Indeed, we do work together on the odd project every now and again. In our eyes, our union is a very pleasant and fruitful one. Of course, now matter how similar our approach to things may be, we also have our differences. This, we think, is in fact an opportunity because it not only nurtures the both of us but also enriches our projects.
AT: The design phase of all of our joint projects is very much bilateral. It is a period where both offices put forth the best they have to offer. While we don’t always see eye to eye, that too works in [both] our favour(s) in terms of going down a positive path. How would you [both] describe your approach to design as well as your take on architecture.
NEY: First we try and understand the situation, the subject, and the client. When you look at an architect’s drafting table, it kind of resembles a badly tangled piece of rope. In order to unravel that rope and make it usable, you first have to thoroughly understand and analyse those tangled bits. The better you understand and solve what is in front of you, the smoother the project goes.
AT: Regardless of what project we’re doing, similar to what Egemen just mentioned a moment ago, we create a starting point using the data that others have given us based on the subject at hand. Of course, how we interpret that data is just as important has the variety of data [before us]. And that interpretation bears a close relationship with how the person looks at life. Regardless of what we design, we aim to create fiction that brings happiness and quality to all aspects life using innovation and creativity in light of whichever fragment of data that grabs our attention.
You end up leaving behind your signature on a whole breadth of different scale projects spanning stands to offices. How does this transition between scales add to your designs?
AT: We very much enjoy taking on projects of different scales and typologies. Each project teaches us new things and grants us more experience due to each coming with its own set of circumstances and approaches to a particular subject. This rule even applies to projects that are similar to one another as well. In our approach to things, we go the extra mile to ensuring that we approach a subject from as many angles as possible. What’s more, if such projects happen to be on the top of our agenda, then our knowledge and experience only broadens even further. This in turn increases the likelihood of us gaining new ways of thinking as well.
NEY: In essence, all projects, regardless of scale or typology, feed one another. We feel that they give us the opportunity to approach a subject without trying to label it per se. Thus, we welcome all projects, approach them with equal enthusiasm and care, and do our best to come up an end result that is all-encompassing, multilayered, and unique.
Which projects have defined your architectural careers to date? Why?
AT: One of our first collaborations-as ZAAS and Yerce Mimarlık-to launch us onto the world as well as the national stage was our OfisSera project. We designed a showroom project for a brand retailor that produces office furniture. Despite having to work with a low budget, it nevertheless was a noble project for us both in terms of spatial quality and material choice. We approached brick from a non-traditional angle where it would be able to function in showrooms and be enriched by social activities. In 2015, we designed a fair stand for Yataş. We created a booth with a permeable outer shell using cardboard tubes. Our goal was designing something that was feasible on a limited budget. The project won First Prize at the ISMOB Istanbul Furniture Fair because of how it innovatively approached the subject, and because it allows you showcase products and furniture in a versatile manner.
NEY: Our Studio Loft project in Izmir was essentially a standard ground floor Alsancak apartment transformed into a studio, exhibition, and living space for a photographer. It ended up emerging as ‘full-of-life’ and highly detailed loft-like space that is able to fulfil all of its functions as needed. Our project made its way into the World Architectural Festival in Berlin in the Creative Re-Use category. What’s more, not only was it the only Turkish finalist, but it also eventually entered the 2016 Turkey Architecture Yearbook as well as won First Place at the Big See Interior Design Awards in the Residential category. Our Empera Administrative Building project in Gaziantep-which we had designed for Empera-was a contemporary architectural interpretation of its (physical) surroundings, intended to breathe new life into the region. That, too, found it way into the 2018 Turkey Architecture Yearbook as well as into/onto many an architecture website (both local and international), magazine, and book-thus attracting even more attention.
AT: Oh, and we want to talk about our installation, “The Path,” which we had designed for a carpet manufacturer for a flooring fair. It was displayed in Hannover, Germany, and really was at the intersection between art and architecture. We were inspired by how dyed strands of yarn can come together to create a carpet. Hence, we designed an interactive game where visitors could [collectively] weave a rug using balls of yarn of different colours that were of their own choosing. “The Path” made a surprising and entertaining contribution to the fair’s rather formal environment by increasing visitor interaction and enabling them to create something together. Our project attracted a lot of attention from abroad. Better still, it won the prestigious Dutch “Frame Awards – People’s Choice – Trade Fair Stand of the Year” Award.
In addition to architectural and interior design, you also work on projects where art and architecture intersect. How do your designs of such installations differ from your other projects?
NEY: Well, re-using materials or recyclable design plays a heavier role in such projects. The criteria of something being relatively simple and easy to construct rather than permanent resolves many of the [finer] details. We feel that our approach to using less in order to express more is much more prominent in such projects, even if the same principle goes for all of our work.
AT: We pay careful attention to what sort of experience visitors and users are likely to have, and therefore search for the story alongside spatial expression behind that. Our aim in creating and designing that story is to appeal to all five senses. That said, it could take us just as long to work on such projects as it takes us to tackle any of our standard architecture or interior design projects.
You (both) have been breaking ground and winning award after award in the international arena as of late. What sort of impact have these achievements had on your architecture?
NEY: Apart from the aforementioned, another award that has brought us much delight came from Italy. We won Third Prize at the international Sport Citadel Competition held in Turin for a project proposal that aimed both to reflect the flow and dynamism of sports and the human body as well as to create synthesis between urbanity and nature, the past and the future, architecture and landscaping, science, culture, and sport.
AT: This, of course, was a huge source of motivation for us as a team. It has given us the drive to “outdo” ourselves on every successive project we now undertake. Likewise, being able to get exchange ideas with our international colleagues, present our work on the international stage, and get jury feedback is eye opening in the very least.
What place does natural stone hold in your projects when it comes to material selection? What is your take on natural stone?
AT: Natural stone is very special. Whenever we go about using it, be it in our architecture or our interior design project, it definitely presents itself as a valuable option. We’ve also opted for mason-grade stone in many of our Bozburun Peninsula housing projects. Likewise, there have been a number of instances where we’ve proposed natural stone as a multi-functional lining material in interiors and for façades. In fact we might even say that natural stone emerges more so as a lining material due to its practicality.
NEY: Of course, advancements in technology have made stone’s applications much more versatile, and have pushed it beyond many of it limits. Now we’re able to work with natural stone in a way that is more flexible and permeable, even on different forms of surfaces. It even can be used alongside thinner plate lining as well. We’re also now able to arrive at different visual effects and bring out certain functions (in the stone) using different surface finishes. As you can imagine, such developments excite us. Unfortunately, when it comes to budgeting, natural stone is out of reach for some.
What are your short and long term goals? And what are you currently working on?
AT: At the moment, we’re designing a series of ecological houses on the Bozburun Peninsula, and with great pleasure at that! Our long-term goals are to create a sustainable architectural model and to work towards making ecological architecture more widespread. Another project that we’re working on is a multi-functional residential complex in Izmir. At the same time, we’re still in the process of designing a concept store and showroom for various brand retailers in Gaziantep and Istanbul.
NEY: We’re very keen on art-architecture fusion projects, and continue to embrace them. Another of our goals is to share such projects abroad with as many people as possible as part of our adventures in art and architecture.