One of your latest projects, the Beyazıt State Library, was awarded this year as part of WAF (World Architecture Festival). First of all, I would like to congratulate you. It is an impressive project. Thank you. We are also examining this project in detail for this issue of Natura Magazine. Could you please tell us a little bit about the story of the project? Founded in 1884 under the name “Kütüphane-i Umum-i Osmani (Ottoman Public Library)”, Beyazıt State Library stands for the first library of Turkey that was established by the state. The structure which Beyazit State Library is located in, was in fact a section that embodied the hospice, the soup kitchen and the Caravanserai in the spacious complex of Bayezid II; a complex consisting of units such as kitchen, primary school, hospital, madrasa and bathhouse, which spatially surround and define Beyazıt Square. Also functioning as a ‘depository library’, the library contains a total of nearly a million documents, half of which are comprised of books. 11,120 of the books included in the library are ‘handwritten works’, which hold highly significant works.
Under the leadership of the Aydın Doğan Foundation and with the support and supervision of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and Provincial Special Administration, we voluntarily undertook the restoration project as Tabanlıoğlu Architects. Valuable books which had to be preserved meticulosuly, yet damaged because of the 1999 Izmit earthquake, were not even on the shelves they were supposed to be. Piles of archives and newspaper samples flung on the floor, were also pointing to the urgency of this refurbishment at first sight. In addition, there were some architectural additions which were implemented in recent years. When we entered the building, we came across a historical structure and almost imprecisely made interventions just to save the day. For example, the top of the courtyard was covered with a coating that was carried by a coarse column with a concrete outer surface and there was a ruined “squatter house” in the backyard. The old structure also had a coating. The most important decision was to determine the limits of our intervention. It was important how and how much the construction would be purified and how a modern usage standard would be achieved by preserving the original. When working with these types of buildings, there must be a sort of refinement, but it is not right to excavate the layers altogether. We wanted to aesthetically utilize the heritage we have in the best way possible along with modern meliorations that add value to the original layer. The concrete carrier and the roof that has been added to the inner courtyard as a result of the previous restoration project that I have mentioned above, have been detached and the top of the courtyard has been covered with an ETFE (inflatable membrane), which is a light and transparent material, in order to provide a controlled atmosphere and filter the daylight. At the same time, thanks to this material that adapts to the domed structure, it was also possible to maintain a visual relation with the surroundings of the courtyard.
Again, the original fountain which was removed even though it was one of the trademarks of the inner courtyard, was repositioned in the middle of the courtyard, where the original fountain was positioned. Therefore the courtyard has become an intermediary space to host various meetings and deliver serenity. The courtyard was retrieved as a capacious interior-outer space that can be utilized for exhibitions in any climatic condition.
Can we say that you have brought together the old and the new, or even extracted the new from the original within the scope of this project?
Along with an harmonious, functional and aesthetic approach, we aspired for the old and the new to coexist and revitalize this precious space that consists of layers from these two different periods, both physically and socially. Along with an infrastructural rearrangement that enables the preservation and exhibition of rare books, the library embodying modern standards is conceptualized as a space that can also be used extensively, owing to the retrieval of spaces that will host various cultural activities. In this way, we wanted to revitalize the relation with the surroundings that offer concentric connections with literature, just as much as the library. We projected to regenerate the synergy between the Booksellers’ Market; which is located ahead of the wall that the structure leans against; the Küllük Coffeehouse, an urban meeting place under the historic plane tree which served as a meeting place for hundreds of years especially for intellectual gatherings and which preserves its essence today even though it has been transformed multiple times before the booksellers; and Istanbul University, which defines yet another boundary of the square. All the spaces are introduced a new layer along with the smooth lighting, which is implemented on the edges of the raised floor, storing all the mechanical and electrical systems and which follows the wall lines as a part of the lighting design made by Studio Dinnebier. While the harmonious geometries add deepness, they enabled the spatial and historical qualities of the complex to become more accentuated and visible. Spaces that are updated with the distance set between the new applications –without damaging the historic wall and floor through the connection process of the elements- and the main shell and the sharp yet harmonious contrast between the material and details, strengthened the authentic aura of the library all the way from the courtyard to the reading hall. The main approach in precisely rearranging the interior spaces was; ameliorating the historical texture of the building by preserving the original and ensuring the preservation of the valuable archive with technological feasibilities while attaining new contemporary spaces.
Did you have difficulties in working with contemporary references in an old building?
While making improvements with materials that are compatible with the original walls of the building, modern materials and techniques that create technological possibilities and harmonize with the environment such as glass, were adapted. Just as in the installment of the courtyard roof, original elements in all spaces were treated as smooth as possible and no load was imposed upon them. It’s a work that will emphasize the old but reflect the present day along with the possibilities of this century and its functional and architectural approach, just like David Chipperfield’s approach in the renovation of the Neues Museum in Berlin. Principally, it was important to arrive at this consensus as an essential approach. Even though the process was long, I believe that we achieved a successful outcome owing to the positive attitudes of many participating organizations such as the library management in particular; Aydın Doğan Foundation, Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey and Special Provincial Administration of Istanbul.
When you first embraced the project, what kind of a space you have aspired to be designed? And how did you manage to integrate these ideas with the architectural understanding?
It has been designed in a way that removes the unregulated additions which does not belong to the original context and enables the necessities of today and their architectural statements.
A glass box was designed inside the library. It is an isolated space despite being transparent. Could we listen to story of this glass box?
A dedicatedly air-conditioned space was required because manuscripts and valuable book collections can not be stored by merely aligning them on shelves even if they are covered. We envisaged a design that enables storage, exhibition and allows access regarding these texts and books under proper circumstances. Beyond storage requirements, the aim was to appreciate the books and render them shareable, just like the building itself. We envisioned a technical volume that embodies an architectural and contemporary accent where the required infrastructure is stored without damaging the building. While creating spaces inside a space through transparency and the usage of dark glasses, this spatial movement allowed us to reflect the old and acquire a visual connectedness.
We know that natural materials are used in historical structures. The old surface texture also has natural stones in this project. Did you pay attention to several particularities while analyzing these materials for this project?
If there are any, which natural stones did you use and what were their region? How did you select other materials, could you please inform us?) Besides floorings, no additions were made. Interventions regarding the floors were necessary because the mechanical and electrical equipment were solved underneath them and they were not preserved back then. The keystone of this renovation was functionally increasing the efficiency of the structure and its services along with minimal interventions and the modern infrastructure connected with the historical texture.
For our magazine is focusing on natural stones, I have a question that I ask frequently: Our country is significantly rich in terms of marble resources. Do you think that this precious material is being used often and does the local get appreciated enough?Do you personally use natural stones? Which natural stone do you prefer the most?
In our projects, we always prefer using natural stones, local materials and materials that we can obtain near their original locations. I think the preeminent project where we intensely and noticeably used natural stones is the International Terminal of Bodrum Airport. Continous usage of black marble which was quarried and processed in Yatağan, located 40 kms away from the airport, was the most important decision regarding this structure.
We closely follow the projects you design as Tabanlıoğlu Architects. For our readers to have up-to-date information about you, could you
please tell us about the architectural projects and innovations you have produced in recent years?
Cultural structures and cultural campuses where these structures are located in, stand for the projects that highly excite us. Interestingly, we implement a large part of these projects in African countries. I think it is a valuable field that is created by three of the Africa projects that are currently completed: Tripoli, Sipopo and Dakar International Congree Centers, and additionally, the Selçuklu Congress Center which is soon-to-be completed. Besides, BAKSI Hüsame Köklü Women’s Employment Center which we are currently developing in Bayburt in cooperation with BAKSI Culture and Art Foundation is another project that excites us. It’s a public project that will provide service in a similar field but for a quite different geography and user profile, following the spatial experience of Beyazıt State Library. Apart from all these, we carry on our studies with around thirty projects in different phases in different geographies ranging from the US to Gulf Countries.
I ask every architect we interview about the designers and/or architects they follow and care about in local and global scale. If you have any, I would be appreciated if you share them…
Although there is a west-oriented activity that contains cities such as Milan, London, New York, Miami which maintain their qualities for being global centers; many cities like Hong Kong, Dubai, Doha and Istanbul foster their Eastern representations through their western quailities and objectives. They activate their presence by reflecting contemporary tendencies to their cultures and unique values where they are no longer the supporters of this movement but in fact, they are the producers. From Latin America to Iran, young architects produce remarkable works. As much as starchitects, young architects are now ranked among the 21st century architecture wordbook and they even develop leading-edge projects. Within this framework, the worldwide recognition of Turkish architects and their acceptance in the global arena is a fact that pleases us, especially for the last 10-15 years. The construction industry was carrying out successful works abroad for many years and now we are able to export our designs and projects. We are now in a position where we can compete with American and European architects and receive projects.
Thank you for all the information you have shared with us.