Investigating Turkey's Urban Transformation.
A Road Movie.

In October 2012, following extensive research, an international team of architects, urban planners and a small film crew spent five days in Turkey, studying the urban transformation process in three cities: Ankara, Bursa and Istanbul. This is their story.


The current wave of resistance against government action was triggered by the cutting of trees at Gezi park, just off Taksim Square in central Istanbul, in order to construct a large shopping mall in the form of historicist Ottoman military barracks. It is no coincidence that the unrest started with a police crackdown of protests against this urban transformation: urban issues form a major component of the protestors’ demands and urban transformation has fuelled widespread discontent with public authorities.

In a country that is dealing with emergent issues of governance and economical development related to urban design and spatial planning, how is it possible to transform neighbourhoods and provide housing for the masses at an unprecedented speed and scale? Which role will a recent earthquake law play, that makes 6.5 million buildings eligible for transformation and demolition?

Film Poster. artwork by Artur Borejszo and Aleksandar Hrib

Film Poster.
artwork by Artur Borejszo and Aleksandar Hrib

Turkey is a country in rapid transition. In recent years, informally built neighbourhoods have been cleared and mass housing has been produced at an unprecedented speed and scale. In response to earthquake threat, a new law makes large parts of cities eligible for urban transformation. The future of the construction industry, a pillar of Turkey’s economic boom, continues to look bright, and Turkey’s Housing Development Administration [TOKI] is playing a lead role. Opposition is also growing. Protests have been staged against the demolition of culturally significant neighbourhoods and the displacement of communities. Critics point to the destruction of nature and the creation of dormitory towns, which lack amenities and public space. A significant amount of newly built high-rise housing could remain unoccupied.

This raises the question of how mass housing and transformation could be better tailored to satisfy communities’ needs. What role can architecture and planning play in an industry that shows little concern for local contexts? And how might the experiences of local designers and planners, as well as colleagues from the Netherlands or UN-Habitat be relevant to these issues? In order to find answers; following extensive research, an international group of architects, planners and a film crew travelled from Ankara to Bursa and Istanbul, consecutively. As part of their investigation, they visited transformation sites and interviewed the authorities in charge, scientists and local inhabitants.