A Stage Willing to Open to the City
The historic Bomonti Beer Factory is currently undergoing a transformation under the name of Bomontiada. We talked to Alexis Şanal, the architect, about the starting days of the project that is in direct interaction with the neighborhood and the city.
Hülya Ertaş: Bomontiada plans to settle in its location with a different urban idea. Can you explain the main point of what you are trying to do?
Alexis Şanal: The seeds of the project were planted with the involvement of Doğuş Group and Cem Yegül in the process that had started three years ago when Efes invited Pozitif Live, an entertainment company, to open a Babylon Concert Hall at the Historic Beer Factory. At the beginning, they thought of the project as a real estate development which basically works as a kind of locomotive for the neighborhood, nourishing the creative culture. Then they decided to turn it into a place which has the power to develop a character rather than constituting a space of experience. I think that was a visionary decision because of it forced us to re-think the needs of the city. Vasıf Kortun's participation in the process from the early stages has evoked questions on how to produce a synergy in the metropolis while creating the cultural infrastructure of modern art spaces. Under the guidance of Kortun, Alt (Gallery), a formation with an objective perspective to the new cultural practices, will also become a unit of Bomontiada by taking its place in the campus.
Following Kortun’s advise, we met up with Ahmet Uluğ and Cem Yegül, and we started to work with them once we realized we speak the same language. When I first got into this work a year back, I thought that we did not have to begin with a fancy spatial design. We had to have another starting point. That’s why we began to think this place as the core of the neighborhood. In Istanbul, Feriköy possesses a very deep history and culture. Bomonti is not the name of the district; but of the meeting point which has emerged from the culture of “coming together” that was created by the Bomonto Brothers who were the ones that built the beer factory. The district’s name is Feriköy. This was the main starting point of the Bomontiada project.
The surrounding buildings will presumably be transformed into high-rise blocks in the next five years. We searched for paradigms in ways to utilize this situation. I am not personally a fan of this kind of buildings, but there are cities such as Vancouver, Montreal and Chicago where the system works fine with their high-rises. The problem is not how high these buildings are, but how they form a unity with the city. So, we focused on urban ideas we have collected through a process formed under six titles, such as locality thresholds, living streets, wedgetopia, innovative infrastructures, ecological corridors and the city as an office.
HE: Especially at the street level, at the ground floors.
AŞ: Yes, it is very important that the big land lords’ question what they develop, what kind of synergy they create and come to a recognition of being a part of a wider land. In this area, there are old textile factories that can be seen as huge profits by the creative industry. Down the back, there is a residential zone hosting different income groups. There are also buildings carrying the working class to the site. All these facts define the existence of the middle class. If the problem is addressed correctly, the development here will become the future of the potential creative industry and its sources. That’s why we considered this project in a long-term manner. Along with having a space formed by abstract ideas, we asked: “How can we use the current network we have for new collaborations in an effort to reproduce this part of the city?” The best thing that we can utilize to revive the production was the city’s ecology. This small hill we stand on and the surroundings lie in a big valley. We are observing three different layers simultaneously because we want to restructure the ecological characteristic with different property owners. The first layer is about creating a space that works with both the environment and the city. The second one is developing a program to feed a new network community. The third one is creating a spatial program to take on a physical rehearsal role, in a similar nature to the first step. We would also like to cross beyond these layers. We are trying to support our own creative industry with familiar methods by making new and temporary attempts.
HE: How do you work with property owners such as Hilton?
AŞ: Hilton is one of the brave leading figures, as I see it as an urban developer. I can say that Hilton is our best partner for helping us to establish a relation with the other property owners. We are also working on defining the commercial functions here, since improving such programs can give way to new collaborations.
HE: Is it only about programs or are you planning architectural interventions to make every part more accessible?
AŞ: We have a certain approach on this matter. We are turning this area into a huge park by removing all doors. The road leading to Hilton begins to feel like a alley. If a building wishes to be a part of Bomontiada, it has to embrace our values. We agree in principle with other property owners through their signature on the contract to be a part of the project. Bomontiada inhabitants are not significant in their individual brand values or presence, but as part of the synergy between them and with their contributions to the program. That’s why we call them “inhabitants” rather than “places” or “renters.” Those who come to the campus to have a good time and all partners of Bomontiada are inhabitants, just as the people are who reside in Bomonti. For we aim to create a synergy here and maintain the culture of “coming together.” We want all the parts to be perceived as one, big social space. The street level setup and recreation are our two important standards. Residence blocks usually build walls to claim their own space, but we are trying to do exactly the opposite here. We all know that there is no need for another shopping mall in this area. We call Bomontiada “creative culture campus.” The complex is designed not only as a spot including a living space, a cafe and a restaurant, but as a program which will change the city’s cycle of life and culture through the participation of people who live and work in the city.
On the other hand, we need to take a step forward and be innovative about the context and program of the cultural activities here. Becoming a part of a network and being consumable by everyone are two different things. This is a tough process and we work hard on it.
HE: Bomonti transformed in a radical way in the last five years. I cannot help myself but think that you could have manage to alter the course of this transformation favorably if you had started the project five years ago.
AŞ: We have been implementing a quite different model; we look into the neighborhood in order to find urban spaces and revive them, searching for new ways to provide consultancy service for new property owners, work places, restaurants etc. Our goal is to complete this transformation in a healthy manner. We have designed the building’s courtyard as a meeting point. A cultural event program including shows, concerts, visual art performances, food festivals will be realized by the cooperation of the inhabitants. The new Bomontiada program will shape in the first three months with the contribution of locals and businesses in Bomontiada. That means Bomontiada’s first program is being launched through Mehmet Uluğ’s vision, by the Bomonti “inhabitants” in accordance with its philosophy. And the whole city will have a role in the program in the future. Moreover, the courtyard will be rebuilt as a stage. Then we will dismantle it and distribute its parts to the neighborhood, showing people how we can rebuild this place. We will use these materials to develop new projects for other city parts that need to be revived. Here’s what I find interesting in this: a place can be beautiful when it is produced via well-known, nice, adaptable recycling ways, but this does not make its story interesting. Bomontiada can become an interesting place when all renters open their doors in March 2016, and begin to have an interesting story. We have a site map explaining our ideas. We want to share our thoughts on what we foresee about the entrances, whose property has been transformed or how many people would come, and open these ideas up for discussion and make people get involved in the process in any way possible. We want to create a healthy system that can maintain itself. And doing so we want to activate, not determine. People living here for generations want to tell their own stories and we want to catch those stories because what we do here is not making a production from nothing. We are still continuing to discuss over parameters so as to help design teams and civil institutions. Atölye Istanbul, Pozitif and Doğuş all have their own characteristics, so it is becoming significant how this place will be used and how these characteristics will coincide within the place. Considering many facts, Bomontiada will not completely be open until the next summer. The process requires plenty of experimentation and rehearsal.
HE: When places are focused on events, they can turn into areas where people only come and go.
AŞ: Yes, this is a matter we need to resolve. We cannot deny that this place is an event venue as you cannot deny that I am a female architect. Our main function is hosting events and we want to be a locomotive for creativity. We are also aware that an event venue makes sense by a commercial dimension. For example, we know that organizing a fashion week at such a place is rational. The concept here is founded on fashion design, art, food and music. But these are commercial events for us; we define them under this title. One of the main expectations of the project is the participation of the inhabitants or the newly included buildings. In other words, we talk about a place where you can contribute with your comments and your criticism. Being an actor that reveals the building not only as a construction but also as a whole with regards to space, program and service is what makes the revaluation of the project an exciting feature.
HE: I think the most important thing to provide the openness and participation you mentioned is to clear the place off from odd safety concerns. Today we have to go through a security check and give our identity card just to enter a university campus, which quite frankly kills the place.
AŞ: We discussed the safety issue among ourselves quite a lot, and in terms of different aspects. The first one is physical safety while the second is communal safety. If you come to Bomontiada just for entertainment, you should not bother the locals, so they will feel safe. On the other hand, there is safety of final products of the creative thinking process, which means copyrights issues. Ensuring that the rights are not violated is one of the determinative aspects of the environment we wish to build here. You can come here, start a discussion and feel the excitement of sharing your ideas because you will be part of an intellectual environment, and you can feel safe at every step. There is a misjudgment that assumes you are safe after you entering the gate through security. That is not true. The safest places in Istanbul are the squares; because everybody watches you to make sure that you are safe and sound. Such a network should be formed instead of creating borders with security systems. This will be a softer and more useful way in a neighborhood where people can observe you.
HE: You are actually pointing at a matter of building trust.
AŞ: Absolutely. The first thing we will do is to completely open the campus. If we are to do that now, with the construction site, someone might get hurt, so we are not fully open yet. We are planning to put an information desk or a kiosk instead of a security point. The main idea is that if something is to happen to you ,you will have someone to ask for help. If we can achieve a different kind of understanding of security here, with a corporation that allows us to define the rules together, we can distance from the misled perception of security and its profile. Thus, the locals who are disturbed by the noise at the cafe can call the manager and ask for it stop, and can make communication possible in that manner. Everyone should see this place as a common room where you can come and discuss your ideas. Cem Yegül and Vasıf Kortun are dreaming this place as a think-tank to try different things and that really excites me. Another compelling issue is how to meet the needs of the city and keep the balance among event spaces and public and semi-public spaces. I need to go to pharmacy to get my medicine while I can eat my lunch at a park, but I do not categorize every place I have been to as public or semi-public when I move from one to another. It is not important to be aware of this difference, but it is important that all these places are meeting the needs of the society. We have six distinctive premises: ecology, recreation, corporation, creative industry, variety of living spaces, global actors in terms of local context. So we ask a question: “If we give Istanbul an infrastructure, service and support that will generate her self-confidence, can the city be an interesting place not only for providing opportunities to do so many things, but also for becoming a leading force towards new and original context?” If it happens, it will be a huge step forward. We have to be genuine and smart whatever we do. This is about composing a culture and suggesting new positions rather than individual efforts, isolation and individualization. I think we have dedicated ourselves to small gestures. I do not want to build a mountain of shopping centers; because we should be humble. I want to go on in that directions.