Game of Thrones in Architecture: Apparatuses of Otherness and Conformity in Conservative Power


The issue of “extension” is as old as architecture itself, but it became a particularly problematic issue in the second half of the 20th century. In this article, I will take on our professional and expert attitude towards extensional buildings from a different perspective. “Inclusion to what already exists” constitutes the basis of architecture, city formation and spontaneity in architectural rhetoric. I hope to initiate a debate that focuses on such issues in light of the discrimination, otherization and homogenization processes of “conservative” tendencies, which subsequently result in disintegration and degeneration. I would like to suggest that the phenomenon of extension in architecture, consciously or unconsciously, can be suppressed or externalized through professional, scientific and academic elitism. At the very base of my argument lies the possibility that the norms and obligations developed by the discipline of conservation may unintentionally become an instrument for the “homogenization” politics of power, implemented on society and culture. These norms may adopt a role that excludes any adaptation and hybridization in the physical environment as well as in the social structure. I would like to develop, through this piece, this line of argumentation, referring to art as the basic critique of the social, emphasizing particularly the issue of the “other” with cross references and analogies, through which I strengthen my stance on the issue of extension in architecture.

image 2a: extensions that impair the integrity of tissue

The Conservation Reflex as a Manifestation of Discriminative Politics, and Its Effects on the Built Environment
Each medium in which human beings exist, e.g. the society, the city; and each action, e.g. art and architecture, consists of a juxtaposition of differences. All conservative social dynamics—particularly racism and discriminations that are religious, sectarian, sexual and class-oriented—which resisted this fact resulted in social catastrophes and genocides, were eventually dismissed. The tendency to homogenize, historically, is yet to disappear; it has appeared and reappeared in certain periods and in certain geographies. The world history consists of such struggles, especially in the Middle East, where such struggles never come to an end. In Turkish society, extensive conflicts resulting from discrimination against Greeks, Armenians, Kurds, Alevis, and LGBTIs, or of groups such as workers, peasants, immigrants, refugees, and members of lower economic status, are at the heart of existing social problems, and pose a threat to social order, even more so when the holders of the political power explicitly encourage such discrimination.

It is not a coincidence that throughout history, politics of discrimination have always co-emerged with new urban transformation and architectural strategies. This is because one of the basic means to separate and discriminate people and other social elements from each other is that of spatial means. For example, TOKİ (Turkey’s mass housing administration) and its parallel mechanisms guarantee that the areas approved for development are assigned to big business groups with immense capital power. In these urban areas, popular housing aesthetics of mainstream architecture spreads homogeneously. Pseudo-historicist, Seljukian-Ottoman facades dominate public buildings. Under the label of “revivalism”, historical buildings are demolished one by one, and their degenerate versions are built up in their places; in the meantime, many historical and architectural heritages undergo destruction. In the southeastern part of the country, dwellings of the above-mentioned minorities are destroyed through the justification of terrorism, and TOKİ processes erase the remaining cultural traces. These cases are not coincidentally simultaneous; on the contrary, they are the elements of the conformity project. The conservation circle is unfortunately very passive against such cases, and at most their response has been limited, by the same power holders, to reproach and raving. The conservation councils and the relevant intelligentsia, facing ineffectiveness in basic urban areas, resorted to implementing their power in the form of norms, taboos and sanctions on small-scale architectural interventions that aim at developing architectural hybrids on historical buildings. In other words, they were forced to play a new “game of thrones” on a strictly limited arena where their powers were relatively effective.

The conservation intelligentsia, that holds the authority of utterance, has an attitude towards such architectural interventions that is very similar to the discriminating discourses of political power. Not only these interventions are shunned for being “too modern” or “too concrete”, the essence of extension in architecture is also overlooked, and exceptional implementations are disregarded with a technocratic/bureaucratic attitude. Such disregard discriminates against the ones who are not on their side by labeling them and robbing them of their legitimacy in the public eye; thus the conservation circle becomes very similar to a game of thrones played by the power holders. Conservation therefore functions in physical and spatial arenas as a mirror image of the current political mechanism.

All sections of the society are pushed to support to the sect of the majority, or explicitly claim loyalty to the superior national identity after being purified from their essential characteristics; otherwise they cannot benefit from citizen rights, they become subjected to discrimination in various forms and intensity. In a similar fashion, any additions or cultural accumulations created by civilian social dynamics, regardless of their architectural success, cannot find a place in the physical environment unless they reflect the dominant economic and socio-cultural values. If they happen to be realized by chance, they are destroyed. The ones that endure are academically and scientifically excluded. In the same time, many worthless architectural extensions can cross the borders of the conservation boards, and be realized by virtue of the relationship to the investors and the political power, resulting from their position in the economic system, or from their national and religious partisanship. Many extensions that are not categorically defined and legitimately registered as “an extension of a period” are destroyed regardless of their cultural and social values, while many others do not even get a chance to come to life.

In terms of relations between power and space, this means that the conservation intelligentsia, while partaking in the dominant role of the architects (which can be considered positive when it balances against the conforming tendencies of power), is capable of becoming a tool in the power structure’s control of the physical environment, and subsequently, the society (Dovey, 2008, 2010). As I previously mentioned by the reference of Robin (2011), every conservative approach is essentially the struggle to reclaim the power considered to be out of control, thus turning into a threat (Mulqueen, 2012). In our case, the conservation profession should critically be reviewed in order to recognize the conflicts between its discourse and its actions, and to develop new strategies and mechanisms to regain what has already been lost.

Since the time of the Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites, many conservation directives have undoubtedly provided room for contemporary extensions; however, just as the abstract existence of the “constitution” fails to guarantee so-called equality for everyone, particularly in our society; in many cases, in spite of the charter, and depending mostly on the respective board’s structure and competence to use initiative, many architectural intervention proposals are turned down just because they are interventions to historical buildings.

Architectural Extensions as “The Other”
“Otherization in physical environment”, the intellectual basis to what this paper so far discussed within the realm of social processes, rises upon how it is perceived and conceived. Before focusing on such perception, I will refer to the issue of “the other in art” as a comprehensive topic.

The “Other” in Literature, Cinema, and Architecture
Art, and especially literature—cultural accumulation of which was eased through its adaptation to the basic contemporary medium, i.e. cinema—almost always focuses on the conflicts and struggles in relations with the other (Hallam, 2000). Classical art studied the subject intensely, however, in popular culture, and its product the popular art, social segregations resulting from capitalism and its parallel processes became more visible (Gunn, 1979). The literature subgenres in which this segregation is exaggeratedly expressed can be listed as the zombie literature, the alien invasion literature, the vampire culture, and cyborg stories (Smelik, 2010; Sadoff, 2010).

Modern architectural extension as “zombie”
Zombie literature (Bishop, 1973), and zombie cinema as its subsequent form (Boon, 2007) are the popular cultural expressions of fear of the return of the living dead. These creatures are depicted as deformed, decomposed; as having lost their physical integrity, becoming “the other” of the normal human morphology. Here, the deformed body, where the border between interior and exterior is transgressed, becomes a threat against the existence of the normal, bodily integrity, where borders reside between the inside and outside (Dendle, 2007). From the architectural and conservation point of view, contemporary extensions installed in historical textures can be considered as threats to the border between the inside and the out, and to bodily integrity; and a parallelism can be drawn between extensions and the zombie concept.

It is also possible to extend this parallelism through the connections with “authority” that are often referred in zombie literature (Giroux, 2011, as well as the “legitimization of power” (Linnerman et. al., 2014) and “capitalism” (Laura& Emby, 2008). In this genre, the zombie figure, registered as the other and labeled as a threat to capitalist society, is legitimately subjected to authority and police violence. This is very similar to the position of the modern architectural extension, which has the potential to break the unity of historical texture for new possibilities such as hybridization. It is also subject to the authority of conservation discipline and its legitimate means of power.

Modern architectural extension as “alien”
Alien invasion and fear of aliens constitute one of the prime elements of works of popular culture on the concept of the other (Sardar and Cubitt, 2002; Lecesne, 2012; Visser, 2012). It stands in parallel with labeling various interventions to the so-called homogeneity of physical environment as “monster” or “freak”. In spite of the element of fear, this literature also includes a hidden and profound bond with the alien functioning as another basic narrative element. Any new extension to the historical building is regarded as alien; it is a source of fear, and also a source of profound attention. As in the zombie analogy, these formations are considered to have decomposing effects on the body, and thus taken as a threat to the registered spatial order—acceptable according to the surrounding norms. Prince Charles’ remark on the architectural proposals for St. Paul Cathedral’s environment in 1980s was awful; he found the projects similar to “an abscess on a familiar face.” This attitude, although having lost its severity, still haunts current discussions in many conjunctures. Regardless of their originality and sophistication, many new architectural formations in historical sites are perceived as “alien” and are thus excluded.

Modern architectural extension as “vampire”
Vampire literature too, as a variation of zombie culture (Butler, 2010), consists of the themes of immortality, timelessness and violence (Twitchell, 1981). Mortals consider vampires as others, as a threat to their norms; however, emulation of their immortality and an involuntary affiliation with them are also recurring topics in this subgenre. The extensional structures in the historical environment are similarly considered as threats that would suck the blood of the historicity of the buildings, turn them into vampires, and destroy all the surroundings.

Modern architectural extension as “Cyborg”
The idea of an artificial human-like creature, as another subgenre of science fiction and phantasy literature, can be traced back to the end of the 18th century. This subgenre, one of the first examples of which is Frankenstein, can be seen as the expression of anxiety flourishing from a fear of technology (Scwab, 1987). This human-machine hybrid is depicted as a tremendous threat to human life (Brasher, 1992). Cyborgs are creative hybrids, capable simultaneously of imitating human existence and staying out of it. These creatures are against humanity; however, they also desire to be human. Thus, these figures of literature express religious and existential problems on the borderlines between humanness and technology (Adams, 2010). The roots of such fear can also be traced in people’s attitude towards disabled individuals, and later towards the prosthesis technologies developed for the disabled. In public realm, individuals who use prosthesis are still subjected to strange gazes, and fearful looks.

The fear of the modern extensions to historical texture shares a similar base with the cyborg anxiety in the human-machine hybrid’s potential to invade the surrounding environment.

Fear, admiration, love and emulation towards “the other” in art

Art, especially literature, is never tired of articulating conflicted relations with the other, as well as hesitant emotions towards it. The relationships with the other of various sorts rest on emotions, blending fear and admiration (Hallam, 2000). All the stories are narratives in which the normal protagonist, in flux of such conflicts, either destroys the “other” protagonist, or by breaking up with the societal norms, joins the other and has to pay the price of such a choice. This attempt is never easy to face, and art continuously deals with it. Nevertheless, the message is clear: We feel intrigue, desire and excitement for the other; however, our fears prevent us from contacting it.

I have a memory from my childhood that supports my argument. There was a family who worked in the Thailand Embassy, and lived in my old neighborhood. Their daughter was my sister’s friend, and she used to come to our house. The grandmother of another neighbor, each time she saw her in our house, used to make the following remark: “What a sweet, little thing! I wish her eyes were a bit more like ours, though.” This sentence expresses her feelings, a blend of mercy, love and discontent. Even this everyday example demonstrates the social conflicts within the attitudes towards the other, and the individual’s role in these conflicts. Provided that these normative criteria are eliminated, any individual, and any objects in the built environment, would be evaluated more objectively and easily.

The relation between conservation and architectural extension is similar to this love -hate relationship. Self-claimed taboos and norms of conservation result in avoiding any proposal that might be valuable or acceptable. A homogenous, but flavorless world, and life, emerges out of this avoidance, resembling what the post-apocalyptic fiction depicts.

Restoration as Sterile Flattening
Both social structures and urban textures are complex and multilayered, and have profound characteristics due to the dynamics created by varieties, hybridizations and extensions. The dominating powers in societies, incapable of compromising for such complexity, employ efforts to reduce this multilayered and profound reality to a simple, flattened, controllable phenomenon. Yet a social order sterilized of all abnormalities, anomalies, and various others, ends up becoming a horrible, distopic picture—the very essence of post-apocalyptic literature and cinema (Kunkel, 2008; Friedlander, 1990; Starrs, Huntsinger, 1995; Walliss, Newport, 2014). Essential examples of dystopia movies (Brazil, Children of Men, Blade Runner, Dark City, 1984, Matrix, Gattaca, Equilibrium, etc) demonstrate this flattened physical environment (Dixon, 2003; Bendle, 2005). It is not a coincidence that in this setting, social life is always experienced as a dark tyranny.

Without a doubt, in certain cases, conservation also stands against the homogeneity of ordinary architecture; however, a homogeneity consisting of historical buildings with periodic characteristics would eventually also result in an eclectic post-apocalyptic environment.

Flattening a historical building or texture, stripping down all its lived experiences the spatial witnesses of such experiences, i.e. extensions, and keeping it in its oldest form result in an unrealistic decoration; and such tendencies inevitably serve the flattening aims of power imposed on society. The potential and the cultural values which any hybridization attempts would possibly include should be comprehended deeply in order to expand the context of conservation.

Hybrid’s Potential
The variety created by the basic mechanisms of nature and evolution, i.e. hybridization and grafting, gives way to the richness of life (Levinson, 1984). The very same phenomenon is considered to be a significant source of creative energy in the built environment as well. When hybrids emerge as results of social dynamics, of everyday life and civil values, they contribute, invaluably, to the cultural accumulation.

Mythology is full of such hybrid creatures, such as unicorns, Pegasus and the likes, most which have superior characteristics attributed to them. The basic mythological creatures, hybrids of man and animal, as in the Centaur and the Minotaur referred to in Iliad (Palmeri, 2006; Fudge, 1999), show the historical place of the phenomenon in nature and human perception. These figures are depicted as evil characters battling against Hercules in mythology; yet Lowe (2007), citing DeBois, claims that this narrative is not original, and these figures are adored, as they symbolize not only a return to nature, but also an objection to Hercules’ use of force, as well as to the trafficking of women. Hence we can consider that Centaur and Minotaur symbolize the potentials of positive hybridization in nature. We can also observe that many contemporary interventions to historical textures are among prominent architectural examples that can metaphorically be identified with those mythological figures.

All the potentialities discussed above seem to be acceptable in discourse, however, in practice, hybridization is still subjected to processes of otherization. Physical environment also gets its fair share of these processes. The hypocrisy of the society is revealed in the conflict between the discourse that claims “our society is a mosaic”, and the frequent lynching of any difference in practice. The same pathology is in charge in the conflict between the legal and regulatory inclusion of the modern extension, and the practical exclusion of any addition produced by everyday life.

These hybrid formations, mostly categorically indefinable, produce particular, original values; and contribute to the society and the environment. Such variety can be, for urban dwellers, a source of rich experience. Social history witnessed countless reactions against hybrid formations, but cases of conservative resistance have been dissolving in recent times. An obvious proof can be seen in the increasing number of examples of “radical extensions to historical buildings” in architecture magazines.

Conclusion: The Other, too, is Human…
Kibariye, a popular singer embraced by masses in Turkey, once uttered this aphorismatic sentence: “Intellectuals are humans too.” This formula may keep us gentler towards professional elitism; however, the emphasis should be on the fact that we should embrace each and every Other.

Certainly, each and every being, living or non-living, is part of a social or physical whole. Each of them, considered as other, would eventually find illegitimate ways to exist; the examples of which are present in politic spheres and in the built environment. The solution cannot be found in turning all these illegitimate processes into legal ones; instead, it can be reached through a thorough review of the legitimacy criteria.

Architectural circles often refer to the value of civil architecture, and to the importance of sustainability, and yet at the same time, they easily sacrifice many modern architectural extensions due to their disturbance of the norms. Many of these rejected extensions are indeed examples of civil architecture and sustainability. Civil architecture, or popular architecture, is based on necessary extensions. And these social, cultural, and spatial additions should be objectively reviewed, reevaluated, and thoroughly understood in order to conserve and sustain an accumulated popular culture.

On one hand, Kibariye’s aphorism which I ironically quoted, recommends us to sympathize with the conservation intelligentsia. On the other, with the exclusionist elitism and its damage on society still in charge, it is critical that we discuss discriminative tendencies of the homogenizing criteria in architecture and conservation that may have degenerative effects for our physical environment.

Many were killed, and many more now have to live under substantial oppression, simply because the power holders declared that they are “Others”. Similarly, many modern architectural extensions with hybrid values and potentials cannot find a way to exist, while those that somehow do, are excommunicated by a cultural heritage discourse. Meanwhile, in spite of the so-called strict conservation discourses and implementations, many historical buildings are ruined by bad restorations, or by pseudo-historicist revival applications, as in the cases of İshakpaşa Palace, Şile Castle, Emek Movie Theater, Yenikapı Square and the likes. The incompatibility at the very heart of the conservation processes not only blocks possible hybridizations, but also serves as “cultural homogenization” politics, the results of which can be foreseen from the discussion presented above. This text is obviously not against conservation. My aim is to invite readers to reevaluate the positioning of the present conservation tendencies in the built environment—as the game of thrones come to a seasonal end.

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