Saturday, October 14, 2006

Istanbul 4 - Theodosius Jumps


The urban renewal in the 1980’s that exposed the harbor wall also created a park where there once was a crowded fishing and maritime industry. Preservationists decried this sterilization for tearing down more than a few treasures that stood in the way, although there are a handful of historic structures trapped in peculiar traffic islands. Over the past 20 years there has been an admirable effort to clean the Golden Horn, so that today it is common to see people swimming and fishing in it. It no longer has the stench of pollution, and is seen again as an amenity, this time for recreation instead of industry. It is a common story around the world, and as the water again gains in popularity, so does the park. People arrive early on the weekends to stake a claim, and those who arrive later are relegated to the zone by the street. The waterfront and roadfront are two different worlds, though due to the demand, both are filled.

The park is heavily used by families picnicking, but the traffic is bad. It is dirty and noisy, and creates a modern wall of noise and danger that separates the neighborhood from the waterfront and impinges upon their recreation. Often illegally parked cars provide the only filter between the activities and the high speed roadway. The noise is intense and the grilled food acquires the unfortunate flavor of road pollution. Today’s marauding hordes are buses and taxis.


The old city walls present an alternative, possibly heterodox, version of preservation. It is often stated that Istanbul is a city of layers, but more precisely, it is a city of layered conquest. There have been many distinct masters of the city, and each time the city was reborn in the image of the conqueror. Byzas.…Constantine…Justinian…Theodosius…Mehmet…Ataturk…Dalan…Topbaş…at each transition, the contested city became an urban canvas on which the projections of the new authority were writ. The Byzantine Milion (the Golden Milestone) was disassembled to construct a nearby water tower. The Roman Basilica Cistern is supported by 336 columns taken from the extent of the empire; Süleyman took the top tier from the hippodrome and used it in part to support his mosque complex.

No where is this recycling more evident than in the city walls. Looking closely at the walls you will see column pieces, entablature, gravestones, steps and other miscellany of the past. It is a masonry soup of losers; civilizations consigned not to the trash heap of history, but the recycling bin. There was also a practical reason for the layering of disparate materials: the diverse material properties would react to earthquakes differently and make the wall less likely to fail catastrophically. Great works that once indicated wealth and power in turn made ample filler. The first line of defense was comprised of the cultural oeuvre of the previous empire.


I propose a recycled and repositioned harbor wall, fortifying the park against the proximate undesirable vehicles. But more than a wall, it would be a repository for all the fast diminishing cultural artifacts in the city. Over time it would increase at the pace of the renewal of the city. As historic structures are disassembled, they would be added to the new wall in discreet segments approximately half a meter high. Each segment would represent one “lost” project recycled back into a new use. The segments would march along the park where they are needed, and leapfrog over defined thresholds and areas where the park is not used for recreation. After the approximately two kilometers of park is lined, a second layer would begin snaking back to the beginning. Instead of the current condition of tertiary heritage being simply thrown out or lost as aggregate in new projects, the new park wall would be a zone of collection and growth. Thus the wall would mature, acting as a barometer of urban renewal. The taller the wall, the more things lost, the more progress gained.

At the same time, recreation in the park would be protected from the traffic on Abdülezel Paşa Avenue on the other side of the wall. At first it would simply act as a line of definition, but in time would grow above the height of cars and tour buses. Grilled meat wouldn’t taste like exhaust anymore. Children would kick balls against the wall, perhaps hitting a Byzantine relief. People would lean against Roman bricks and columns. Thresholds in the wall would accommodate sidewalks and the few building uses, and in places where the park is too thin to be usable, the wall would disappear, giving the drivers a periodic view of the Golden Horn. Because each segment would be a discrete demolition project, the final wall would be a sort of calico of competing works, all laid to rest in the same format. Between segments, a small space would allow the projects to “breathe” and give glimpses of the other side.

Next stope: Trellis Maximus