by Sinan Logie
“Naturally, we were all there,—old Qwfwq said,—where else could we have been? Nobody knew then that there could be space. Or time either: what use did we have for time, packed in there like sardines?
I say ‘packed like sardines,’ using a literary image: in reality there wasn’t even space to pack us into. Every point of each of us coincided with every point of each of the others in a single point, which was where we all were.”
Italo Calvino, ‘’Cosmicomics’’, 1965
This article is dedicated to Mert Eyiler. Not because Mert is spending hours in front of his mirror to match Patrick Swaze’s hair cut in a cult movie for teenagers from the 90’s. But in continuity with a talk about ‘’dirtiness’’ that we recently had together.
Socially not accepted, dirtiness is part of our environment. In terms of physical space, but also in the ones of behaviors. We are consciously or unconsciously dancing with it in our daily lives. Curiously, dirtiness is never part of our forecasts for the future. When it comes to the future of Istanbul, the projected phantasms are quite shiny! The reconfiguration of the metropolis is on and it’s going to be cleaner than clean.
As promoted by the officials, Istanbul is on its way to become a clean “render” of itself. Between “Muhteṣem yüzyıl” and “Blade runner”, this new city dreamt by the politicians and the developers with the help of architects is a source of concern, especially for our profession. Effectively, between the three actors of this urban “spaghetti western” it’s more and more difficult to perceive the difference between the “good”, the “bad” and the “ugly”. As far as all of them are cleaner than clean. Because here, we are in front of an authoritarian cleanness. Purity at its highest peak.
Purity doesn’t accept any criticism. It’s too perfect. It doesn’t remember any mistakes from the past, doesn’t question the present and envisions a single future. It operates as a computer, a clean closed environment. And at this point, particularly for architects, Marshall McLuhan’s quote: “the medium is the message” should start to loop in our mind. Why are computers ─ a technology developed for the purposes of the “cold war” ─ our only tool to envision the future?
Especially, once we consider that the end of the so called “cold war” coincided with the entrance of computer technology in architecture practices. Moreover, this period also corresponded to the return of Istanbul on the international scene as a global metropolis. The computer screens were ready to lead capital flows to Istanbul and fix them to the ground with some “sexy renders”. The war against the city, its topography and nature could start. Mankind’s history rarely witnessed such a powerful strike. But the taste for cleanness hasn’t been forgotten. Some architectural elements such as the world’s largest justice court building in Kartal are there to attest the contribution of architects to the “pure” future.
Interestingly, 150 years ago, the preceding world’s largest justice court building was built in Brussels, by the architect Joseph Poellaert. With the impulse of the authorities, seeking to glorify the freshly founded Kingdom of Belgium, the “Justice Palace” as named by the inhabitants of Brussels was built on a land gained by the forced eviction of a large popular neighborhood. Since then “Schieven arkitekt” (the “askew architect”) is an insult used by the inhabitants of this central district. Looking to the urban reconfiguration currently undergone by Istanbul, we can bet that in 150 years, insults including the word ‘’architect’’ will be in use in Istanbul and its outskirts.
In this context, where cleanness dominates the architectural scene (the pathetic black and white portraits of architects used to illustrate their biographies on their web sites is only the tip of the iceberg), how should we feel about the future in architecture schools? Should, ethically, architecture schools teach how to use software, regarding the fact that they are used to commit crimes against “city rights”? I don’t have the answer, but battle against cleanness and purity will pass by reducing the size and the strike force of large architecture practices.
In the system, cleanness induces growth. And growth needs specialization. But specialization is for insects. In this frame, architecture has been reduced to the manipulation and coordination of files between specialists. The question of “space” evaporated. Technical reality absorbed the real knowledge: The one of having a global vision in an imperfect world. Reconquering space will probably pass by more physical involvement. It will need to abandon cleanness and perfection to the benefit of experimentation and evolution. At this point, architecture schools may envision introducing sport classes or physical training to their courses. Because architecture doesn’t operate on a screen. It is dirty! It connects with the bodies.
The major tools to connect with our environment are our bodies and languages. According to Jacques Mehler and Emmanuel Dupoux, language defines individuals’ mental states. “These mental states would be comparable to a system of signs and symbols organized within an internal combination, like, for example, the mathematicians’ formalizations or the statements of the natural languages. These elements would determine a language of the spirit, defining the scope and the limit of what is conceivable by the human spirit… Which is our entire knowledge and the logical relationships within it.“
This cognitive aptitude of our brains led to the birth of complex languages and science together with rules or culturally shared behaviors that made possible the crazy project of living in cities. On the other hand, these facts also had as effect to increase human domination over nature linked to the requirements of the economy. Nowadays this economic system seems to have its own existence, detached from ours. Cities are the result of this multilayered sedimentation of abstract patterns and basic needs that can be defined by geometry, which allows us to accept them as ecosystems to born and live in. Might they be clean or dirty we are living there. Like sardines? Or like points?
Wherever, from a point, you can draw an infinite number of lines. Some of these lines can be perfect; some others can dance with dirt. The first ones will define limits while the seconds will push you to go further, to transform things, as only form of possible hope.
This paper has been originally published in Turkish by XXI – Mimarlik Tasarim ve Mekan Dergisi (XXI – Architecture, Design and Space Journal).
 As Stefano Serafini put it, quoting Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love, Ace Books 1988, p. 248, during his lecture for Plato’s library, 12th December 2014, Istanbul.
 Jacques Mehler et Emmanuel Dupoux, «De la psychologie à la science cognitive», Le débat, 47, November-December 1987, p. 67.