Social Conflict and the Politicization of Cullture in Turkey

It is no coincidence that current political debate over the Islamist Welfare Party revolves around the term “lifestyle.” The dominant camps in this conflict draw their bases of support from groups with quite different lifestyles. The Islamist Welfare Party, while developing its own bourgeoisie and its new intellectuals, grew by winning broad support from the old and new gecekondu populations with its populist motto of “pure and just order.” Opposed to it is a loose group consisting of the radical bourgeoisie, state bureaucrats, the army, the urban middle classes, Kemalist intellectuals, the “Second Republicans,” and some radical intellectuals. Secularism and the Western–modern way of life are about the only common ground this otherwise incompatible alliance has.

It is clear that class does not correspond “properly” to political culture because class boundaries in Turkey have been increasingly crosscut by contradictory and hybrid cultural constructs of religion, ethnicity, nationalism, lifestyle, and gender. The culture of the popular classes can be opposed as “alienated” or “backward” by their supposedly counterpart intellectuals, as has been the case with arabesk culture. At the same time, regressiveness and racism can become popular among the subordinated, as is epitomized in the Sivas massacre and the rise of a popularized nationalist fervor suppressing the Kurdish issue. It is not just because the official, public political sphere in Turkey is so very restricted that social conflicts have been increasingly expressed in the language of culture since the 1980s; the politicization of culture itself has been a major factor in and consequence of the project and process of Turkish modernity from its inception. In that sense, the contradiction that inheres in the formation and appraisals of arabesk culture continue with Turkish society: the contradiction between a dominant nationalist and paternalist incapacity to live with difference and a deep, unrealized popular capacity to change and accept difference through hybridization.

Meral Özbek, “Arabesk Culture: A case of modernization and Popular Identity,” Sibel Bozdogan and Resat Kasaba, eds., Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997) 228.


documenting fragments

If I need to remember information about something--a place, a building typology, a cultural form--I start an entry for it and add to it as I learn more. Examples of entries include things like Republic Monument, Transportation, AKM, Mosques, Synagogues, Shopping, Cinema, Food, Music, Istiklal Caddesi, Signage...and so on.

documentation...starting to format


uh huh

First, many of the writers find that the Turkish project of modernity, in the way it was conceived under the sponsorship and priorities of the nation-state, has been flawed and problematical from its inception, compromised precisely by some of the things that were done in the name of modernity. Second, they agree that both politically and intellectually, the current critical climate is an opportunity, albeit a precarious one (without any convincing indication so far that the opportunity has been seized), for rectifying the initial flaw toward a more democratic, pluralist, and creative unleashing of the country’s potential.
from Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey


Draft Table of Contents (Thesis Prep Document Countdown: 25 days more or less)



Picturesque and Picturesque’

- Cultural theory and identity construction (Appadurai…)

- History of constructed identity in Taksim/Turkey (Republican era modernism, Taksim mosque depate, AKM debate)

- Cultural Landscape (artificiality, constructedness, naturalness, evenness, difference)

Secularism and Islam

- History in Turkey (address founding of republic, political timeline, progression)

- Debates today: headscarves, AKP, threat of military coup, bid for EU membership, public representation (city seal of Ankara, historicist building campaign)


Atatürk Kültür Merkezi

- History

- Mission

- Current Controversy: maintain or demolish and rebuild?

- Existing Program (block diagram + spreadsheet)

- AKM in popular imagination / public role

Precedent Studies

(size, location, founding/current mission, who funded/built it, public/private, activities that occur there, target audience/constituency, production of social space, degrees of difference…)

- Lincoln Center

- Seattle Public Library

- Idea Stores

- Rivington Place

- Peabody Terrace?

- Walker Art Center?

- Cardiff Bay Opera?

- Example of mosque cultural center…?


Istanbul Demographics / AKM Constituency

Cultural Centers in Istanbul and Turkey

- Map locations (size, type, audience)

- Typologies (bank, shopping mall, performance space)

Role of “Culture” in Istanbul Life

- What is considered “culture”?

- High and Low culture (do these categories exist? How distinguished?)

- Participants in cultural activities (How do they participate? How often? Where?)

- Importance of cultural activities to the life of the city and its inhabitants

Site Research

- Site Plan

- Transportation study (public transportation modes, frequency, accessibility; vehicular traffic, pedestrian flows)

- User group study (see above—interviews w/ public in Taksim Square)

- Study of Cinemas in Taksim/Beyoglu (map location, size, group into high/low culture + clientele, identify type of film)

- Study of Music Performance Spaces in Taksim/Beyoglu (map location, size, group into high/low culture + clientele, identify type of music)

- Study of Theaters in Taksim/Beyoglu (map location, size, group into high/low culture + clientele, identify type of theater)

- Study of Mosques in Taksim/Beyoglu (map locations + sizes)

- Study of Churches in Taksim/Beyoglu

- Land Use (Commercial, mixed, residential, cultural…)

- Photographic survey of fashion? (starting with website + photos downloaded)


- Tabanlioglu, architect of the AKM

- Omer Kanipak, founder/manager of Arkitera, Turkey’s premier architectural website

- AKM staff: building director, ensemble directors

- People involved in cultural productions: music, arts, theater, film

- Patrons of the AKM

- Public inhabitants of Taksim Square

- Jenny White, BU


Proposed Program

- Multiple options (what they produce: degrees of difference, social conditions)

- Additions/Subtractions

- Final Program proposal

Registers of Difference…?

Categories of evaluation…?


- Things I’ve read

- Things I intend to read


Deploying the picturesque in a cultural mode

Picturesque : Landscape = Picturesque’ : Cultural Landscape

Picturesque - an artificial/constructed mode of revealing the actuality of the environment or landscape through sensory experience in motion, especially along a serial/unfolding/undulating path that carries the viewer through layered and juxtaposed perceptions of space.

Landscape - a constructed physical environment, possibly understood in a pictorial mode as an expanse of scenery that can be seen in single view from one perspective; visible features of an area of land, including physical, living, abstract, and human elements; [an extensive mental viewpoint].

Picturesque’ – an artificial/constructed mode of revealing, through sensory experience, some of the complex and interwoven relationships and positions which, taken collectively, approximate/approach the cultural/social actuality, especially as achieved by enticing the subject through layered and juxtaposed perceptions of space which that subject would not otherwise inhabit.

Cultural Landscape - the layering/overlapping/imbrication of varied subjectivities which are multiply projected by a vast number of isolated/embedded perspectives onto particular groups that may be identified as possessing common social, physical, or temporal relationships; a subjective abstract construct; [an extensive mental viewpoint].


Humphry Repton's Picturesque

The single view is never complete. It is only by moving through space, and viewing the same thing from multiple positions, that one can acquire a richness of understanding. Deceit eventually leads to revelation.


be strategic. be-e strategic. s-t-r-a-t-e-g-i-and-c.

…interventions in places become self-constitutive acts. The state intervenes to control space, to dictate the meaning of urbanity, to shape the evolution of the public sphere, and to suppress contending ideologies. It does so by strategically placing squares, parks, statues and monuments, cultural centers, and public buildings; by monitoring architectural styles; by dictating urban design and development agendas.[1]

One quote that didn't make it into my paper for Schoeberlein's Culture Wars, but which reminds me at this juncture of the usefulness of the concrete. Although Çinar is operating more at the level of urban design here, what we do as architects is generally, I think, a similar act of strategic spatial arrangement, only deployed at a different scale. I've been wading somewhat self-indulgently (and unapologetically) in cultural theory and all that talk doesn't necessarily inspire doing or making...which is why it's safe and indulgent and warm and fuzzy. Okay, time to get strategic and specific.

[1] Alev Çinar. Modernity, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey: Bodies, Places and Time. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005: 101.


more useful things from last weekend

While in New Haven, I ran into R. Mehta who's in the Rex studio (the program: an opera in Istanbul) and he pointed out that the Istanbul Biennial, which ends this weekend, has an exhibit "Burn it or not?" in the Ataturk Cultural Center (in Turkish, Atatürk Kültür Merkezi, hence AKM). And yes, the title of the exhibit does indeed refer to the AKM...burn it or not? Keep it or destroy it? Some excerpts:

Turkey, as one of the first non-western modern republics and a key player in the modernization of the developing world has proved to be one of the most radical, spectacular and influential cases in this direction. But, a fundamentally crucial problem is that the modernization model promoted by the Kemalist project was still a top-down imposition with some unsolvable contradictions and dilemmas inherent within the system: the quasi-military imposition of reforms, while necessary as a revolutionary tool, betrayed the principle of democracy; the nationalist ideology ran counter to its embracement of the universality of humanism, and the elite-led economic development generated social division. Populist political and religious forces have managed to recuperate and manipulate the claims from the “bottom” of the society and have used them to their own advantage.


To critically reexamine “the promise of modernity”, we have chosen some of the most significant modern edifices and venues including the AKM, İMÇ, Antrepo, santralistanbul and KAHEM. They symbolically and physically mirror the various facets and models of urban modernization in the city. In these sites, the utopian project of the republican revolution and modernization meets with the lively, ever-changing and “chaotic” reality, at once harmonious and conflicting. They are sites where the top-down vision of the modern city clashes with the bottom-up imaginations and actions promoting difference and hybridity.


Architecture has always been closely related to political projects. Public institutions are the most visible images of this relationship. This has not changed in the Modernist age, despite it being a more democratic period of history; instead, it has been enforced. But modernism is, in fact, idealist and utopian, and based on economic, political, socio-cultural and technological progress, solidarity, social justice and democracy. It envisions perfectly the ideal of a modern political utopia. Monumentality and the spectacular become the characteristic language to express such an utopian vision. Situated in Taksim Square, designed by Hayati Tabanlıoğlu and reconstructed in the early 1970s, AKM is İstanbul’s major public site of cultural and political ceremonial events and performances by the “high arts”. Its archetypal socio-modernist style makes it a perfect symbol of the utopian vision of the Turkish Republic: that of a secular, progressive and modern nation-state guided by Atatürk’s farsightedness and political power.

However, this highly interesting edifice is now facing a fatal crisis; it is now under the threat of being gentrified by the force of the neo-liberal economic power, hand in hand with the populist political power. A fancier, “post-modern”, probably corporate-like complex is being planned to replace it. Its demise and gentrification are now intensely debated. Its origin is full of irony. Newly constructed, the building was burnt down in 1970 during a performance. A few years later, after huge efforts in reconstruction and conservation, like a phoenix, the building rose from its ashes. AKM is now facing a second round of fire -this time, by the forces of globalization, a neo-liberal economy and political cynicism.

AKM, burn it or not? This is the question.


Constructing the Ineffable

I left New Haven this weekend thinking that the YSOA’s conference on sacred space (Constructing the Ineffable: Contemporary Sacred Architecture) had little relevance to my thesis. I didn’t expect it to be especially revelatory, but I had hoped that Friday’s topic, Memory and Identity, would at least give me something to think about. Now, a few days out, I’m thinking that maybe it did give me something to consider.

The weekend’s proceedings lingered over the question of what makes space sacred, with words such as “transcendent,” “beautiful,” “aesthetic,” and “symbolic” surfacing repeatedly. While I am not explicitly interested in spaces of transcendence, I am concerned with spaces that transport or translate—that re-frame the view or re-position the viewer. Everyone at the conference seemed to agree that sacred space was somehow special, apart from daily life, and that its meaning was personal yet also communal, deriving its significance in part through historical narrative. I suspect that these same terms apply to the kind of space in which I am interested—space that shifts and re-frames. At the very least, both types of space are trying to do something, to provoke an altered state, rather than merely accommodating or sheltering.

I’ve been preoccupied with the construction of identity and the way such identity is perceived. At the conference, Miroslav Volf spoke of sacred memory that shapes identity to define sacred communities, claiming that architecture becomes sacred only when it is a site of remembrance, of sacred memory. He also spoke of the manifestation of the sacred as unpredictable and experiential—its meaning found through experience and presumably thus variable based upon individual subjectivity. Interestingly, Volf framed [sacred] memory as concerned with the future (“remembering the future”) insofar as memory shapes our hopes (for the future) and hope influences memory. Sacred space is thus a space not only of experience—of the past made present—but also a horizon—the present projected to the future. Sacred memory defines horizons of expectation: Who we are; Where we belong; What we expect; and What or Whom we ultimately trust.

These four parameters, which Volf identifies as abstractions of the marks of sacred memory, are certainly connected to memory and identity. Whether or not they actually characterize the sacred doesn’t really matter to me, but I do feel the need for some other term to stand in for sacred (a term which I haven’t yet found, or at least haven’t claimed). I’m interested in space that—through its relationship to memory, to self-consciousness, to the positioning of self—looks toward Volf’s “horizons of expectation” without being explicitly sacred space itself.

Given that the manifestation of [sacred] space is unpredictable and experientially based, and that it occurs through inherently personal processes and with probably a high degree of specificity, how can it be…designed? Or, as Mark Taylor put it: if the sacred is ineffable, if it cannot be thought, then how can it be figured? His response was to suggest that perhaps it may be figured through de-figuring. I don’t know what this means, but it sounds snappy. Also snappy was his assertion that violence and the sacred are inseparable, that both provoke terror. He asked what it would mean to memorialize, to imagine, to figure absolute terror, to figure the unfigurable.

Peter Eisenman suggested one possible approach in presenting his Berlin Holocaust Memorial, noting that what is important is the memorial’s silence, its denial of image. And Taylor suggested that (rather than dwelling on the absence of sacred representation) architecture should embody the failure of representation through its gaps and fissures—through the “unavoidable imbrication of the rational and the irrational.”

Gaps and disjuncture; silence; layering; re-positioning experience; shifting perception by moving through space—these are the thoughts that I’ve come away with. Hopefully not so ineffable after all.


Imagining Taksim Square

Public spaces have been and continue to be central to the nationalist project that defines secular Turkey. Abundant images of Ataturk, the benevolent dictator who is revered as the father of modern Turkey, reinforce the triumph of the secular state over alternative ideologies (Islamist, Kurdish) and also tie local spaces into the larger space of the nation, creating a sense of national unity. While public space continues to represent the secular state, it has become a site of conflict over nationalist ideologies. The current government has co-opted public space to reproduce the image of Islamism, representing national identity as Islamic, Ottoman, and Eastern. Taksim Square in Istanbul is a prime example of contested space, both physical and cultural.

Left: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Middle: Republican Monument, Taksim Square. Right:
Taksim Square, located in the European part of Istanbul, is a major shopping district and leisure district. It is also in many ways the public face of modern Istanbul.

This public space, also known as Taksim Republic Square, was re-appropriated by the Kemalists as a new center for the city in the late 1920’s. Their choice was one of geographic and cultural distancing from Sultanahmet Square, which had been the heart of Istanbul under Ottoman rule. Home to Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque), as well as Topkapi Palace, Sultanahmet Square was so saturated with symbols of Ottoman/Islamic power that it simply could not be re-imagined as a public face for the new nation. On the other hand, Taksim Square, in European Istanbul, was largely devoid of Ottoman/Islamic presence: it housed no mosques (and in fact was surrounded by the churches and synagogues of Istanbul’s non-Muslim communities)—and, important to the psychological distancing from Sultanahmet, the grand mosques of the old city were not even visible from this hilltop site. Thus, Taksim Square became the site in1928 for the construction of the Republic Monument, a prominent marker of secular Turkish identity and ideology.

Sultanahmet Square in winter. When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, they converted the Byzantine Hagia Sophia into a mosque and built the larger Sultanahmet Mosque -the only mosque in the world with 6 minarets - across the square.

Taksim Square is a contested space. In the mid-1990’s Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist city administration came into power and controversially pushed for the construction of a mosque in the square. The need for a mosque had far more to do with the cultural landscape of Taksim and the marked, highly intentional absence of Islamic identity within that landscape than with the worship needs of local populations. Today, a strong marker of secularist identity in Taksim Square is under attack: the Ataturk Cultural Center. This cultural center and opera house is an institution of western enlightenment, and it is also by virtue of its namesake a symbol of secular nationalism. The current Islamist government has proposed the demolition of the Ataturk Cultural Center under the argument that it is both architecturally and programmatically outdated, but pro-secularist Turks are adamantly opposed to the prospect of its removal—primarily on ideological grounds. This battle is not merely a question of public space—it lies at the heart of Turkey’s identity as a nation and as a people. It is a site where cultural landscape and physical landscape are so densely layered as to be basically indistinguishable from one another.


Starting to Think About Cultural Landscapes

When we think of the physical landscape, it’s easy to conceive of it as the interplay of contrasting and complementary forms, textures, materials, and so on. It is also fairly straightforward to think of landscape as layered: we have been conditioned to think of the spatial layering of the landscape in terms of fore-, middle- and background; we are aware of the historical layering of landscape as it is uncovered through archeological investigation; and landscape is also, of course, the physical manifestation of geological layering.

Left: Sanford Robinson Gifford, A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove), 1862; Right: Geological Map of Pennsylvania, 1960

Appending the term “landscape” to a description of culture implies that the cultural is not unitary, that culture never exists as a discrete, objectifiable, or constant expression but rather results from the layering and overlapping of different elements. Even a relatively specific cultural subset could not be equally and uniformly experienced by all those who construct it. Take, for example, Pennsylvania Dutch as a cultural mode identifiable by characteristic sartorial, culinary, ideological, linguistic, and practical markers. Like any cultural mode, it is the product of those who identify themselves according to its terms and who conversely establish the parameters by which it is defined as a cultural mode. But while there are many similarities amongst those who participate in the construction of Pennsylvania Dutch culture, not all participate in cultural production to the same degree, nor do they share constant, uniform attributes of and attitudes toward said culture. They could be described as polythetically overlapping—as occupying distinctive positions but with enough overlap to identify commonly as a group. Enlarging the frame of cultural reference from the specific to the broad brings us to the concept of American culture. If the fairly specific Pennsylvania Dutch cultural mode was itself marked by a layering and overlapping of distinct positions, then the broader mode of American culture must be necessarily more densely layered and divergently experienced.

Returning to the idea of physical landscape as layered assemblage, I would suggest that the way in which one perceives a landscape reflects more upon the position of the viewer than the inherent properties or composition of the landscape itself. Experienced from different perspectives, the landscape resolves into a multiplicity of distinct views. One achieves a varied experience of landscape primarily by moving through it—that is, by engaging it both spatially and temporally. It seems clear that the perception of a cultural landscape is also entirely dependent upon the position from which it is viewed, but while most individuals have the mobility to move through the physical landscape, our relationship to cultural landscapes is basically limited by our very subjectivity, by the degree to which we are embedded in our own constructed identities.

This raises several questions:

How does one become aware of the layering of the cultural landscape? Can one view a cultural landscape from any perspective other than that of individual, embedded subjectivity? And…what role can architecture play in revealing the multiple experiences of cultural landscape?


Workshop Exercise: Method

The element under consideration:

One chapter, Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy, from Arjun Appadurai’s Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization

The means of analysis:

Reading the article with an interest in the construction of identity. Pulling out the key points of the article, summarizing Appadurai’s argument, and then filtering that argument through my specific interest in the constructedness of identity.

The evidence adduced:

Cultural material is fluid and as such, it flows across boundaries, including national boundaries. The elements comprising the flow of culture include flows of people, flows of technologies, and flows of finance, as well as flows of information and ideology. These latter two comprise (at least in part) the landscape of images, and as images, they contribute to the construction of imagined worlds—that is, of imagined or constructed identities. Although all of these flows are interwoven and overlap, they are also disjunctive. Appadurai describes these flows as being fundamental fractal, but equally importantly, they overlap polythetically. This polythetic understanding of culture is important: different modes of cultural production resemble each other and overlap while at the same time possessing unique combinations of defining characteristics. The total separation of cultural modes (or the definition of cultures primarily in opposition to each other) is thus artificial.

Appadurai writes of imagined communities, constructed ethnicities, and invented homelands, and he describes “the imagination as a social practice,” using language that emphasizes the active construction of culture and identity by both individuals and communities. The imagination is a site of cultural production; it is “a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility.” Because the imagination is situated and is specific to individuals, communities, and places, it is impossible that all fictional landscapes produced map directly onto realistic landscapes. Imagined landscapes must to some degree impact realistic landscapes, but there must also be disjunctures between the two. The idea of a realistic landscape is one that I have not fully explored and have not yet been able to define through Appadurai’s text.

LEFT: 8 March 2005 Istanbul, Turkey- International Women's Day

RIGHT: 11 Nov 2006 Istanbul, Turkey Women Protest the upcoming visit from the Pope

Appadurai suggests that the further the agent is from the world s/he imagines, the greater the likelihood that the imagined world will be “chimerical, aesthetic, even fantastic objects,” especially when judged in light of another imagined world—say, that of an adopted country. This is especially the case with deterritorialized populations who have to reproduce their identities in foreign contexts, without the reinforcement of their traditional cultural landscapes. Individuals and groups create their own (potentially conflicting) imagined worlds, and when these worlds do not correlate sufficiently, cultural conflict can arise (this point demands further study). Appadurai notes that women play an especially important role in the reproduction of culture and identity since they frequently are responsible for maintaining heritage through family. “In short,” he states, “deterritorialized communities and displaced populations, however much they may enjoy the fruits of new kinds of earning and new dispositions of capital and technology, have to play out the desires and fantasies of these new ethnoscapes, while striving to reproduce the family-as-microcosm of culture.”

The claim relevant to architecture, based on above evidence:

The cultural landscape as imagined landscape is reflected in the cultural landscape as built reality. The built environment carries strong markers of identity and can be used as a tool to reflect cultural identities—and potentially to influence the construction of cultural identity as well. Given the degree to which identity is constructed (rather than inherent), it follows that identity may be re-constructed over time, and that it is fluid, as are the processes that shape cultural interactions. It is possible, then, that architectural agents may be able to heighten disparities between various imagined cultural landscapes; to mediate those disparities and encourage more reciprocal relationships between identity constructs; or to make visible the very constructedness of those identities.



Excerpts from The Guardian, 10.11.2007

In Italy the mayors of Bologna and Genoa last month cancelled or delayed planning permission for mosques after a vociferous campaign by the far-right Northern League, one of whose leaders, Roberto Calderoli, threatened to stage a "day of pork" to offend Muslims and to take pigs to "defile" the site of the proposed mosque in Bologna.

This opposition is on a collision course with an Islam that is now the fastest-growing religion in Europe and which is clamouring for its places of worship to be given what it sees as a rightful and visible place in west European societies.

"The whole idea of having these huge mosques is about being part of Europe while having your religion," says Thijl Sunier, a Dutch anthropologist. "You have young Muslims showing their confidence, stating we are part of this society and we want our share. And you have growing anxiety among many native Europeans."

"We've got nothing against prayer rooms or mosques for the Muslims," he insists. "But a minaret is different. It's got nothing to do with religion. It's a symbol of political power."

Built form is a powerful representation of identity. In the Swiss village of Wangen, citizens are mobilizing against a Muslim meeting house that wants to erect a minaret. The meeting house (described as a nondescript house with a prayer room in the basement) is not a problem in and of itself. It’s (supposedly) fine with the mosque’s ethnically/historically Swiss neighbors for Muslims to meet and pray in their neighborhood. But they will not tolerate the 6-meter high minaret that has been approved…because it is un-Swiss. It’s a problem of representation. The majority of the village residents want their hometown to represent them and their identities which, having defined (or been defined by) the character of the village throughout living memory, they take to be quintessentially Swiss. They want no visible symbols of Islam in their hometown—or perhaps even their country—because Islam is not Swiss.

The article describes protestors’ (and legislators’) efforts to “keep [their] country culturally Christian.” Notable here is that keeping Switzerland Christian is not what matters so much as keeping it culturally Christian, which probably has less to do with religion than lifestyle. Again, it’s a problem of representation: people may believe whatever they wish to believe, but they need to blend into the perceived cultural landscape (which is in many ways a matter of visually blending in). Also of note is the implied claim to Switzerland as our country, not theirs. Muslims are the largest religious minority in Swizterland, but it is implied that they are still guests; they don’t belong there, and Switzerland is not (and never will be) their country.

Individual identity is closely linked to place. If a Swiss village no longer looks “Swiss” because its skyline is punctuated by a minaret, then the city’s historically Swiss residents may perceive the city as an inaccurate reflection of their personal identities, and when the city no longer reflects the individual, the individual looses some of his or her sense of place in the world. Thus, the built environment becomes a staging ground for deciding who belongs and who doesn’t.


Ideology, Cultural Politics, Intellectuals

"...analysis...must also recognize that knowledge and cultural values play a central part in maintaining and transforming social orders, and that defense of one or another value participates in this. As a result, culture and intellectual activity are inherently political (not underlain by politics, but interwoven with it), at two different levels: that of their encounter with alternative values within their own sphere, and that of their place in reproducing society."

"Political struggles are quintessentially about 'the very representation of the social world...[which] can be uttered and constructed in different ways' (Bourdieu 1985: 723,726)."

Katherine Verdery (1991) in Introduction to National Ideology Under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceausecu's Romania (19, 17).


can there be a productive ambivalence?

Bernard Khoury’s early work (1998-2002) feels antagonistic yet it is largely ambivalent. Khoury is obsessed with the willful amnesia of elite post-war Beirut, and his buildings are redolent with reminders of the conflicted past. But despite being hung up on the negation of social memory, he doesn’t really want to do anything other than remind people that memory is still present.

B018 Beirut, Lebanon

His formal language speaks sharply of violence and power in B018, a subterranean club on the site of the French quarantine (which could easily be mistaken for an underground bunker or missile silo) and decay in Centrale, a chichi restaurant near the demarcation line between east and west Beirut (the crumbling historical façade of which he encases in steel mesh), and yet he does not admonish the socialites who frequent these places for having forgotten their city’s recent troubled past. His buildings don’t have a didactic imperative, they simply state what he sees as blunt realities: this is a site of former violence, this is the product of decay, and you are seeking pleasure in this place.

What, then, do these projects actually produce? Given their popularity as absurdly decadent social venues for the well-heeled of Beirut, it would seem that these buildings do not make their inhabitants uncomfortable. Do they even cause people to pause and reflect? And are they any more or less successful if they do? Khoury’s projects are mirrors on the current social climate in Beirut—they reflect an unapologetic culture of consumption while referencing the political and social backdrop against which pleasure now occurs. As Khoury notes, his projects “are not moralistic projects; they are not about what is good or what is bad. They are about the harshness and sometimes the beauty of those realities.” Khoury’s architecture, as I have already stated, feels very antagonistic to me (this is why I like it). And yet it does not antagonize. Is that good or bad? I’m leaning toward the latter.

In a recent interview in Metropolis (Jul/Aug 07), Khoury says of his work:
"My projects are not manifestos. They take a very specific situation and try to dig into that situation, push and reinterpret it, and flip around these realities in the most pertinent way. But I am not being cynical here, because I think each of these projects has a dose of pleasure in them and that pleasure is extremely important to me."

10/5: After talking with T. Hyde this morning, I think my earlier statement requires an acknowledgment that ambivalence is, at the very least, an active stance in Khoury's case. I took Khoury's lack of commentary as, perhaps, a lack of theorization. One of the few questions he explicitly asks regarding/through his architecture is 'what does it mean to rebuild?.' It may be that in the face of on-going strife in Beirut, this question can't be answered. Khoury's ambivalent response is an active deferral that maintains the possibility of change. TH pointed out that the program--the bar--is the very image of deferral, of biding one's time, glass of champagne in hand...

draft statement

Religious Space and Social Identity

I find myself fascinated with extremes of religion and the galvanic power of such extremity to drive politics and mass movements in multiple forms. I’m not interested in religious space as worship space—the architecture of the church or mosque. I’m interested in [religious] space as a medium of social coherence. This space is not necessarily local in nature; it may not be a place in the physical, concrete sense.

While group identity transcends local space—groups can coalesce across great distances via mass media; they can be fluctuating and mobile—place (and space) remains (or may remain) highly important to the construction and maintenance of identity. But what role does space actually play? How does space heighten/moderate/inform social identity? My primary interest is in collective identity, and while religious identity does not have to be a part of a collective social identity, it very often is.

Religious Terrorism as social expression

Consider identity politics mobilized at a global scale but with local impact: terrorism is a manifestation of identity that plays out in real space and registers itself against the built environment. Terrorism is a means of social expression that makes something visible—that (arguably) creates agency through a public, violent act. I seek to relocate agency through architecture, to make visible that which otherwise lacks voice. I believe that architecture can be transformative. I also acknowledge that architecture occurs through concrete spatial relationships. I want to develop a discursive architecture that addresses the spatial dimension of identity construction through the production of specific conditions.

Istanbul and its identity crisis

I am planning to draw on Istanbul as a site for my thesis investigation. The underlying theme of my interest is social identity, so often characterized by difference. Group identity remains a persistent question for Istanbul and its residents, and often seems to present itself in dual terms: past and present, east and west, religious and secular, rural and cosmopolitan, conservative and liberal. The impulse to define identity based on otherness is inherently problematic for a city that is, literally, both European and Asian.

The idea of common identity, of Turkishness, has been present in Turkey since its forming and was a necessary construction allowing it to emerge as a modern nation state. Today the constructed identity of the Turk is increasingly challenged. It is my goal to mobilize architecture in the construction and acocmodation of multiple identities.


Culture Wars readings

"As David Edwards has pointed out, establishing the other as fanatical denies him or her moral status, since he or she exists beyond the realm of rationality, and gives those whose moral superiority is thus affirmed a free hand in defending their interests."

from Khalid, Adeeb. (1998) Chapter 2: "The making of a colonial society" in The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia , p.52. Berkeley: University of California Press.

"...borderlands are not just arenas of civilizational struggles, of semiotic inequality, that produce and reflect relations of power where the colonizer seeks to define and program the borderland as 'other' and 'same' and, as Ashis Nandy argues, its inhabitants as an 'intimate enemy,' but are sites subject to peculiar social contradictions and interactions. THese spawn, by a kind of local magic, the possibility of a new community and a subtle, not always conscious, but genuine resistance to colonial situations."

from Lazzerini, Edward J. (1997) "Local accommodation and resistance to colonialism in nineteenth-century Crimea," in D.R. Brower and E.J. Lazzerini, eds: Russia's Orient: Imperial Borderlands and Peoples, 1700-1917 , p. 172. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.


"Where there is consumption, there is pleasure, and where there is pleasure, there is agency."
Appadurai MaL-7

Shopping, terrorism, architecture. Take your pick.

"...global processes involving mobile texts and migrant audiences create implosive events that fold global pressures into small, already politicized arenas, producing locality in new, globalized ways."

Appadurai MaL-9

"...concerned not with forms/objects, but with shaping the conditions under which forms or objects emerge..."
M. Speaks,
Any 24:44-47