So this post is more of a thought piece, an attempt to pin down my thoughts on the architecture and infrastructure of modern Istanbul. As Nico mentioned in the blog below, I spent the morning in the Embassy of Tajikistan in İstanbul, which is hidden away in a corner of Florya, a suburb of Istanbul close to Atatürk Airport. En route, I passed by the monumental İstanbul Dünya Ticaret Merkezi, or Istanbul World Trade Centre. At the same time, Nico and Ant were clambering over another monumental building, the old town walls of Constantinople. Public infrastructure has a long history in Istanbul, and this got me thinking about what connected the old and new in Istanbul, a city which is changing fast.
Big buildings of public significance have long played a role in displays of state power in Istanbul. This is clear in the visual rhetoric of a building such as the Süleymaniye Camii, a magnificent imperial mosque built by the master architect Sinan for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. If the paramount position of the Ottoman Sultans was displayed in prominent mosques (as wikipedia informed me, only Sultans were allowed to build four minarets) then that of the contemporary Government takes a different form. The İstanbul Dünya Ticaret Merkezi, which is owned by a consortium of governmental organisations and trade associations, is a visual marker of the state’s claim to govern the economy well. The Trade Centre is only one of a huge number of government building projects to have occurred in the last few decades. If the right to rule the Ottoman Empire was linked to closeness to God as Caliph, then in contemporary Turkey it is oversight of the economy which is most important.
You could compare it to the steel towers of Canary Wharf, a symbol of corporate power in London. Turkey has seen years of economic growth, of course, while the UK has faltered. Both countries have seen mass protest in recent years over the state of the economy, and both have been largely ineffective. The power of large financial commercial and institutions, clearly written into the geography of London, is increasingly visible in Istanbul. The claim of the government to manage the economy, and through the economy to govern its subjects, is being written into them very fabric of the city.