Serviced Apartments in Balat
Byzantine Hospitality

Office  Tornavida Design Type  Renovation · Historic Preservation Role  Design Client  Ata Dilmen Size  3 × 22 m² Location  Balat, Istanbul Year  2013

These short-stay apartments in Balat occupy a row of Byzantine barrel vaults facing the Golden Horn which at the time of Byzantine Constantinople would have stood just inside the Balat Kapı (Kynegos Gate, Πύλη τοῦ Κυνηγοῦ) leading to the Imperial Palace of Blachernae. They are at the meeting point of Eski Kasaplar Sokak and Leblebiciler Sokak at the threshold of the Çıfıt Çarşısı arcade. The first of the spaces to be secured by the client (on the left) had been home to an acclaimed confectionery for the previous 130 years.

The space was leased without a specific purpose in mind, so the work included collaboration with the client to determine an appropriate use for the space. The area is both a popular gathering spot among a set of local, neo-Bohemian artists, craftspeople, and performers as well as among Western tourists seeking out an authentic old Istanbul neighborhood. The ground floors of the spaces are left largely un-programmed and can potentially be adjoined for impromptu or planned events, meetings, or exhibitions. At other times the individual spaces can be let out to artists-in-residence or to tourists.
In their thousand-year history, these vaults have likely been used as stables, workshops, stores, offices, and – given their shape and proximity to the shore – perhaps even as boat-building ateliers. In this dynamic tradition, the current design rejects the suspension of architecture in history. The historical stone and brick shell and the modern architectural interventions (necessitated by living, contemporary, functional requirements) are kept structurally discrete, while glass façades with minimal mullions allow the Byzantine masonry shell to be appreciated from the street.

Structurally independent steel frames support the stairs and mezzanines, while false back walls hide kitchenettes, toilets, storage, and utilities. Marble slabs that were once used in the candy store to lay out and work the caramelized sugar are salvaged for the plinths at the base of the stairs as well as for the cantilevered platforms at the glass-enclosed shower and lavatory units.
Prior to a UNESCO World Heritage Centre rehabilitation project that began in 1999, the stone and brick masonry on the façades had been covered over. Only the line of the leftmost arch was visible in the stucco (left, circa 1960s). The rehabilitation (right) only included façades but no work to the interiors where concrete structures had been added to support mezzanine floors and the masonry remained plastered over.
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