Kurtuluş "Kat Karşılığı" Residential Block
Urban Renewal Infill Typology

Office  Tornavida Design Type  New Construction · Infill Role  Concept · Design Size  2000 m² Location  Kurtuluş, Istanbul Year  2016

The dilemma of making a relevant container or background to accommodate the lives of anonymous residents is most often approached by appealing to the broadest audience in terms of taste. But in contrast with the superficial neutrality propounded in house-flipping television programs (paint the interiors "greige"!), this design intimates an elemental truth: a symbiotic relation among subjective and objective functions, materials, and the hierarchy and articulation of residential space.

The cosmopolitan neighborhood of Kurtuluş has longstanding Armenian, Greek, and Jewish as well as Turkish populations. More recently it has become host to Sub-Saharan African and Syrian communities, as well as to Western expatriates looking for a central but more affordable neighborhood than the upmarket Cihangir. It is one of few neighborhoods in Istanbul with a street grid, identifiable long and short city blocks, and somewhat standard lot sizes. These considerations and the fact that it is one of Istanbul's urban redevelopment zones make it ripe for the development of quality, reproducible residential building typologies.
Standard building lots in the Kuruluş neighborhood are long and narrow. Even when adjacent lots are combined, which is a frequent occurrence, residential buildings are conventionally divided into narrow, parallel units with rooms arranged off interminable hallways. The kitchen, bath, and a child's bedroom typically open onto dank shafts in the center of the building, while bedrooms at the rear are by necessity long and narrow. The challenge undertaken in this new typology was to offer units with the same usable square meters, more functional and pleasantly proportioned rooms, more amenable common spaces, and no so-called dark rooms (karanlık odalar).

Typical floor plan.

Formally, the design consists of two masonry cores that flank an atrium and contain the service spaces – kitchens, utilities, storage, and half baths as well as mechanical shafts. These cores function as an extended threshold through which one passes into the inner sanctum of the home. The area typically given over to various ventilation shafts and long hallways is re-appropriated to the sunlit central atrium onto which kitchens and third bedrooms open. The atrium not only offers these rooms substantive natural light and ventilation but also gives residents the opportunity to engage one another from their kitchens across the semi-private space.

Street elevation.

Because the units are located at the front and rear of the building rather than parallel to one another, the arrangement and proportions of the rooms are more functional and much less space is given over to circulation. The structural logic of the building is legible from the façade and atrium as well from inside the units. Structural columns and the masonry cores are similarly articulated, while built-in wardrobes serve as partitions dividing the space into rooms. These partitions do not fully reach the ceiling, softening the boundaries of the rooms and affirming the continuity of the overall space.
Typical floor.
Massive redevelopments like Tarlabaşı aside, urban renewal in Istanbul is generally carried out on the ground using the pervasive "flat for land basis" (kat karşılığı). The owners of the apartments in a building arrange for an often-inexpert contractor to demolish their building and rebuild a larger one in exchange for the extra units, which the contractor sells in advance to finance the construction and secure his profit. In urban renewal zones, which were ostensibly established as an earthquake mitigation measure, this system is particularly lucrative for homeowners and bush-league contractors alike on account of various financing and permitting incentives.

The opportunity to improve the function and layout of these buildings – much less their contribution to the quality of urban residential life – is rarely pursued by contractors that undertake such redevelopment projects. The value advertised to their clients is merely structural soundness and the newness of the materials and the façade, which are themselves low-end. Indeed, the inefficient plans of existing buildings are often directly reproduced on the same sites, and the quality of the spaces often decreases as columns and sheer walls are widened and ceiling heights are lowered to accommodate additional floors and apartments.
Plan of Lüeci Hendick 54 in Galata (left) which exemplifies the typology on which the less glamorous and less spacious apartment buildings being thrown up by petty contractors are based. A typical, newly-constructed building in Kurtuluş (right) features an EPS façade with classical profiles aplenty, polished aluminum balustrades, PVC windows laminated with wood-patterned film, and polished granite-like tile on the ground floor. Note the air conditioner on the glass balcony. Clearly a better typology is warranted.
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