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Short history of landscape architecture in Turkey

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Landscape architecture in Turkey today, is bearing the load of a complicated perception of gardens that originates from the past. This complicated perception of gardens has ‘changed’ over time but not in a profound way. Until the Reorganization (Tanzimat in Turkish), which initiated the Westernization movement in Turkey in the second half of the 19th century (1839-1876), designed public-urban areas didn’t exist in Ottoman cities. Instead, Ottomans were looking for the natural potential of a place and put this to good use. For instance, the square is a place for socializing on a neighborhood or village scale. A fountain would not be built or a plane tree would not be planted in the middle of the square in order to create public space, but instead the Ottomans looked for a spot where the conditions would be right for a square to ‘emerge’. Because where a plane tree is, is a square; a plane tree is a sign for a spring so there would already be a fountain. This approach also includes the similar perception of landscape for resorts and parks, as well as graveyards. The houses of the Istanbul aristocracy, especially the gardens of yali (wooden mansions lining the Bosphorus) are located on an emphasized topography. Again, these terraced gardens exist and naturally occurring terraces transformed into a rational geometry. In other words, these gardens are natural, but rethought and reshaped by human intelligence. The summer palaces (or the hunting seats) in the Ottoman Empire were naturalistic long before English gardens became popular. This perception of gardens was lost in the late Baroque era. In the Baroque period, an axial perception of gardens with an ornamental approach started to be applied, especially at palaces, and later the aristocracy followed. Gardeners, who mainly came from Italy and France, played an important role in the creation of a new landscape perception in Turkey. Presumably, the relation between the Netherlands and the Ottoman Empire based on tulip-trade was also established in these years. In this period, sub-tropical plants entered the gardens in Turkey and many of these survive until today, showing a great microclimatic adaptation (European fan palm, magnolia, bamboo, pine, cypress etc.). They became symbolic plants and their depiction on cultural artifacts may carry specific cultural meanings.

The Republican period

In the Republican period, in the years following WWII, Turkey hosted important designers and planners from all over the world, and it was in this period that modern concepts of planning and landscape architecture entered Turkey. Italian gardeners who were invited to the country by Ataturk led the establishment of a gardeners’ force mainly consisting of Albanian gardeners. The Istanbul University specialized in forestry, and the Ankara University in agriculture thanks to German academicians. Ankara University’s Faculty of Agriculture pioneered in the field of landscape architecture. Sadri Aran from Ankara University represents the first generation of landscape architects. Aran is the representative of the modern landscape planning and gardening concepts which come from the German speaking world. His assistants Günel Akdoğan and Yüksel Öztan then followed in his footsteps and became masters of landscape architecture. They contributed greatly to the discipline academically, as well as practically. In Istanbul, Besaret Pamay showed a special effort to establish a landscape perception with a more naive loyalty than his colleagues; he even helped when Günel Akdoğan came to Istanbul. Thus, the Istanbul style evolved around Günel Akdoğan and the Ankara style around Yüksel Öztan. The academicians and landscape architects educated by these pioneers are today working at numerous universities in Turkey. The author of this webtext, Deniz Aslan, had the opportunity to work with him for a long time, and would like to emphasize Günel Akdoğan’s special importance. Influenced by Burle Marx, Akdoğan traveled every inch of Europe as well as Turkey and developed vital thoughts. He was among the very first landscape architects who said aloud that landscape architecture education should be included within faculties of architecture. For years, he influenced the architects he worked with and made great efforts to create the awareness that landscape architecture was far beyond planting.

Landscape architecture today

After these masters, the landscape architecture in Turkey is focused on mere pattern, without any notion of design and theory. This resulted in a stereotype landscape architecture in Turkey. Today, the Dutch experience seems to be a qualified resource for the young landscape architects as Ata Turak, Arzu Nuhoğlu, and Oktan Nalbantoğlu, who are shaking this settled structure and creating agendas with both their academic and practical products, serving to regenerate the landscape architecture. Landscape architecture is a field which is able to give extremely practical results in the context of collaboration. Collaboration with the Netherlands will help to come to important conclusions for the new generation of landscape architects in Turkey.