Contextualizing the Importance of the Urban Public Interior Within Istanbul’s Complex Culture

Presented by: Alison Snyder

The mega-city of Istanbul, Turkey has a diverse set of cultures that stem from the intermingling of local and global factors and a composite of traditions and customs built up over millennia. The city continues to transform, and visualizing the urban complexities and paradoxes are clear when contrasting Istanbul’s ancient Old City with the strikingly modern district of Beyoglu, long famous for its progressive and international inclusiveness that began when it was settled as a merchant colony in the 14th century (Mansel: 1998). As Beyoglu expanded, its openness to other cultures and ideas grew, and at the height of its real estate development in the late 19th to mid 20th centuries, the many attitudes were readily expressed through designs that incorporated new external and internal architectural technologies and eclectic styles, thus contributing to Istanbul’s growing secular public spaces. A multi-use building type constructed of up to eight stories located on irregular and narrow parcels of land dominated the development, and became known as a passage. This spatial type drew from both the ancient eastern cellular-formed markets or suqs, and the western early 19th century glazed shopping arcades that began in Paris (Geist: 1983). The passage contains an innovatively constructed urban public interior that ingeniously links avenue to side street by forming a third internal street space (Goad: 1906; Pinon: 1997; Author: 2011). Distinguishing the Turkish passage are the varied spatial arrangements that hold and support a wide array of Beyoglu’s activities including many scales of commerce, galleries, cinema, theatres, offices, residences and cafes. Passages may be understood as a series of destinations offering respite from the city, as well as a set of liminal and anonymous experiences that signify individual and collective freedoms (Benjamin: 1940/1999; de Certeau: 1984). Yet their use and distinction in the district, have been affected by social, economic and political issues (Aksoy/Enlil: 2010; Adanali: 2011; Author: 2015). In this paper, the author argues that the Beyoglu passage has become a key indicator of the cultural shifts taking place in the city today. Surrounding the mile long Istiklal Avenue (the pedestrian spine of Beyoglu) are approximately twenty-one passages in various states of use and adaptive reuse, as well as disuse and closure. They are the subject of a decade long field work study that documents these structures as well as chronicles their change, as the city also changes. To understand these interior-oriented places and their part in defining the contemporary city, reading the work of social theorists, historians, urbanists, philosophers and designers becomes useful since Istanbul and its spaces, defies typical descriptions. Edward Soja’s (2000) term the “post-metropolis,” is helpful as his “thirdspace” concept says cities must be studied from a “simultaneously spatial, social, and historical perspective” (p. xiv). And, philosopher Jean Baudrillard with architect Jean Nouvel (2002) discussed “a building serves as a witness to a bygone era…[it] has reached this dimension of “bearing witness” (p. 65). A small case-study of four passages will show how this public type is an indicator of both local and international growth yet may also be slowly dying public at the same time.


  • Benjamin, W. (1999). Passagewerken/The Arcades Project. Cambridge: Harvard University.
  • Geist, J. (1983). Arcades The History of a Building Type. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Gül, M. (2009). The Emergence of Modern Istanbul: Transformation and Modernisation of a City, New York: Tauris Academic Studies.
  • Baudrillard, J. & Nouvel, J. (2002). The Singular Objects of Architecture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Soja, E. (2000). Postmetropolis Critical Studies of Cities and Regions. Oxford/Malden, MA: Blackwell.
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