Design intervention

Making a city livable is a collective effort between people who have everyone’s best interest in mind. Istanbul might not top the quality of life indexes yet, but change is already underway in Kadıköy.

 text by Marzena Romanowska for BRIDGE | All photos courtesy of TAK


Although there is no adequate scale of measurement for such things, Istanbul’s residents seem to understand the importance of individual concern about public space and value dialogue about its development more than ever before. This growing awareness and an approach to planning that can meet the challenges of rapid growth are crucial for an aspiring international metropolis.

“Turkey is in a process of regeneration, but nobody is discussing the quality of life. This is why we proposed the establishment of TAK,” says Sıla Akalp, urban planner for private consultancy company Kentsel Strateji. Akalp is one of the spiritus movens of Design Atelier Kadıköy, known in Turkish as Tasarim Atölyesi Kadıköy (TAK). The new organization is Istanbul’s primary example of an institutionalized public-private partnership operating as an incubator for ideas concerning public spaces. It was established in the Kadıköy district of Istanbul through the collaboration of the local municipality, the Foundation for the Protection and Promotion of the Environment and Cultural Heritage (ÇEKÜL) and Kentsel Strateji.

“Kadıköy is one of the best neighborhoods to start such a project from,“ says Ömer Kanıpak, architect and TAK coordinator. According to Kanıpak, the district’s residents have a highly cultivated understanding of urban culture, which fosters a critical attitude towards municipality initiatives, particularly when combined with higher incomes and levels of education. “The level of criticism is very high, but so is the [intensity of the] dialogue.”

Kanıpak believes that the social awareness of Kadıköy residents makes them more likely to actively participate in programs organized by an organization such as TAK. In addition to working with and creating new job opportunities for experienced designers, TAK hopes to engage the local community in projects, primarily through discussion panels and workshops. “We’re creating in people’s minds awareness of their physical environment,” Kanıpak says. The development of projects is left to professionals, but the residents of Kadıköy have the chance to discuss the district’s most urgent problems and raise their concerns during public meetings.

One typical feature of urban planning in Turkey has been the participation of external actors, such as academics and professionals not directly affiliated with the municipality, in projects initiated and managed exclusively by local administrations. TAK represents the first time an NGO and a private institution have created a permanent, multi-leveled platform of cooperation, which is further bolstered by the presence of the support of the municipality. This fully integrated approach gives TAK confidence that plans will be thoroughly discussed and adapted from the beginning, securing the smooth execution and public support of each plan.


 TAK office in Kadıköy


Historic establishment

The TAK office is located in the former Özen Cinema in Yeldeğirmeni, Kadıköy. There was discussion as to a new purpose for the historic building while it was under restoration by the municipality. The plan for a design studio put forth by the three founding partners replaced an earlier idea to start a cultural center.

“Together they decided that it would be more practical to make a design office where we can produce projects for the benefit of Kadıköy,” Kanıpak explained. Although the municipality provided the office space and covers the operating expenses, TAK runs independently, managed by all of the founding partners. Kentsel Strateji was previously involved in the development of similar organizations, such as the DESTEK Platform for volunteer designers or Studio 33 for planning and architecture students. Currently the partners aim to bring designers and local administrations together. “We are testing this model, which should be an example for other municipalities in Istanbul and other cities in Anatolia,” Akalp explained.

Though a relatively new venture established in April 2013, TAK has already started work on a number of projects to develop Kadıköy. They are divided between design, participation and research initiatives, in line with the organization’s main principles. The first group includes “space interventions” on 10 corners around the neighborhoods of Rasimpaşa, Osmanağa and Caferağa, as well as strategic design projects on three different scales, which aim to improve planning within blocks, neighborhoods and, eventually, the district as a whole. Research projects aim to create an audio-visual archive of the changing spaces in Moda and bazaars in the center of Kadıköy, as well as various thematic maps of the area. Initial results are expected to be presented to the public in late fall and early winter 2013 through exhibitions and the TAK Design Festival.

In many countries urban design projects are realized in accordance with the city’s design guidelines. Turkey lacks such guidelines. Developing a set of visual principles and implementing them in new projects and existing spaces is the subject of one of TAK’s current programs. The plan aims to emphasize historical and cultural continuity in distinctive spaces, while ensuring a rational strategy for future improvements. “We’re going to develop this concept,” Kanıpak explained. “Hopefully in time other municipalities will start implementing such guidelines, too.”

To learn more about how you can get involved in improving quality of life in Kadıköy, visit TAK’s website.

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