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Art Nouveau Architecture in Istanbul

Art Nouveau BuildungUnder European influence Art Nouveau began to make an impression on the architecture of the Ottoman capital of Istanbul in the second half of the 19th century, and until the mid-1920s widely affected the appearance of the city.

It inspired the Turkish National Architecture movement, and even today its traces persist as one of the defining characteristics of those decades. Although Art Nouveau was at first regarded by the intellectuals of the time as a pretentious affectation imported from Europe, the movement had soon integrated with Turkey's own architectural tradition.

Art Nouveau was first introduced to Istanbul by the Italian architect Raimondo d'Aronco, and his designs reveal that he drew freely on Byzantine and Ottoman decoration for his inspiration. D'Aronco made creative use of the forms and motifs of Islamic architecture to create modern buildings for the city. Art Nouveau architecture in Istanbul is characterised not only by structural forms, but in the motifs of stonework, woodwork, wrought iron and glass. To live in an Art Nouveau style building at that time was an expression of social status and modernism.

The districts of Galata and Pera (today Beyoglu), with their large shops, tramway, smartly dressed inhabitants and European way of life were where the new style of architecture first took root, and today the loveliest examples of Istanbul Art Nouveau are still to be seen on Istiklal Caddesi.

Camando steps in GalataAfter a terrible fire which destroyed much of the area, Europeans began to construct apartment buildings with shops and offices on the ground floors on the empty land. One of the lessons taught by the fire was that in such densely built up areas, stone was a safer building material. Examples of this stone architecture can still be seen in Karakoy,  and Eminonu;. For the traditional Turkish houses separated by gardens, however, no such precaution was required, and wood continued to be used for the most part. Art Nouveau was the perfect way to fulfil the desire to individualise one's house; a concept that had long since been embraced by the Ottomans. As a result the new art soon began to make itself felt in the grandiose wooden houses built along the European and Asian shores of the Bosphorus, in Uskudar, in Kadikoy, and on the island of Buyukada.

One of the principal ways in which Art Nouveau made itself felt was in the façades. These featured bay windows, balconies, loggias and other features jutting from the facade. Such articulation was particularly striking when applied to corner buildings, as we see in Flora Han, an office building in Sirkeci. In some cases, as in the Frej Apartment Building, the protruding elements were placed to either side of the facade, or with a defining element extending right across it, as we see on the Botter House on Istiklal

Caddesi. At the same time these features have distinctive decoration which makes them independent entities as well as focal points in the façade as a whole. Wooden houses often had a central bay window right above the entrance, rising for two or even three storeys to culminate in a balcony or loggia.

Stone houses, on the other hand, usually had an elaborately decorated cornice along the top storey, at which level the absence of projections or withdrawal of the facade is immediately evident. The bay window is not merely an element of the facade,

but a means of creating additional space. This use of projection from the façade to create space is a traditional feature of architecture in the Muslim countries.

Floriate motifs emphasising empty and full areas on the façade were among the most distinctive characteristics of Art Nouveau buildings, and in complete harmony with traditional Ottoman art. The most common motif of this kind is the rose, which is to be seen on the facades of many buildings in Pera and Galata. Roses as both buds and in full bloom are to be seen on Flora Han, for instance, or as entwined scrolling branches with thorns at the entrance of the Botter House. Art Nouveau transforms wood into delicate and fragile lace, and such decoration can generally be seen in the form of friezes on the houses of this period along the Bosphorus and on Buyukada. The most beautiful examples of such carved decoration are at Hidiv Kasri, the exquisite country house built for the khedive of Egypt on a hilltop overlooking the Asian shore of the Bosphorus.

Doors, bannisters, entrance gates and balconies are adorned with wrought iron. The loveliest examples of Art Nouveau stained glass are those of the Botter House and the Marquise Tea Room. Many Art Nouveau buildings still grace Istanbul today with their sensitive and graceful forms. Discovering this aspect of the urban landscape is a delight for visitors to the city.

Source: Skylife 06/2001
Claudine Stefann, architect
Photos Ibrahim Öğretmen

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