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November 26, 2012, Monday

Çamlıca’s political architecture

Discussions have long been raging among intellectual circles over the construction of a new mosque on Üsküdar’s highest hill, Çamlıca, on the Anatolian side of İstanbul, which will be the biggest mosque in the city, visible from its every corner.

 Architectural visions for the mosque were recently selected from a shortlist of two runners-up, chosen through a competition of design proposals for the project, each of which was submitted with the goal of completing the full blueprint in 36 days. The project drew the ire of many columnists, who argue that the planned deadline gives a sense of urgency and that attempting to build the city’s biggest mosque is, in a way, competing with the existing mosques.

A prominent architect, Doğan Tekeli, recently said in an interview, “No architect that has respect for his or her job can attempt to complete such a big project in only 36 days.” Hürriyet’s Taha Akyol says Tekeli’s remark sums up the problems surrounding the Çamlıca Mosque project. If you give 36 days to draw up the plans and several months to realize them, you will only end up with a pile of armored concrete. He further calls the aim of building a magnificently large building like that of the Ottoman-era mosques an “imitation,” and making it even bigger by adding a planned clock tower “arrogance.”

Akyol recalls that there is no formula that the larger a mosque is, the better it is or the more skillful its architect is. The best example is the chief Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan, who completed many large and majestic mosques like the Süleiman Mosque, but whose skill can also be recognized in his relatively smaller, modest but still splendid Kadırga Sokullu Mosque. Why can’t there be an elegant, “modest but still splendid” mosque on one of İstanbul’s highest and greenest hills, Çamlıca, rather than a large mosque that dares to compete with the mosques built for the sultans of the Ottoman era? There can only be a political answer to this, not an aesthetic one, he notes.

Taraf’s Cihan Aktaş agrees with Akyol and says it is a political decision to build such a large mosque, which aims to leave the current rulers’ mark on the city’s shape. Aktaş sees it as both politically and architecturally misguided. She argues rather for a small-scale and more functional mosque that is more suitable to today’s needs as well as the city structure.

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