Plans voiced by PM for mall at new Taksim barracks draw criticisms

Plans voiced by PM for mall at new Taksim barracks draw criticisms

A group of people protesting Prime Minister Erdoğan's announcement that new barracks which will be rebuilt over a park in Taksim Square as part of a government project will become a shopping mall and a residential area. (Photo: AA)

April 30, 2013, Tuesday/ 16:49:00/ İPEK ÜZÜM

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's announcement that new barracks which will be rebuilt over a park in Taksim Square as part of a government project will become a shopping mall and a residential area has drawn much criticism from city planners.

Prime Minister Erdoğan, who attended his party's provincial and district chairmen meeting at a hotel in Kızılcahamam on Monday, discussed some government projects which are currently being carried out or are planned to be launched in İstanbul.

He defended various government projects that have been criticized by environmentalists and city planners, such as the controversial Taksim project in which the trees in a park in İstanbul's Taksim Square will be felled and replaced with military barracks -- which once existed in the area -- which will become a shopping mall and a residential area. He said that residential and office buildings, hotels and a shopping mall would likely be housed within the barracks to be rebuilt in Taksim.

When the project for the reconstruction of the Topçu Barracks was first revealed to the public last year, the government asserted that no shopping mall would be included in the barracks to be constructed. In his interview with the A Haber news TV station in February, İstanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş stated, in response to various criticisms voiced by the public, that no shopping mall would be constructed within the building of the barracks. “We [the municipality] plan to turn the barracks into a huge cultural center and an art gallery when the construction of the barracks is completed,” he had stated.

Erdoğan's announcement drew criticisms from city planners who oppose the reconstruction of the barracks at Taksim Square.

Tayfun Kahraman from the İstanbul office of the Chamber of Urban Planners (ŞPO) -- part of the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects' Chambers (TMMOB) -- told Today's Zaman that the government is trying to rebuild a historic building which was demolished by the authorities in 1940 but it will just be a replica. “Currently a large park [Gezi Park] stands in place of that demolished historic building. It is the only park in the area. If this park is demolished and replaced by a concrete building, Taksim Square will lose its key characteristics. We oppose the construction of any building at the square regardless of the purpose of that building,” Kahraman stated.

The Taksim pedestrian project, approved by the government in February 2012, includes the construction of replicas of previously demolished buildings in the famous Taksim Square of İstanbul's Beyoğlu district. One of these buildings is the historic Topçu Barracks, a 35,000-square-meter building that was demolished by the İstanbul authorities in 1940. It will be rebuilt at what is now Gezi Park, the site of the original Ottoman barracks. The ministry had previously announced that part of the gardens of Gezi Park would be protected with the construction of the barracks because the structure would limit public access to it.

Stating that the Marmaray rail project had to be stalled for four years because archeological finds were discovered during its construction, Erdoğan accused those slowing down projects like Marmaray because of “some pottery items” of being ideological but not giving any importance to the barracks. Marmaray is a government project currently under construction to connect Europe and Asia with a railway line under the Bosporus.

Criticizing Erdoğan's remarks, Kahraman stated that the artifacts which were classified by the prime minister as pots and pans are historic evidence which will shed light on the history of the world and are hence very valuable, whereas “the building planned to be rebuilt at Taksim Square will just be a replica of the historic building demolished in 1940.”

Mücella Yapıcı of the Greater İstanbul branch of the Chamber of Architects also spoke critically of the plans to rebuild the Topçu Barracks in an interview with Today's Zaman. “It doesn't matter if the barracks will be turned into a shopping mall, a cultural center, an art gallery or a university -- of course among all these choices, a mall is the worst one -- we oppose the demolition of Gezi Park, which is of symbolic importance to the residents of Taksim, and the reconstruction of a replica of a historic barracks demolished a long time ago. The government does not have the right to demolish a park, which is the only green area in the neighborhood, just to construct a replica building that is planned to be used as a shopping center, according to what the prime minister says,” Yapıcı stated.

Although the reconstruction of the Artillery Barracks at Gezi Park was rejected by the İstanbul Regional Board of Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets in January on the grounds that it would damage Taksim's Gezi Park, the High Commission for the Protection of Natural Assets overturned this decision and approved the rebuilding of the barracks at Gezi Park on Feb. 7.

The ŞPO and the Chamber of Architects subsequently filed a complaint with the İstanbul 4th Administrative Court last week seeking an overturning of the decision of the high commission.

Commenting on this, Yapıcı further stated, “The demolition of Gezi Park and the rebuilding of the barracks cannot be accepted, and thus we have turned to the justice system to stop the project.”

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