Sidney Opera building and Çamlıca mosque by Veysel Ayhan

July 27, 2012, Friday/ 17:53:00

Mimar Sinan lived in the brightest period of the Ottoman Empire. He built magnificent buildings andcreated artistic designs that have remained symbols of aesthetic genius and artistic intelligence.

 Like many things, architecture also declined as the Ottoman Empire began to collapse. The subsequent architectural accounts were simple imitations of past works. This became even worse in the republican era due to a lack of quality and aesthetic consideration. Many mosques that replicated major Ottoman work were built during this period. Ordinary people decided on the architectural design of some of these mosques. Some donors of these mosques asked for the construction of taller minarets, which led to the building of many new structures that were copies of Ottoman work, but lacked the aesthetic quality. (It is a whole different matter that regardless of how they were built, the mosques hold spirituality.)

There is now similar danger in respect to the Çamlıca Mosque project. Sadly, it isn’t a project that deserves the praises of the prime minister who said the mosque would add value to İstanbul and become the new symbol of the city. Above all, it was wrong to hold the competition for design proposals for the project among domestic architects only. The call for proposals should have been international. The project schedule announced in the newspapers gave the impression that was devised for the construction of a mass block of housing units. The announcement gives the sense of urgency. The deadline sent a message, “Don’t you dare make a project proposal; we have already made our mind.” It is not possible to prepare for such a project over the course of a single summer. If you are talking about drafting and then beginning construction over the course of one month, then the mosque will only be slightly more brilliant than the Mimar Sinan Mosque that was unveiled in Ataşehir very recently.

Of course, it may not be proper to compare a mosque to an Opera building; however, on the eve of such a project, it is necessary to recall the construction process of the Sydney Opera House. The New South Wales government in Australia decided to construct an opera building that would be the symbol of Sydney. The premier of New South Wales, Joseph Cahill held an international competition where foreign architects were also welcome to join. A total of 933 project proposals from 32 countries were submitted within one year from the commencement of the international competition. Only 222 of the proposals made it to the final stage. The final projects were reviewed by an independent jury of influential and renowned architects. And the project proposed by young Danish architect Jorn Utzon was picked unanimously by the jury members.

Utzon was a 38-year old brilliant young architect who had won 20 architectural awards. He said he worked on the project for more than 6 months before submitting a proposal. He said he was inspired by the things in nature, and modeled structures using this inspiration. He further reviewed and evaluated how the sunshine and its reflection throughout the day impacts places. After a lengthy and tough process, he finished a fantastic and impressive project, akin to a poem, which looked like a huge swan ready to take off over the waters of the port. The construction cost $100 million and it took many years to complete. When finished, it’s magnificence fascinated visitors. Some hold that the sun appreciates the beauty of its shine by the elegance of the reflections on the building. For some, the shadow of the building represents the shadows of clouds down on earth and some liken the walls of the building to a bird with glass-made wings. The Sydney Orchestra sits in a large closed area, which is 183 meters in length and 11 meters in width, and hosts 5 large building including the Philharmonic Chorus and theater rooms. The opera building has attracted a great deal of attention in the world. At least 300,000 tourists pay a visit and 1.3 million people attend the activities and shows in the building every year. The Sydney Opera House earned the Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious award in the field of architecture, for Utzon in 2003. The building was included in the list of UNESCO world culture heritage in 2007. The Eiffel Tower symbolizes Paris and the Statute of Liberty symbolizes New York. If it is to serve as a symbol of İstanbul, the mosque that will be built in Çamlıca should be a huge complex including a mosque, training area and library, but what is of utmost importance is that 21st century technical advances should be harnessed to the fullest extent in its building and design. But elements like the minarets and tombs should not be binding in its new architecture. There is no stipulated form of architecture in Islamic terms. Why should we not consider building a model with a convertible tomb or a Koran-like mosque on Çamlıca hill? Hundreds of architects should do some thinking without being restricted by the patterns of classical architecture. Rural architecture and parochial design should be set aside. The final work should be a “crazy project.” It should host hundreds of activities and attract thousands of domestic and international visitors every year and most importantly serve as a huge complex that will be a source of pride for Turkey. If this is not done and the existing mosques are imitated, this will bother the soul of Mimar Sinan. In conclusion, we should either produce the iPad of architecture or convert the Çamlıca hill into a botanic garden.