In September I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey for ten days with a group of 20 architecture and urban planning students through an experimental design course offered at the University of Michigan's Taubman College. Our professor has developed a working relationship with Istanbul over the last 7 years, bringing in design students from Taubman College over seas to offer suggestions to the urban design challenges of Istanbul.
Our studio prompt:
This studio/workshop will explore design and development opportunities in one of the world’s great cities, Istanbul. Confronting issues of crowding, pollution and unsafe building conditions, sponsors from Istanbul have asked the studio/workshop to postulate alternatives to current practices of design and development toward a more equitable, sustainable and resilient city.
The driving force of this particular trip was how we could address earthquake mitigation strategies through urban design. An earthquake, of a 7.0 magnitude or higher, is expected to hit Turkey in the next decade or two. The last one hit in 1999, causing over $6 Billion dollars in damage, and killing an estimated 20,000-30,000 people in its wake. Previously, there were no precautionary measures or emergency procedures for dealing with earthquakes in Istanbul. Times are changing, and this is now a top priority for the city.
As with most developing countries, much of their development and expansion has occurred rapidly and in the last 30 years. This lead to ad-hoc conglomerations of housing and hastily built structures. The dominant building material in Istanbul is concrete, as it is easily available, relatively low in cost, and durability. However, concrete is only strong in compression, but weak in tension. Without proper reinforcements, a magnitude 7.0+ earthquake would compromise its structure.
A prevalent housing style in Istanbul is the gecekondu, meaning "built overnight." If you can construct a shelter with a roof on it in one night, you earn the right to use the house and the property it is built it on. Once this is established, the government cannot tear it down. Over the course of years, gecekondu areas are improved and the houses get electricity and water. Until then, the people are at the mercy of natural circumstances like rain and storms, and of course - earthquakes.
So, what is our studio doing to address this problem?
For starters, we are looking at some of the other issues plaguing Istanbul, and how they might factor into our proposed designs for specific neighborhoods in the city. As the unofficial population count continues to rise toward 15 million people in Istanbul, traffic congestion is increasingly difficult to mitigate. The city has made moves to improve public transit options through the Marmaray Project that started back in 1985. As part of this project, Istanbul is has just completed its first underwater tunnel to bridge the European and Asian side, allowing for both automobile and light rail traffic (but not without criticism). Additionally, a third bridge across the Bosphorus is currently under construction in an attempt to reduce congestion. Not only will the new bridge provide cars with another route across the beautiful divide, but it will also accommodate the expansion of the light rail line. Criticisms of this bridge is that it will worse, not improve, traffic congestion in the city, as well as the environmental impacts the new construction will have on the little green space that remains in Istanbul.
In addition to traffic congestion, a lack of open space and green space seems to be a pressing need, especially in light of a looming earthquake. Many of the neighborhoods we saw were lively, dense areas of activity made of the ad-hoc concrete structures mentioned earlier. In the event of an earthquake, there is almost no where to go to avoid collapsing concrete structures. A primary focus moving forward will be how we can improve housing types, increase green space for refuge and water mitigation, but also how we can improve circulation around such intense topography through out sites.
We are roughly halfway in the design process for these four sites we are addressing. I look forward to seeing how they develop and encourage you to check back in late December for project updates.