cover page.jpg

Taksim Square Urban Design

Location: Taksim, Istanbul, Turkey
Project Team: Osman Ural, Ayşegül Ural, Deniz Başar, 
Elchan Koelijev

Taksim is the beating heart of Istanbul, with its arteries bringing life in and out of the square. It is a melting pot of various forms of life, ranging from tourists to local residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. The square is also home to many urban animals, particularly the pigeons and sparrows. It is a continuously shifting and transforming space that has been the backdrop for various sociocultural and political upheavals, and ecological grassroots resistances. In spite of Taksim’s inherent democratic character, it has unfortunately been subjugated to multiple suppressive and opaque processes over the decades that have manipulated the essence of the square. This perpetual power struggle to define Taksim has, in turn, defined what Taksim is today: a time machine. The square’s multiple layers of complexity transcends time itself. However, the public is hard to read in this narrative, and see Taksim as a space that does not only represent conflicting state ideologies of different periods. 

Taksim_Booklet_NO TEXT_004_edited.jpg

The palimpsest of ideological layers that represent what Taksim is today, was imagined and implemented by the people in positions of power who have tried to mold  Taksim to push their own vision of society. This open competition is an opportunity to call the public into the design process of this vitally important square and give the square a human touch by allowing the public to finally take part in the democratic decision making processes to implement best possible changes for the public good . It provides a democratic engagement space for  citizens to leave their own history and heritage behind; for future generations to experience safe, functional, satisfying and non-discriminatory public spaces. This is possible both  by creating individual memories, and by transforming Taksim from “space” into “place” through becoming a part of the democratic decision making processes within urban life. 

A collective and spatial memory defines the essence of Taksim, which can be characterized as a rich layering of prevailing perceptions that echo back to a time when it was not the epicenter of Istanbul. Taksim originally existed at the edge of the city as part of a peripheral settlement called Pera. It was the location of multiple graveyards for not only Turks (Ayas Pasha Cemetery), but minorities such as Armenians, Greeks, and other European inhabitants in the social inclusivity of a necropolis. These graveyards were used to transform the area into an active recreational green space for local inhabitants, laying the foundations of our public sphere interpretation of Taksim. The perception of Taksim would shift in the beginning of the 19th Century, as the Ottoman government set out to develop a modern standing army (Nizam-ı Cedid), in addition to building massive military structures to support it. This projection of power set a precedent for Taksim to become the nation’s stage where progressive changes are displayed. In 1909, these military barracks would later serve as locations for revolutionary uprisings in the struggle between absolute and constitutional monarchism.

Pg1_A.png
Pg1_B.png
Pg1_C.png
Pg1_D.png
Pg1_E.png

These events set in motion the politicization of Taksim, which would really begin with the designs of urbanist Henry Proust. The early Republican period government hired him to help fulfill their vision of a new center of Istanbul in Taksim. This was a deliberate attempt to break away from the old, more specifically the historical peninsula of Fatih and its Ottoman / Byzantine symbolism. To achieve this, Taksim was expanded as a square (to the borders we see today), the Topçu Barracks were torn down to make way for Gezi Park, and a new set of public and cultural buildings were erected around this new space. Even though some of these changes were beneficiary for the public good, such as Gezi Park radically helping and increasing women’s usage of urban green spaces and Atatürk Cultural Center being the home of many important productions for the performance arts field of the country, this was also a moment when the square’s destiny was singularly left to the governing bodies. Taksim square became a place for nationalistic rallies and holidays. The Republican Monument, designed by Pietro Canonica was the first “Touch of the Hand’’ that set into motion the set of events that would forever change Taksim into an ideological character in the national consciousness.

These events set in motion the politicization of Taksim, which would really begin with the designs of urbanist Henry Proust. The early Republican period government hired him to help fulfill their vision of a new center of Istanbul in Taksim. This was a deliberate attempt to break away from the old, more specifically the historical peninsula of Fatih and its Ottoman / Byzantine symbolism. To achieve this, Taksim was expanded as a square (to the borders we see today), the Topçu Barracks were torn down to make way for Gezi Park, and a new set of public and cultural buildings were erected around this new space. Even though some of these changes were beneficiary for the public good, such as Gezi Park radically helping and increasing women’s usage of urban green spaces and Atatürk Cultural Center being the home of many important productions for the performance arts field of the country, this was also a moment when the square’s destiny was singularly left to the governing bodies. Taksim square became a place for nationalistic rallies and holidays. The Republican Monument, designed by Pietro Canonica was the first “Touch of the Hand’’ that set into motion the set of events that would forever change Taksim into an ideological character in the national consciousness.

Pg2_A.png
Pg2_B.png
Pg2_C.png
Pg2_D.png
Pg2_E.png

Even though the design would be successful in creating an axial relationship with Gezi Park and Taksim Square, the rest of the masterplan proposal would eventually be made obsolete by urbanization methods. Prevailing modernist design principles that were popular during his time were reliant on a rigid framework that did not take into account potential future pressures of urbanity. Almost a century since Proust made his plan for Taksim and Gezi Park, we know now that urban spaces should be designed towards maximum inclusivity, flexible use and readability. The design proposed here aims to define and re-create the successful aspects of the Proust plan, while changing the problematic, rigid and non-inclusive aspects of the Proust plan. 

Side large circle images Taksim A.png
Side large circle images Taksim B.png
Side large circle images Taksim D.png

Since the creation of Taksim Square and Gezi Park, its structure would stay relatively the same. However, the ideological nature of this particular public space made it a popular place for protests and rallies, and in turn Taksim became synonymous with political violence and suppression. This toxic atmosphere of social anxiety and conflict would reach new heights in 2013, when the current national government set out to restructure Taksim in their own political image with their “Pedestrianization Project,” which aimed to not only remove Republican era symbolic structures, but also reconstruct the Topçu Barracks in its original position - on top of Gezi Park. The lack of transparency in decision making, combined with the use of urbanity to construct a political narrative, sparked massive protests that captured the public consciousness. Though these protests prevented the reconstruction of the barracks, the rest of the project moved on, resulting in Taksim becoming a unfriendly massive and chaotic void that has lost its human scale, spatial hierarchy, readability and general sense of place.

Side large circle images Taksim E.png
Side large circle images Taksim F.png
Side large circle images Taksim G.png

In order to reconnect Taksim to the city and its inhabitants, the square and the park must repair its contextual & social relationships. This can be achieved by generating a spatial and conceptual intervention in Taksim that creates a sense of ownership for the public, rather than the political establishment. To make this a reality, four goals must be met in the proposal:
 

  • Reverse the inflexibility of Prost’s 1937 Master Plan by developing flexible interaction spaces that are responsive to the human scale.

  • Enrich the hierarchy of public space by implementing various semi-open spaces where inhabitants can interact with each other in various ways.

  • Transform the outdated passive character of Gezi Park into an active green space that not only provides spaces for social interaction, but is also ecologically responsible.

  • Contribute to the general readability of the space through design to make sure that the space is memorable. Not just through major landmarks, but through minor details as well.


In addition to these goals, a general increase in a sense of ownership for the public, and not the political establishment, should be one of the guiding motivators behind both current and future interventions to Taksim. This approach could potentially bring in new and more human socio-cultural functions in a flexible approach to the structuring of public space in Taksim. Achieving this will not only bring more people to Taksim, but also foster a greater sense of multiculturalism and diversity.

Taksim_Booklet_18.jpg

One of the main causes that brought Taksim to its current situation is an overall lack of urban integrity in the systematic structure of maintaining public space in Istanbul. This can be traced back to the late Republican period, when management issues began to plague the sociocultural functions that were built in Taksim. Lack of oversight, combined with corruption and liberalized market policies of the mid 80’s, resulted in the privatization (in the form of hotels) of large sections of original park area proposed in Prost’s 1937 Master Plan, nearly completely cutting off Gezi Park from the rest of the green network. This competition is a chance to implement a new development management model that will protect public space by ensuring transparency through public participation, which is severely lacking in the current planning system. The current system is an overly rational top-down system where bureaucrats within the system dictate decisions to municipality planners in the later phases of project development. It is not until finalized plans are released for review when local stakeholders are allowed to have a say in the design, if at all, and it is usually too late as contractors have already started the process of creating the project. 

Pg3_A.png
Pg3_B.png
Pg3_C.png
Pg3_D.png
Pg3_E.png

To make this system more inclusive to all, and less top-heavy, public meetings and open workshops should be initiated as early as possible in the planning process, as input from landowners and local inhabitants can create a feedback mechanism for planners to improve their designs, which will in turn cause less legal bottlenecks for impending projects. These feedback mechanisms need to be mediated by non government organizations such as Taksim Platformu, Kentsel Strateji, Beyond Istanbul, and Kent Dedektifi, who could be there to represent and defend the interests of local inhabitants and stakeholders. These organizations should also implement a system of monitoring these government institutions so that all planning processes continue to be transparent. To increase public participation between the public and governmental planning bodies, it is recommended to enhance the effectiveness of feedback mechanisms with a set of tools that will create synergy between designers, planners, government officials, and a variety of other stakeholders.

Firstly, to create more feedback for design processes, it is recommended to implement urban design labs that allow stakeholders to communicate to designers their perspectives, which will help provide information that previously went unnoticed. Secondly, international urbanism networks could help provide the most current expertise and strategies to governmental institutions to plan relevant projects that could potentially increase people’s quality of life. Organizations that could provide such services include the Open & Agile Smart Cities (OASC) and the International Urban Development Association (INTA), who provide regular forums where knowledge is exchanged throughout various world planning bodies.

Taksim_Booklet_NO TEXT_0010_Circle Diagrams.jpg

Another major issue with Taksim is the lack of cohesion between the various spatial actors and functions that are on the site. Within this public stage area exists three different characters that work in isolation from each other. These actors are: the Republic Monument, Gezi Park, and the empty plateau of Taksim Square and Cumhuriyet Avenue created by the Pedestrian Project. The reason for this broken spatial relationship is that these characters were built over time within the preexisting urban structure of Taksim, creating boundaries that strictly defined pedestrian circulation flows. 

To repair this dysfunctional public space, a holistic concept needs to be implemented that allows for free flowing circulation paths to form, while also providing a flexible framework that is adaptable over time, depending on the future needs of Taksim. This can be achieved by using a consistent structural design element taken from a common conceptual language found on the project site, and using it as a connective tissue that ties the once isolated spatial actors together as one public space.

These elements must include within them a variety of engaging functions that would take the proposed circulation paths, and use them to activate disconnected spaces like Gezi Park.

Taksim_Booklet_NO TEXT_0010_Strat Diagrams B.jpg
Taksim_Booklet_NO TEXT_0010_Strat Diagrams A.jpg
Taksim_Booklet_18PG10.jpg
Taksim_Booklet_NO TEXT_0012_CIRCLE DIAGRAM.jpg
Taksim_Zoomin_01_Blue_with border.jpg
Taksim_Booklet_NO TEXT_0012_CIRCLE DIAGRAM.png

The flexibility of the proposed holistic structure not only means that the functions within it can change over time, but can also adjust to Taksim’s contextual programmatic relationships around the public space. The main contextual functions are based on access to the city, the park, and immediate cultural functions.

These relationships help define programmatic zones that create an internal network that is powered by the larger city network, in turn activating multiple areas of the project, especially with problem areas like Gezi Park. 

The holistic structure should allow these programmatic + contextual relationships to flourish by using the circular form of its design to promote a free flow of pedestrian circulation around them, while also fostering a human friendly scale to the public realm.

The proposal implements a blend of both permanent and temporary sociocultural functions that will not only allow for flexible use over time, but will also have a set of stable functions that are necessary for successful placemaking.

In addition to this, the free flow circulation of the proposal defines the size and shapes of the circular structure, establishing a sense that “form follows people.”

Taksim_Booklet_NO TEXT_0012_CIRCLE PROGRAM DIAGRAM.png
Taksim_Booklet_NO TEXT_0012_MACRO CIRCULATION DIAGRAM.png
Taksim_Booklet_18PG12.jpg
Side large circle WATER SQUARE COMBINED.png

Ever since privatized urbanization developments cut off Gezi Park from the green system, the overall network now exists as a fragmented structure. In order to reconnect them back together, we must look back to the past to the project area’s namesake: Maksem1. Taksim is also known for being the location of a reservoir for Istanbul’s water supply, as its strategic position on the top of a hill made it an ideal place for water distribution, as gravity would allow water flow down to the surrounding neighborhoods1. Gezi Park can reclaim this function in some capacity, but it should implement a more passive and environmentally sustainable approach that uses natural filtration systems infused into the landscape. This can be achieved by using the park as a water square, which has the potential to capture a significant amount of rainwater that can be used to maintain and hydrate many vegetative spaces within the green network.

Keeping the green network open as possible is also a matter of safety, because Istanbul is in an earthquake zone, and in times of emergency, need to use these open spaces as evacuation corridors in dense urban areas that can be deeply damaged. The project site is one of the very few large scale open spaces in the city, and has been assigned as an gathering area within Istanbul’s emergency. Therefore, it is important as designers to make sure there is access to clean drinking water in case of such an event, as it could potentially be a life saving decision for many people who rely on this space for these types of situations.

Taksim_Booklet_18_watersquare+transportation A.png
Taksim_Booklet_TRANSPORTATION DIAGRAM.png

Another strategic advantage of Taksim’s geographical location is its hyperconnectivity with transportation. In spite of this, there is a lack of non-motorized transportation access in the area. This is because Istanbul is not a friendly biking city, due to its many hills and lack of space on car dominated roads. Biking is also seen as more of a leisurely activity done on weekends along the waterfront of the Bosporus, and is not taken seriously as a legitimate form of daily transportation. There is a clear need to not only create space for biking lanes, but there also needs to be a proactive campaign to change the publics views about cycling. To combat these issues, a prominent, but relatively flat circulation artery should be used as a pilot project to influence ridership and change the publics opinion about biking. This route should connect Mecediyekoy and Beyoglu, with Taksim being the location of bike parking as a midway point along the biking path. Another advantage is Taksim’s position as a transit hub in the informal network of the Dolmus system. It is a socially inclusive and budget friendly way to move around the city, especially in short to medium distances. In this flexible system of transportation, there are no set times or stops, and the service level is not as comfortable as more orthodox forms of public transportation, but the volume of use and the amount of mini buses in the system makes it a quick and efficient way to get to other transit hubs.

Taksim_Booklet_18_watersquare+transportation B.png