Contests are actually a bleeding wound
Oktan Nalbantoğlu: We are a multidisciplinary office in ON design. Most of us are urban designers and landscape architects, as well as architects, urban planners and industrial product designers. We are mainly working on urban design and landscape design. I can say that we especially enjoy working on public spaces. It makes us very excited to be able to say something in the name of the city, especially when it comes to public opinion. Our head office in Ankara, we opened our office in Istanbul 5 months ago. We produce projects in different provinces in 7 regions of Turkey. Our customer profile is municipalities, private companies and other public organizations (especially ministries).
D.Y.: What are your current projects now?
ON: One of the important projects we are working on is Turkey’s first National Botanical Garden to be established in Ankara. A large area of 2.5 million square meters will be established on the Eskisehir road between the Ministry of Agriculture and Hacettepe University. Starting from the concept phase of that project, after that, implementation projects and consulting services will be held by TÜMAŞ A.Ş. In the same way we have projects in Istanbul. We produce projects related to public spaces in Istanbul. Kadıköy Square and Haydarpaşa Station Environmental Regulation Project are among the most important ones. We take Kadıköy Square and Historical Haydarpaşa Station as a whole and try to give Istanbul a qualified public space.
DY: Haydarpaşa Port project is on the agenda…
ON: There is no such thing. We designed the historical Haydarpaşa Station area in the garage concept. This is already a multi-disciplinary design. We are involved in this process of landscaping. It is projected by a group that we are in control of, under the supervision of an advisory board composed of ITU’s local people. All projects were developed through the “terminal” concept. If the concept is changed later, we will not know it. We have not received any information about the use of the Historical Haydarpaşa Station with a different function until today. In fact, our urban design and landscape design decisions have been completely based on the use of space as a garage.
Apart from that, there are boulevard arrangements, facade rehabilitation projects, urban square projects in various parts of Turkey. Aydin City Square is one of our important projects. The application has begun; I think it will be finished at the end of the year. We started as a challenge to the project, but it touches many points in the center. Aydin has a very valuable mayor.
We designed the city’s largest park in Manisa. The tender is about to be made. In the future we intend to make a project work that will coincide with the historical texture of the city and its cultural landscape. The mayor has a vision like that. We have revealed the first ideas of the rehabilitation and urban transformation project for the Iluh Stream in Batman, which has been transformed into a depressed area with a heavy migration. It is a very valuable project for us because it is a problematic area that is almost within the historical center that we can really define as urban rehabilitation. At the beginning of the issues, we attach importance to project work and “context” comes firstly. We are trying to design “the place” from the natural and cultural characteristics of the geography. These are the projects that are obtained by catching contemporary vision. But never before we are disconnected from the context … We also enter the race with time.
DY: What are your thoughts about contests in Turkey? Is it aimed at purpose?
ON: Competitions in Turkey are very important. Especially the development of architecture is very important for our young colleagues. At the same time, it is important to be able to operate joint production mechanisms and to capture the working spirit as a team. But contests in Turkey are actually a bleeding wound. There are three basic reasons for this: The administrations, juries and competitors that opened the contest. I think you have troubles at 3 points. If you look at the size of the administration, they often want to use the competition processes as a show tool. Especially during election periods or in order to create agenda in Turkey … Almost 80% of the projects obtained through the competition cannot be implemented. Urban design projects in particular. Of course, there are different reasons for this, it may be a little unfair to put responsibility on the organization that opened the contest directly. And there is a jury stage. I do not think that the contest specifications have been prepared in sufficient seriousness. Competition juries need to spend more time. I think it is beneficial to prepare the competition specifications a little more precisely. Likewise, the process of evaluating competitions needs to be addressed in a more comprehensive way. Participants started to see the contests as a commercial gain, a commodity rather than an idea. I think that some competitions try to fool juries by creating stereotypes, creating fake worlds, and using the possibilities of digital technology. The jury is also affected from time to time. The projects are now starting to look alike. I need to be a little more serious.
DY: The project, which won the 3rd prize in the colloquium of the Gallipoli Competition, was very much talked about.
ON: There is such a problem. But the real problem is that the administration is still admiring the 3rd Project (laughing).
DY: The structure of the jury is also important in competitions. According to the competition, for example, urban design competitions are becoming more important than urban designers.
ON: Yes, definitely. I should look at the things that he did, not the name. The Academy is important, but I think it is much more important to have a practical experience in those who will be jurors. I tell my colleagues more than that, some competitors are able to put a lot of prizes in front of putting out original ideas. It seems to me that quality is gradually falling. In the evaluation process, you often have to sift through about 50% of the projects in the first or second round. There is a quality and quantity problem. Lately, there has not been a problem when I participated in the competition. There is not enough participation.
DY: I think there is a problem during the competition. It is desirable to obtain projects within a very limited time frame. Is not it?
ON: Absolutely. The competitions are now max. The time has started to be 3-4 months. These are the big urban design projects. Another important problem is the idea project. From the moment you said “conceptual project” to the title of the project, the administration is totally free to implement or not about the project. I’m not against getting conceptual project. However, when you request projects up to 1/50, 1/20 under the name of an idea project, that idea comes out and it becomes an application project. That’s why the jury should not fall into this trap. If necessary, he should show his reaction by resigning from his jury membership. The administration takes your copyright rights from your hand, and then applies the desired project. I think that the jury should be very careful in this regard in order to defend the rights of colleagues.
DY: The contest in the law is not very clear. There are regulations and many things are left to the initiative of the organization that regulates the competition.
ON: It would be useful to reconsider the regulation of competitions. But unfortunately there is no consensus among professional organizations. Especially the chauvinist attitude of the profession chambers is the biggest obstacle to competition. This is true for all chambers. The chambers do not want anyone outside their room to participate in urban design competitions as long as they are close to the administration that organizes the competition. For example, he says, “to be a team head architect” can participate in this competition. I’m actually against the term “team head”. Maybe a team representative might try. This situation must be changed in the competition regulations. It is meant to be the person who represents the team. I think that the person who organizes the group should be the person authorized to solve the administrative and financial matters on behalf of the team. The concept of team head is completely wrong for me. And not to be dictated. I mean, it is necessarily wrong for me to say “the architect, the landscape architect”. Finally, encourage the participation of each profession discipline in the competition; teams already made up of different professions are more successful. This is inevitable. However, by dictating this, we should not be a tool for the formation of false associations. It is necessary to establish a regulation in which all of these can be handled again.
DY: Have you been the ones who have been awarded first prize?
ON: I can say there are possibilities. We had very serious negotiations at the competition in Zonguldak but it was blocked at some point.
DY: The issue of ownership in the implementation of projects is one of the biggest factors I think.
ON: He also exists, but in the case of Zonguldak, the mayor became a deputy candidate. He left the presidency. It is the project that even the agenda of the mayor who is acting as proxy is formed. However, it is a very important project for Zonguldak. We meet with the administration at the Gallipoli Competition, but like I said, they like the third project very much. We cannot say that we have a project that is implemented concretely as a result of the competition. Of course there are also problems with the management foot. If you do not solve the property problem and start competing without creating your budgetary predictions, you will be seduced by the project.
Nevertheless, we certainly should not give up and never give up. We must continue to encourage the administrations in this sense. Regardless of the project competitions are educational-instructional processes.
DY: Finally, you decided to join a competition. How is the process progressing as a team?
ON: I believe that you are a success in our competitions. The underlying factor is teamwork. Everyone has the right to speak and everyone knows what to do. In the first concept phase of the project a serious brainstorm is made, all ideas are discussed. Later on, a compromise is made on the way and the process progresses rapidly. The most dangerous issue in contests is indecision and inability to agree on ideas. In these situations it is important to have someone to say the last word.
DY: Thank you very much.
ON: I thank you.