Dencity 2015: Special Mention

Local Strategies for Retrofitting

Entry by: Cem Çiftçi, Arzu Billur Tuncer


In the 1945s, migration from rural areas into big cities began with the onset of industrialization in Istanbul. Istanbul has been one of the most important cities in the industrialization process. The Republic of Turkey was very young and had a quite limited amount of capital to both industrialize and provide housing opportunities for immigrants. Therefore, the government at that time had to choose one of these two ways. Investment in the industrialization for the development of the young republic was inevitable. People living in rural areas, who were in difficulties to afford their lives, began to migrate to Istanbul so as to be employed. Thereupon, millions of immigrants started working as laborers in the industries, but there was a big problem with respect to accommodation. The immigrants tried to solve housing problems by their own facilities. “Gecekondu” was the name of informal labor housing built by immigrants in Turkey. “Gece” means “the night”, “kondu” means “landed” and “Gecekondu” means “landed at night”. The term has evolved to encompass a variety of informal settlements and building typologies. Its usage denotes a bottom up, spontaneous action, especially prevalent during the first wave of mass migration, to provide mass housing under conditions in which conventional or government initiated models of housing supply failed. To understand the history of Istanbul’s gecekondus’ more clearly, we can look at the quote from the “Istanbul’s Gecekondus” article written by Orhan Esen, urban researcher.

In the early 1960s, gecekondu settlements became an officially accepted solution to housing the majority of new migrants. From then onwards, Istanbul experienced a unique socio-political climate, which temporarily diminished the initial skepticism among the middle classes about the gecekondus. This wave of sympathy and identification continued beyond the events of June 1970 when Istanbul became occupied by the industrial working class. Thus after World War II, residents of the gecekondus found they could convert their inherent rural poverty into comparative wealth within the space of one generation. At a time when the city’s population was close to 4 million, originally barren settlements had already become blossoming garden cities. However, large scale urbanization in the 1980s and 1990s almost totally displaced such manifestations of the golden age of informal urbanization, which is remembered by some older Istanbulites as the ‘innocent’ period of migration. As a consequence, the gecekondu vanished as abruptly as it appeared on the stage of Istanbul’s history. It is the ‘ne0-liberal revolution’, which began in the mid 1980s, that has made Istanbul what it is today: a post gecekondu city whereby developers convert households in the former gecekondus to middle class standards. A socio-economic heterogeneity now defines this post gecekondu condition and has helped original migrants improve their economic status. “ (E. Orhan, 2009. İstanbul’s   Gecekondus)

Since the beginning of the post gecekondu period in the 1980s, most of these informal settlements have lost their first architectural characteristics that show the rural identity and culture. Eventually, one or two story buildings have transformed into four or five story buildings. It was the first transformation process of gecekondus, which took place by its own autonomy. In the 2000s, the urban transformation process lost its autonomy with TOKI (Mass Housing Administration), which has been the first institution responsible for urban transformation. Some informal settlements have been destroyed by TOKI, allegedly bringing up the unhealthy physical conditions of buildings and earthquake. The main reason of this transformation, however, has been the urban rent. Because of the demolitions of these settlements, thousands of people living together in their communities, had to be disbanded. Today, there are still so many informal settlements such as Derbent (case study area), Karafilkoy, etc. that were able to conserve the first gecekondu identity.

Derbent Neighborhood is one of the oldest informal settlements in Istanbul. Almost all buildings are of one or two story type buildings along with their own gardens. Derbent is quite a sloping terrain and as a consequence, all the buildings are constructed inlaid in the ground. Naturally, there emerge problems about the physical conditions of the buildings such as thermal and water insulation, structure etc. The relationship among the residents of Derbent is particulary strong. In the 1990s, the industry areas on the Bosphorus cost line was removed so the residents lost their jobs. Thereupon, many residents started working as dayworkers and lost their regular salaries.Thus, they became dependent with each other to be able to survive in difficult life conditions. Near the Derbent district, there are some places that are strategically important such as north forests, metro station, Darussafaka Institution, Acibadem Hospital, Ataturk auto repair industry site and a highway. All these things provide convenience for the urban transformation in terms of political economy. Today, Derbent is still under the pressure

of urban transformation. Again, a possible earthquake is the most pronounced excuse to justify the transformation. In the face of this excuse, developing economically feasible strategies such as retrofitting of buildings with local sources could stand against the urban transformation that throws the habitants from their houses.

The Concept

“ When a house in a neighborhood is demolished, the relationship between this house and other houses will no longer exist. Likewise, when a neighborhood in a city is demolished, the relationship between this neighborhood and the other neighborhoods will also disappear. ”

The main idea of this proposal can be summarized by this quote. The general strategy is to come up with minor interventions with respect to the physical structure using local upcycling resources. These local upcycling resources mainly involve urban transformation, using raw materials from Ataturk auto-repair industry site and manufacturing process of detergant indus- try.

Today, Istanbul is under construction. It means that lots of usable materials such as windows, doors and other kinds of furnitures are discarded everyday in the demolotion process of the buildings. Following the trace of these materials, most of them cannot be used or recycled whatsoever. For this reason, urban transformation can positively feed the renovation of gece- kondu settlements.

Being in a close proximity with Derbent neighborhood, this site contains many parts of cars that are discarded. Some of them, especially metal parts, can be recycled with a high energy consumption. Some parts such as tires, cracked glass can not be used or recycled in any process.

Derbent is quite a sloping terrain, therefore, there are a lot of retaining walls between the streets and houses. Retaining walls have deteriorated and have lost their durabilities for ages, so they don’t look good. Most entrance facades of the buildings confront retaining walls. It is one of the most conspicuous characteristics of Derbent. Soil filled tires could be an alternative for retaining wall, if needed. Raining water is filtered through the soil in tires, transferred from drainage system to be collected in water tanks. This water could be used in gardens and toilets.

Car glass is a quite qualified material. It’s really hard to smash a car glass because of the laminated film layer. Most of the time after a car crash, it gets only cracked without breaking into pieces. The cracked glass, which is streched and framed by the process of pressing, could be used as a semi-opac window on the entrance facade for sunlight and privacy.

Today, we can see lots of detergant bottles in different shapes that are to impress customers. In this schema, the radical intervention on the manufacturing process affects the shape of product and it could be upcycled as a wall brick. Bottle-Fit is the name of product that could be used as a brick for retrofitting. Its shape was designed so that it can be interlocked without being cohesive.

Gecekondus gets built by their own habitants. Inspired by the construction methods of the gecekondus, Bottle-Fit Composite Wall can be easily generated. It could be used only as a masonary wall system but we propose it to be used with a skeleton system, because Istanbul is in the earthquake zone.

Detergant bottles are made of HDPE (High-density Polyethylene) that have high durability in nature. It can stand over 100°C, and bear UV and air. Empty Bottle-Fit as a wall brick provides high quality insulation.

About the entrants

Arzu Billur Tuncer was born in Afyonkarahisar, Turkey. She is an undergraduate architecture student at Istanbul Technical University (ITU).

Cem Çiftçi was born in Antalya, Turkey. He graduated from the Architectural Department at Istan-bul Technical University (ITU). He is still a student in Architectural Design in the masters program in İstanbul Bilgi University.