Understanding Sedad Hakkı Eldem I: 1930-1950


Architectural style is obligated to emphasise the character of the nation and the revolution. Sedad Hakkı Eldem, 1939

Due to its intertwined nature within social, political and ideological fields, it is impossible to systematically reveal the archeology of architectural knowledge. This analysis becomes increasingly difficult when the products and character of groundbreaking figure Sedad Hakkı Eldem are the subject. Despite this difficulty, it is crucial to discuss Eldem’s written and architectural practices, and to understand and explain his position in Turkey’s architectural history, without tending towards any classification. The two online exhibitions “Understanding Sedad Hakkı Eldem I and II” focus Eldem’s architectural productions of almost 50 years, from his first built project, the Budapest Fair Turkish Pavilion in 1931, to the Alarko Office Buildings in 1976-1979; one of the later projects of his career. Rather than classifying the buildings periodically or morphologically, the exhibitions’ structure adopt a chronological approach. The main construction is divided into two exhibitions to enable a more comprehensible vision, while the exhibited buildings are evaluated depending on the social background of the period. This context enables the exhibitions to illuminate the archive through various interpretations. The exhibitions “Understanding Sedad Hakkı Eldem I and II” are curated from the materials of Sedad Hakkı Eldem Archive; a collaborative research of Rahmi M. Koç Archive and SALT Research.
Who is Sedad Hakkı Eldem?
Born into a wealthy, upper class family, Sedad Hakkı Eldem was the third child of İsmail Hakkı and Azize. Due to the position of his diplomat father, Eldem spent most of his childhood and youth in Europe, mainly in Geneva, Munich and Zurich. He was educated in French in primary school and received his high school in Germany, giving Eldem the opportunity to speak both native languages, although he was not so fluent in Turkish. Upon returning to Istanbul in 1924, with the assistance of family friend and renown architect, Vedad Tek, Eldem enrolled in Academy of Fine Arts where Tek was teaching at the time. While at school, he frequently worked at Guilio Mongeri’s atelier. Mongeri, who took an interest in Eldem’s skills, gave him a summer internship on one of his constructions.
After his graduation in 1928, Eldem was sent on a state scholarship to Europe where he visited many cities including Paris and Berlin, worked with Auguste Perret and Hans Poelzig, and even met Le Corbusier in person. In 1930, before the end of his scholarship, he returned to Istanbul upon the invitation of the Academy of Fine Arts. Eldem’s architectural practice began after the construction of his Turkish Pavilion project for the Budapest Fair in 1931, and his academic life in 1932, when he was appointed to the academy as a professor. Till his passing in 1988, Eldem constructed numerous buildings and was successful in his role at the academy, making him one of the most pronounced architects and complicated figures in Turkey.
International Budapest Fair Turkish Pavilion, Budapest, Hungary, 1931
This is the first constructed design of Sedad Hakkı Eldem. As the world’s fair pavilions are considered to be of representative value to the states, it is critical that Eldem gained an important seat in the architectural society of the time, despite his age of 23. The design was easy to construct due to its modular character and application to the modernist approach, and also because of its wooden structure on the necessity for the building to remain lightweight. The building has three levels, with windows of the hexagonal center taking characteristics of the Turkish House, and the wooden material increasing the Turkish impression in the interior. In the middle of the hexagonal center is a sculpture of Atatürk; appropriate considering the political tendencies of the time. An article published in the 6th issue of architectural periodical Mimar, is a great example for the representative nature of the fair pavilions: “The Turkish pavilion in Budapest is an achievement for the new Turkey. (...) The exhibition team decided to appoint a Turkish architect to the project and required a great interest in the display style of the pavilion. For the pavilion, a style is required, which represents Turkey in a better way. (...) We want that this example will be a lesson for those, who don’t take architectural works seriously.”

Interior of Turkish Pavilion, 1931

Turkish Pavilion, rear façade, 1931

Ceylan Building, Taksim, İstanbul, 1932-1933
Ceylan Building is Sedad Hakkı Eldem’s first colossal design, which he worked meticulously on every detail. The building is located on the triangle parcel on the opposite side of Gezi Park. It has six floors, each with a single apartment space. The living rooms are located on the corners of the parcel looking out on all three directions. The building also includes a basement and a terrace, with the ground floor comprised of several stores. The façade includes large windows and wall paintings, emphasizing the horizontal effect. Although the purity and the horizontal effect resemble the International Style, Eldem didn’t neglect traditional architecture completely, and instead designed the entrance halls in octagonal shape and covered them with marble. This prestigious building, a creation of a 24 year-old architect, both with its function and morphology, continues to function as a residency today.

Ceylan Building, frontal façade, 1932-1933

Ceylan Building, living room of an apartment, 1932-1933

Ceylan Building and Cumhuriyet Boulevard, 1932-1933

SATIE Bureau and Service Warehouse, Fındıklı, İstanbul, 1932-1934
SATIE office building is one of Sedad Hakkı Eldem’s most critical buildings, enlightening his relationship with modernism. The building was designed as an office and warehouse for the SATIE company (Societe Anonyme Turque d’Installation Electrique). Its flat roof, horizontal strip windows and cubic shape affirmate Le Coubusier’s purist principles. High and large buildings with varying functions inevitably deconstruct Eldem’s allusions to the Turkish House. SATIE building has the closest morphology to the International Style within Eldem’s buildings with similar functions. The SATIE building was torn down in the late 1950’s.

SATIE building, frontal and sider façades, 1932-1934

SATIE building, sider façade, 1932-1934

Ministry of Customs and Exclusivity / Headquarters of Exclusivity Department, Ankara, 1934-1937
The Headquarters of the Exclusivity Department, defined as “the first modern building” of his by Sedad Hakkı Eldem,” was designed for an international competition in 1934. Eldem received first prize from 18 other projects. The project comprises the characteristics of large buildings designed for state competitions: A massive body, façades with bricks and stones and symmetry axes. However, the entire design wasn’t realized. Two small courtyards in the original project were made one, and there were several changes on the main body. Although Eldem reinterpreted the traditional architecture with window details and small changes in the mass, the building’s aesthetic still remains similar to the large state buildings in Ankara.

Courtyard façade, 1934-1937

Interior stairs, 1934-1937

Interior space, 1934-1937

Thermal Hotel, Yalova, 1934-1937
Another of Sedad Hakkı Eldem’s designs, Thermal Hotel project in Yalova won first prize in a competition between 21 projects, in which Ernst Egli also participated as a jury member. Eldem defines Thermal Hotel in Yalova as the “First product of the National Architecture Movement”. Although the repetitions of the vernacular components and modular elements points out the International Style, riwaqs and interiors surrounded with cages reflect the characteristics of the Turkish House and traditional architecture. The hotel was demolished in 1983.

Partial façade, 1934-1937

Partial entrance façade, 1934-1937

Interior space, 1934-1937

Ağaoğlu Residence, Teşvikiye, İstanbul, 1936-1938
Ağaoğlu Residence is one of the more “modern” projects of Sedad Hakkı Eldem’s career. The residence was built opposite Teşvikiye Mosque on the foundations of an old mansion. The former materials were also used for the construction of the residence. This wasn’t just a single house, but a building with two rental spaces on the ground floor. The the building’s Oval Hall is critical as it depicts one of the unique characteristics of the Turkish House. However, Eldem uses this construct as a living room, indicating a displacement from the morphology of the original construct. This morphological concern is not traditional; on the contrary, it is a modernist approach. Eldem was then able to create a modern hybrid: A unique architectural understanding through interpretation of the traditional. The same hybrid character is also to be noticed by the large canopies and strip windows on the same façade. In the 94th issue of Arkitekt magazine in 1938, the building is described as follows: “The Oval Living Room in the middle, the height of the floor, the internal decoration and other construction lines show us that it’s possible to apply the Turkish style to the buildings of today with great success. Other than that, the impact of the building on us is Turkish, with the large canopies and façades. (...) This thriving building designed by Sedad Hakkı, signifies the importance of the researches and attempts to give the Turkish character to our new architecture.” The residence was later replaced by a large building.

General view, 1936-1938

Living room, 1936-1938

İstanbul University, Faculties of Science and Literature, Beyazıt, İstanbul, 1942-1947
This faculty building of Turkey’s oldest university inevitably represents the official ideology of the state. Considered the most important architects of the Second National Architecture period in 1940’s, Sedad Hakkı Eldem and Emin Onat must have adopted this particular approach. It is true that Sedad Hakkı Eldem preferred the building to be nationalist, or vernacular. As it is vital for a representative building of the regime to have a massive morphology, it would be better said that the building is in large an interpretation of the Turkish House concept. Window proportions, vernacular materials, high arches, and long canopies are used in the design, with Ottoman references like giant portals and long vaults. The historical tendencies in the design are easily noticed, however the plan scheme and use of the building are functionalist.

Partial frontal façade, 1942-1947

Main hallway, 1942-1947

Conference hall, 1942-1947

Ankara University, Faculty of Science, Beşevler, Ankara, 1943-1945
This faculty building was part of the campus and rectorate building project. With a completely classicist approach, the campus was designed with a central axis, while the rectorate building was designed with references to a Greek temple. As a university, this project is also a representation of the state ideology. Paul Bonatz’ as “müchavir,” approved the project, with the construction an entirely collaborative design. The nationalist or vernacular details, which can be considered research of the Turkish House, are combined with the monumental body of the building. These include high arches, riwaqs and refined portals. This particular construct, considered an important building of the Second Nationalist Architecture period, is an example of the fascistic representative architecture fitting to the tendencies of the time.

Faculty of Science, entrance, 1943-1945

Entrance corner detail of the Faculty of Science, 1943-1945

Frontal façade drawing of Ankara University, Rectorate Building Project, 1943-1945

Taşlık Coffee House, Maçka, İstanbul, 1947-1948
According to Sedad Hakkı Eldem, the plan scheme of this project is almost identical with that of Amcazade Köprülü Hüseyin Paşa mansion. The building is a genuine “modern” prototype of the Turkish House which Eldem had been researching for years. The building can be also be interpreted as conceptual displacement. Eldem deconstructed a typical Bosporus mansion, moved it to the top of a high wall in Maçka, and converted its use into a coffee house. All of these characteristics display the building as the greatest example of Eldem’s architectural understanding. Taşlık Coffee House was torn down for the construction of Swissotel and rebuilt within unorthodox proportions at another location.

Rear façade, 1947-1948

Interior space, 1947-1948

Justice Palace, Sultanahmet, İstanbul, 1948
This project from Sedad Hakkı Eldem and Emin Onat received first prize in the Justice Palace competition in 1947. The official announcement of the competition includes several requirements for the building to represent the ideology of the state, such as that “The building should be a “timeless monument, which will exist through the history of the Republic,” meaning that it should be “magnificent”, “sumptuous”, “giant”, “harmonious”, “monumental” and “formidable”. It is imperative to emphasize that Paul Bonatz was amongst the jury committee of the competition. The project comprises a small street surrounded with the units, as repetitive blocks create a strong effect of order. This enables the entire building to be dominated by a modular system. In this context, although the building is described as a modernist, functionalist product, Eldem couldn’t resist utilising vernacular components like long canopies, vertical windows and high riwaqs. Part of the project didn’t see construction due to the archeological ruins in the parcel. After Onat’s death, Eldem suggested several solutions to this issue, however none were seen through.

Detail from the façade, 1948

Sketch of the interior space, 1948

Drawing of the frontal façade, 1948

Perspective sketch, 1948

Model, 1948

Credits: Story

Prepared by Aslı Can, SALT Research and Programs

Sedad Hakkı Eldem II Retrospektif, Bülent Tanju, Uğur Tanyeli
Sedad Eldem, Sibel Bozdoğan, Suha Özkan, Engin Yenal, Hans Hollein

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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