THE PERFORMANCE OF MODERNITY: ATATÜRK KÜLTÜR MERKEZİ 1946-1977

“The truth is that, the intellectual people of the city had to bear with waiting 23 years for the building to be finished.” Dr. Hayati Tabanlıoğlu. Head Architect, 1969

SALT

Photos from the publication "Güzelleşen İstanbul" dated 1944, showing the transformation Taksim underwent under the application of the urban plan of Henri ProstSALT

“The Performance of Modernity: Atatürk Kültür Merkezi 1946-1977”* is a selection of visual material from the exhibition of the same title that took place at SALT Galata in 2012-2013. The selection depicts the processes that the Opera House (later to be called Atatürk Kültür Merkezi / Atatürk Cultural Center) went through with the use of visual material from the archive of the current building’s architect Hayati Tabanlıoğlu and supportive texts. As a symbol of modernity in built form, the opera building was designed by several architects commissioned by various employers before Tabanlıoğlu was commissioned as the final architect in 1956; and the building survives to this day despite misfortunes including fire, technical infrastructure problems and economic handicaps.

Photo from the publication "Güzelleşen İstanbul" dated 1944, showing Taksim Square and Gezi Park, From the collection of: SALT
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Photo from the publication "Güzelleşen İstanbul" dated 1944, showing the Topçu Military Barracks in Taksim, the building was demolished in 1940 as part of the urban plan of Henri ProstSALT

As a significant representation of modernity, the processes that the building went through, together with the story of Taksim, one of the most critical spots in Istanbul, comprises an architectural, artistic and sociological narrative of history. 

The mansion that was located on the plot where the AKM is today, would be demolished during the construction of the Opera HouseSALT

The master plan for Istanbul, prepared by French architect and urban planner Henri Prost in 1936-1937 came into force following its approval by Prime Minister İsmet İnönü. The plan involved the conversion of the Topçu Military Barracks and the cemetery adjacent to it into a park, and also the building of an opera house in Taksim Square. Henri Prost recommended French architect Auguste Perret to the Istanbul Municipality for the design of the two cultural buildings, the Istanbul Opera House and the Şişhane Comedy Theater, that would revitalize the area. Perret was invited to Istanbul and designed a project for the Istanbul Opera House. This project was not realized because of World War II.

Model of the Istanbul Opera House project (that formed the basis of the initial construction) designed by Rükneddin Güney and Feridun KipSALT

Commissioned by the Istanbul Municipality, Rükneddin Güney and Feridun Kip designed a new project for the Istanbul Opera House. The plot of a mansion in Taksim Square that belonged to the Istanbul Power Authority was allocated to the project for the Istanbul Opera House. The founding ceremony took place with the attendance of Lütfi Kırdar, the mayor and governor of the time, on May 29, 1946. When it later became apparent that the means of the Municipality could not cater for the project, the Ministry of Finance took over the responsibility in 1953, and the construction of the building was transferred over to the Ministry of Public Works in 1956.

Groundbreaking ceremony of the Istanbul Opera House attended by Lütfi Kırdar, From the collection of: SALT
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Construction site of the Istanbul Opera House project, designed by Rükneddin Güney and Feridun Kip. Photo: Adil Arıkan, 1953, From the collection of: SALT
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Ideas of Paul Bonatz on the Istanbul Opera House project by Rükneddin Güney and Feridun Kip (1953-12-17)SALT

Upon the request of the Ministry of Public Works, Paul Bonatz examined the project of Rükneddin Güney - Feridun Kip and prepared several sketches, however, his project wasn’t developed any further. Güney and Kip revised their project circa 1956; the revised project had a relatively modern appearance.

Ideas of Paul Bonatz on the Istanbul Opera House project by Rükneddin Güney and Feridun Kip, 1953-12-17, From the collection of: SALT
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The site plan of the revised Istanbul Opera House project by Rükneddin Güney and Feridun Kip (circa 1956), From the collection of: SALT
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Longitudinal section of the revised Istanbul Opera House project by Rükneddin Güney and Feridun Kip (circa 1956), From the collection of: SALT
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Front façade of the revised Istanbul Opera House project by Rükneddin Güney and Feridun Kip (circa 1956), From the collection of: SALT
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Stage floor plan of the revised Istanbul Opera House project by Rükneddin Güney and Feridun Kip (circa 1956), From the collection of: SALT
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Section of the Istanbul Cultural Palace, designed by Hayati TabanlıoğluSALT

The revised project of Güney-Kip, and a new project developed by Hayati Tabanlıoğlu who just started to work as an architect at the Ministry of Public Works were examined by Prof. Gerhard Graubner, a well-known expert on theater buildings. Graubner’s report was pointing out Tabanlıoğlu’s work as the appropriate project. The final process hebce began in 1956 when the Ministry of Public Works appointed Hayati Tabanlıoğlu, who had previously worked on various opera and theater projects, as the chief architect of the project. Initially panned solely as an opera house, the building was converted into a “Cultural Center” with the involvement of statics, infrastructure, stage technics and acoustic specialists. The building opened in 1969 as the Istanbul Cultural Palace.

General view of the model of the Istanbul Cultural Palace, designed by Hayati Tabanlıoğlu, From the collection of: SALT
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Model of the Istanbul Cultural Palace, designed by Hayati Tabanlıoğlu, grand foyer, From the collection of: SALT
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Construction site, aluminium-steel front façade construction, applied by Arçelik, From the collection of: SALT
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Construction site, art gallery, 1960's, From the collection of: SALT
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Construction site, rear façade, 1960's, From the collection of: SALT
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Construction site visit of Süleyman Demirel, Prime Minister of the day, 1960's, From the collection of: SALT
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Construction site visit of Cevdet Sunay, President of the day, 1960's, From the collection of: SALT
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Front façade of the Istanbul Cultural Palace, 1969, From the collection of: SALT
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Front façade detail of the Istanbul Cultural Palace, 1969, From the collection of: SALT
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Main entrance hall of the Istanbul Cultural Palace, 1969, From the collection of: SALT
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Grand hall of the Istanbul Cultural Palace, 1969, From the collection of: SALT
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The ceiling of the grand hall of the Istanbul Cultural Palace, From the collection of: SALT
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Istanbul Cultural Palace, grand hall side foyer, lighting design: Johannes Dinnebier, 1969, From the collection of: SALT
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Photo of foyer lighting by Gültekin Çizgen, lightning design: Johannes Dinnebier, 1969, From the collection of: SALT
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Foyer lighting, lighting design: Johannes Dinnebier, 1969, From the collection of: SALT
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Grand hall, side foyer of Istanbul Cultural Palace, lighting design: Johannes Dinnebier, photo: Reha Günay, 1969, From the collection of: SALT
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Ceramic wall, designed by Sadi Diren for the Istanbul Cultural Palace, 1969, From the collection of: SALT
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Ceramic panel, designed by Sadi Diren for the Istanbul Cultural Palace, 1969, From the collection of: SALT
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Photo taken on the opening night of the Istanbul Cultural Palace, from left to right: Hamit Şerbetçioğlu and his wife, Cihan Alp, Ayla-Hayati Tabanlıoğlu, Yusuf Ergüleç and his wife (1969-04-12)SALT

The 27 May 1960 military coup d’etat brought the construction to a halt that lasted three years. Finally on 12 April 1969, the building, opened under the title Istanbul Cultural Palace. It was assigned to two separate institutions, the State Theater and Ballet and State Theatres. On the opening night, the “Çeşmebaşı” ballet by Ferit Tüzün and “Aida” by Verdi were performed.

Article (with a heading “İstanbul Has a Cultural Palace Now”) on the opening night of the Cultural Palace with photos by Erol Dernek, published in Ses Magazine, issue 17, 1969-04-19, From the collection of: SALT
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The fire, November 27, 1970 (1970-11-27)SALT

On November 27, 1970, a fire broke out in the building during the performance of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”. The fire caused massive damage and the Istanbul Cultural Palace was no longer usable. There were no casualties, but a number of artefacts brought from the Topkapı Palace for the play Murat IV were destroyed. The source of the fire was never conclusively detected.

Fire brigade rescue work on the night of the fire on November 27, 1970, 1970-11-27, From the collection of: SALT
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Visit of Süleyman Demirel, Prime Minister of the day, to the Istanbul Cultural Palace after the fire, 1970, From the collection of: SALT
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Façade, the day after the fire on November 27, 1970, 1970-11-27/1970-11-28, From the collection of: SALT
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Newspaper article (with a heading “Cultural Palace, built in 23 Years, burned down in Fire within 45 Minutes”), published in Günaydın Newspaper on November 28, 1970, the day after the fire, 1970-11-27/1970-11-28, From the collection of: SALT
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Stage floor plan of the Atatürk Cultural Center project, prepared after the fire (1976-06-29)SALT

The building was designed for the second time by Hayati Tabanlıoğlu and changes to the interior and infrastructure were introduced using new technologies. The Cultural Palace was ready to operate in 1977, and it reopened under its new name, “Atatürk Cultural Center” on 6 October 1978.

Atatürk Cultural Center, laying of entrance courtyard flooring, 1975, From the collection of: SALT
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Ceramic wall in the entrance of Atatürk Cultural Center, design: Sadi Diren, 1977, From the collection of: SALT
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Atatürk Cultural Center, parter foyer, ceramic wall design: Sadi Diren, 1977, From the collection of: SALT
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Foyer of the children's theater of Atatürk Cultural Center, 1977, From the collection of: SALT
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General view of the grand foyer of Atatürk Cultural Center, lighting design: Johannes Dinnebier, Photo: Reha Günay, 1979, From the collection of: SALT
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General view of the grand foyer of Atatürk Cultural Center, lighting design: Johannes Dinnebier, 1979, From the collection of: SALT
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Main entrance hall of Atatürk Cultural Center, staircase and lighting, lighting design: Johannes Dinnebier, 1977, From the collection of: SALT
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Moving podiums of the Atatürk Cultural Center main stage, photo: Reha Günay, From the collection of: SALT
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Backstage of the Atatürk Cultural Center grand hall, photo: Reha Günay, 1979, From the collection of: SALT
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Front façade of Atatürk Cultural Center, 1977, From the collection of: SALT
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Entrance façade of Atatürk Cultural Center, photo: Reha Günay, 1979SALT

In 2005, Atilla Koç, the Minister of Culture, proposed the demolition the building, claiming it had completed its useful economic life. However, following intense resistance from art and architectural platforms and civil initiatives, persistent demonstrations and media support, the Second Preservation Board of Istanbul registered the building as an A-Class cultural asset, thus preventing its demolition.

In November 2008, the Tabanlıoğlu Architects office was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to design the renovation project of the Atatürk Cultural Center. However, the renovation was stopped by court order following a lawsuit filed by the Union of Culture, Art and Tourism Workers. The building was demolished in March 2018 to be rebuilt. The opening of the new building was held on October 29, 2021.

Credits: Story

Text: Aslı Can (2014)

*Curators: Pelin Derviş and Gökhan Karakuş

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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