Nazimî Yaver Yenal

Imaginary World of a Paper Architect

Perspective of a performance hall. by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

Nazimî Yaver Yenal: Imaginary World of a Paper Architect

Nazimî Yaver Yenal
(1904–1987) is a typical representative of the early republican generation that
epitomized idealist principles. Having spent his adolescence in the final years
of the Ottoman Empire, Yenal was trained at the School of Fine Arts,
particularly under the influence of his teacher Giulio Mongeri’s notion of eclecticism
and graduated as valedictorian. Shaped by a series of competitions he won, his
career evolved through the experience he gained in Paris and Berlin, where he
was sent on a state scholarship granted as part of the culture programs of the
early republican years. He thrived and matured during the years he spent as an
instructor at the Academy of Fine Arts, where he grew close with a handful of
avant-garde German architects who ended up together in Istanbul through
extraordinary political circumstances. Described in the letters of Sedad Hakkı
Eldem as being “much ahead,” even in his student years, Yenal had talent beyond
question and a career in architecture that set off quite successfully at first.

Despite all that, virtually none of his designs were actually constructed. His unexecuted designs and unattained hopes relate a powerful tale describing the disappointments and reasons behind never being able to bring his creations to fruition. Eventually falling out of official architectural discourse and forgotten over time, Yenal created for himself an alternative realm of architectural production comprised solely of drawings. The massive archive he created of his drawings was first preserved at his private room at the academy and later in his house following retirement. After his death, it was dispersed.

Yenal’s depictive fantasies and drawings are in flawless command of both the repertoire of classical architecture and modernism; they correspond to imaginary designs entirely free of the factors associated with construction and derive their strength from this freedom. His unconstructed and unshared designs privatize architecture, a public domain of art. Shaped by imagination, the Yenal aesthetic is inevitably defined in connection with personal codes. In providing a real understanding of Yenal’s drawings, this subjectivity forces us to read into not only the designs but also their creator. With his avant-garde sketches remaining only on paper, Nazimî Yaver Yenal is perhaps the most important “paper architect” of Turkish architecture from the republican era.

Nazimî Yaver Yenal by İbrahim Çallıİstanbul Research Institute

Ömer Nazimî at Sanayi-i Nefise 

Nazimî Yaver Yenal’s
designs from his years as a student (1920–1926) at the Sanayi-i Nefise (Imperial
School of Fine Arts) in the 1920s shed light on his search for a style as much as
they do on the architectural proclivities of the period. These drawings allow
us to assess the impact the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris had, as a late nineteenth-century
pedagogical reference point, on the academic education he embraced at the
Imperial School of Fine Arts in the 1930s, the only institution of
architectural education in Turkey at the time. Featuring variations of an
eclectic architectural concept with its roots in the West, this prevailing
methodology was restructured by adapting it to the Ottoman architectural
heritage. The designs developed at the academy were focused more on façade
rather than plan. Their styles notwithstanding, while façades in these drawings
were transformed into ostentatious compositions resembling stage decor, they
also include details referencing a wide range of architectural practices. 

As one of the most successful students of this period, Yenal was trained in the workshops of Vedad (Tek) and Giulio Mongeri at the Sanayi-i Nefise. The majority of his drawings are in historicist style and particularly mention the name of the project instructor with the inscription “O. Nazimî, Élève de M. Mongeri” (O. Nazimî, student of Mongeri). Young Yenal’s school projects are important and rare examples to have survived to date, reflecting extremely well, partially due to his accomplishments throughout his education, the expectations the academy had of its students.

Exhibition hall in neo-Renaissance style, "Un pavillon d'exposition". by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

[P]eople like me would sit in the center of the long hall. It especially was out of the question for us to move idly all the way to the front. That area was reserved for the greats, such as Nazimî Yaver, Macit Rüştü (Kural). Nazimî Yaver executed building projects with awe-inspiring and surprising mastery. He was far more advanced than us. His charcoal drawing technique was created by connecting every line to a point; it had an amazing effect of virtuosity. However, one would have to pick the suitable ones amidst the crowd of lines.¹

¹ Uğur Tanyeli, "Genç Sedad Hakkı Eldem: Kültürlerarası bir Kimlik İnşası, 1908-1930," Sedad Hakkı Eldem: 1, Gençlik Yılları, editor Edhem Eldem (Istanbul: Osmanlı Bankası Arşiv ve Araştırma Merkezi, 2008), 57.

Drawing of a bank, for which Yenal was chosen as valedictorian. (1925) by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

Yenal was part of the team that designed the Ziraat Bank – Ankara headquarters (1930-07-15) by Jean Weinbergİstanbul Research Institute

Prior to his graduation, Yenal began working at the bureau of Mongeri, who had great faith in him. More or less a continuation of the architecture department of the academy, Mongeri’s office hired many of his former students. While working there, Yenal was involved in the design process of the Ankara central branch of Ziraat Bank, in particular. As the administration of the Istanbul and Izmir banks were now under the auspices of the Ankara branch, a new headquarters was needed in the capital. In addition to structural, material, and functional organization, the design reflects Mongeri’s vision of the union of eclecticism emulating the Ottoman past.

Yenal with colleagues and students. (1933-1934)İstanbul Research Institute

Academy of Fine Arts: The Cautious Allure of Institutions 

Upon his return to the Academy of Fine Arts in
1932, Yenal found himself in the midst of a reform. The Republic decided to
benefit from the expertise of Western specialists in many fields, and Swiss
architect Ernst Egli was appointed as a professor and the director of the department
of architecture in 1930. With the reforms that he would execute during his
term, radically changing the instructional methods of the school, Egli updated
the academic curriculum for architecture, which dated back to Alexander
Vallaury and would now pave the way for a kind of education based on
contemporary international principles. During the Egli period, modernism
absolutely outweighed classicism in architecture education in Turkey. 

As a consequence of extraordinary political conditions, Yenal became part of the work environment of very important architects, such as Bruno Taut and Martin Wagner, who had once been pioneers of European avant-garde architecture and were now trying to bring to life their architectural projects in Turkey under the mindset of being in exile. Yenal’s first position upon arriving at the academy in 1932 was as instructor of interior architecture and assistant to the Austrian architect Philip Ginther. Yenal continued his career as an instructor until his retirement in 1969. He was a much loved and dedicated teacher. Always wearing a white shirt and holding small pencils in his hand, he continuously strived to encourage his students.

Perspective of a performance hall. by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

Modernism: Paris and Berlin 

In the Western-oriented
educational setting of the 1920s, Yenal won first prize in the first European
architectural competition organized by the Academy of Fine Arts during the 1927–1928
term: a trip to Paris, followed by Berlin, as a journey to Europe had been a traditional
part of any Turkish intellectual’s education since Ottoman times. Despite the
prevailing art deco movement in Paris, Yenal was more interested in modernism,
which was considered avant-garde at the time. Yenal returned to Turkey in 1930
to complete his military service. In 1931 he moved to Berlin once again on a grant.
He was admitted to Hans Poelzig’s Meister Atelier (workshop-school).
While fully embracing the modernist style he was drawn to in Paris, he grew
closer to the international avant-garde style and detached himself from the
academic eclecticism. 

Yenal’s drawings of this period are all mounted on art deco passe-partouts of different colors. Each one of the drawings bears the signature: “Ö. Nazimi Yaver, Arkitekt - Meister Atelier Professor Hans Poelzig, Technische Hochschule und Akademie der Kunst, Berlin, Charlottenburg.” The drawings in which Nazimî theorized modernism on paper during his Berlin period approach design issues solely as educational experiments. The works do not assume any social mission. They are not speculative. Fantasy never evolves into utopia, carry any intentions of social critique through utopist or dystopian provocations, nor engage in alternative future constructs. The proposals are functional and realistic.

Perspective drawing of the Citroen Garage, Paris. (1927/1929) by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

The drawing by Yenal at Mimar Sinan University is a perspective of the still extant Citroen Garage designed by French architect Albert Laprade on Rue Marbeuf in Paris. This multi-story car showroom built between 1927 and 1929, featuring a joint use of steel beams and reinforced concrete, is quite unconventional for the time in terms of both program and technology. However, what makes the design a modernist icon is the monumental showcase window created by a giant, 19 m wide and 21 m high glass curtain based on the idea that the cars displayed on different floors could be seen from the street.

Perspective drawing of the Citroen Garage, Paris. (1928)İstanbul Research Institute

Drawing inspired by the Geschäftshaus. by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

Geschäftshaus, Breslau. (1911/1913)İstanbul Research Institute

Study of the Maison Guiette. (1926) by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

Maison Guiette, Anvers.İstanbul Research Institute

Le Corbusier’s five principles of architecture–free design of plan, free design of façade, lifting the bulk of the structure off the ground by columns, horizontal band of windows, and flat roof–can be observed in Yenal’s designs.

Perspective of a performance hall. by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

During that period, Hans Poelzig pioneered “Neue Sachlichkeit” (New Objectivity), which epitomized objectivity, usefulness, and functionality as a reaction to the exaggerated emotional outbursts and excessiveness of Expressionism, the prevailing art movement in the Germany of the 1920s. He was recognized particularly for performance halls. Throughout the 1920s, in which cinema had become an indispensable part of urban social life, the construction of movie theaters was in high demand in Germany, as it was in the rest of the world.

Front façade study for the Anıtkabir project. (1941) by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

Anıtkabir Project Competition Sketches 

Yenal evidently prepared twenty-five detailed drawings of plans, cross-sections, and facades for the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk for the Anıtkabir Competition in 1941, but it still remains unknown if he ever submitted them. The design satisfied both the physical and psychological demands stated in the rules of the competition. In the drawings in question, the design elements are markedly different from each other in terms of time and space (chronology and geography) and include elements from the architecture of the ancient Egyptian, Seljuk, Mamluk, nineteenth-century Russian, and Nazi German periods. The search for spirituality provided through the oculus and the visitors’ perception of light was proposed as the most important design criteria for the mausoleum. 

St. Stephen Russian Memorial, Istanbul.İstanbul Research Institute

Set on terraces at different levels accessed by stairways, the mausoleum is vertically tall enough to be easily viewed from afar. The only example in collective memory of a high base raised by platforms upon which such a monument is set is the San Stefanos Russian Memorial, built in Yeşilköy after the Turks were defeated in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 but no longer standing. With the exception of the terraced roof, the resemblance of his design to the mausoleum in question continues along the arched entrance gate located at ground level. Located above the entrance of the Russian memorial, the icon niche was transformed in Yenal’s design into a small balcony with a pediment motif.

A cross-section study for the Anıtkabir Project competition. by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

The main archway to the tomb, designed with muqarnas, is located on the first floor as the main entrance to the mausoleum. The long and curved staircase leading to the portal defines the path of the visitors as if they were in a religious procession. The visitors’ vantage point changes at every curve and terrace, lending the building a dynamic visual quality. The plain fabric covering the interior walls of the two-story structure is embellished with torches.

Studies of lighting inspired by the Berlin Neue Wache. (1941) by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

The oculus (circular skylight) at the center of the roof reflects such a detail from the Neue Wache Memorial with which Yenal was familiar during his years in Berlin. However, he added to this classic element with a second skylight on the lower level. The search for spirituality provided through the oculus and the visitor’s perception of light was proposed as the most important design criteria of the memorial.

Rear façade study for Anıtkabir. (1941) by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

The mass design of two cut pyramids on top of one another and the ramps observed in all the Anıtkabir sketches recall ancient Egyptian architecture. This choice leads us to review the art scene in the West, one of the two critical sources of inspiration for Turkish architects of the 1940s. Egyptomania, with its roots extending back to the Renaissance in the West and intensifying after Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign in 1798, experienced a revival with the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 and thus attained the second source of influence. The plain mass designs dominated by vertical and horizontal lines in the architecture of the Old and Middle Kingdom of Egypt, façades devoid of ornamentation, and highly basic geometric detailing were quite attractive to advocates of modernity, seeking to rid themselves of the eclecticism of the nineteenth century.

Yıldız Palace İstanbul Balkan Conference Furnishing Project. (1934) by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

Works of “Interior Architecture” 

An incident that led Yenal
towards interior and furniture design was the first prize he won at an
important competition: the “Yıldız Palace Istanbul Balkan Conference Furnishings
Project,” organized in 1933 by the Directorate of National Palaces at Yıldız
Palace for the Balkan Conference in Istanbul. Participants were to design furnishings
to be used within the ceremonial hall during conferences. The art deco style Yenal
envisaged for the furniture was using a decorative line based on the rising
trend of national discourse but not incorporating political symbolism, despite
the nationalist political transformation at the time. 

Thus, it was rather convincing, as the architectural language notables of the Republic, eager to catch up with the spirit of modern times, deemed it fit for the urban Turkish bourgeoisie. It was also consistent with the state’s discourse on progress. It was international, and contrary to historicist currents, it offered no references to the Ottoman past.

Modernism culminated in a productive collaboration in which architecture, painting, and industrial design interconnected and architects, artists, sculptors, and carpenters worked in partnership. The interior design drawings in Yenal’s archives articulate modern furniture design as part of a defined space and as a whole, with elements such as lighting fixtures, carpets, and curtains.

"Interior architecture" study. by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

Yenal had several furniture designs that he brought to life with Zeki Kocamemi, an instructor at the painting department of the academy. Much like Yenal, Zeki Kocamemi was appointed to the department of interior architecture as Ginther’s assistant and was made instructor of interior architecture and furniture at the same department in 1933. In 1936, he founded the Zeki Kocamemi Workshop. In this collaboration, Kocamemi was the artist-cum-carpenter of the academy, whereas Yenal was the architect-cum-carpenter.

A bench still in use at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University.İstanbul Research Institute

A product of the Kocamemi–Yenal collaboration is the seating still in use in the conference hall of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. During Burhan Toprak’s presidency at the academy, the Çifte Saraylar was damaged during the fire of April 1, 1948. In order to meet the furniture needs of the different units of the buildings, renovated and reopened for instruction between 1952 and 1953, instructors at the academy submitted designs in collaboration with Hayati Görkey, the head of the woodworking workshop.

The solid hornbeam seats were designed in 1955 by Yenal and co-manufactured with Zeki Kocamemi. The original version of the seat is for two and is divided by an armrest at the center. In subsequent years, due to the increasing number of students at the university, the armrest was removed, and the seat was transformed to accommodate three.

A seaside villa project. by Nazimî Yaver Yenalİstanbul Research Institute

Paper Architecture 

Origins of paper
architecture are associated with the works of the Italian Baroque architect
Giovanni Battista Piranesi and late eighteenth-century French architectural
geniuses of the Enlightenment, namely Claude-Nicolas Ledoux and Étienne-Louis
Boullée. The term “paper architecture” was first proposed in the 1930s in the USSR,
led by Josef Stalin’s official ideology defending socialist realism, to
criticize and slander the avant-garde Russian architects of the 1920s who
produced abstract works. However, the term gained prestige throughout the twentieth
century and transformed itself to distinguish an independent architectural
practice. The Russian avant-garde artists Stalin oppressed, the Italian
futurists of the 1910s, the technology-loving British utopian architects of the
1960s, and the Russian post-modern generation of the 1980s were influential as
paper architects despite their designs remaining merely on paper. 

As in the case of Yenal’s drawings, the type of architecture that remains unrealized, or more precisely, not intended for construction and thus severing its ties entirely with the objective of implementation, attains the character of “paper architecture.” In the absence of determinants associating architecture with its primary function of construction, such as scale, structure, employer, and budget, what remains are works on paper with an intimate discourse on architecture, the borders of which become vague through painting. Placing the function of the designed building in the background, paper architecture puts architectural drawing at the heart of its narrative and focuses on presentation, representation, and idea. Architectural drawings are one of the basic and permanent elements of architectural culture. According to John Hedjuk, it is the “state of mind” of architecture.

Büke Uras, the curator of the exhibition, tells Nazimî’s story. (2018-05-02) by istanbul research instituteİstanbul Research Institute

Credits: Story

Curator: Büke Uras
Scientific Advisor: M. Baha Tanman
Coordinators: Gülru Tanman, Zeynep Ögel
Projeci Assistant: Emir Alışık
Translations: Melis Şeyhun Çalışlar
Digitization: Emir Alışık, Zeynep Burcu Kantemir, Irmak Wöber, Gülru Tanman, K. Mehmet Kentel
Proofreading: Jacob Chizzo


Ruşen Dora
Önder Küçükerman
Rüştü Sungur
Hakan Türel
Hasan Türel
Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University

Check out the exhibition catalogue here.

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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