The principle behind the project proposal is that of MENDING the complex urban fabric, with a focus on reconnecting its collective spaces and eliminating social and architectural barriers, so that all citizens, whoever they are, are free to enjoy and make use of a public space.
Taksim Square is a complex organism, an amalgam of diverse spaces, streets, parks, monuments and buildings old and new. It is hard to picture this as a unitary organism. Yet it is the very mishmash of contrasting historical events (the revolution and Statism) and materials (the soft lines of the park and the stony hardness of the square) that makes it so fascinating. The complexity of the site is above all a result of its scale: at street level the physical boundaries of the square rapidly become invisible, and the impression it conveys is no longer that of a “protected” space sheltered by a surrounding wall of facades – in other words, by elements that delimit its perimeter.
In urbanistic terms, the square is an “orphaned” space, bereft of the facades of the Barracks whose presence once defined its shape and marked its boundaries, delimiting and containing the surrounding space. Their presence is still visible in the planimetric layout of the streets, but vanishes entirely when the square is viewed at street level. Any clear sense of the square’s shape is lost because it is no longer possible to distinguish the point at which the street ends, the square begins and Gezi Park finishes.
GEZI PARK AND THE FLYING CARPET
Gezi Park is the existing green space designed by Henry Prost on the former site of the Artillery Barracks which were built in the early 1800s. Nowadays, the residents of the districts surrounding Taksim and of other parts of Istanbul meet up beneath its leafy plane trees, ash trees, maples, horse chestnuts, oaks, black locust trees and magnolias, which offer shade in the summer and shelter from cold winter winds.
With this in mind, the proposal to create a pedestrian itinerary formed of overhead walkways along the original perimeter of the facades and fully open onto the Park and the Square reconstructs the physical boundaries lost with the demolition of the Barracks, and allows pedestrians using the walkways to see Taksim Square from above, as though travelling on a flying carpet.
The shape of the “Flying Carpet” – made entirely of laminated timber – has been determined by the location of the trees already present: the walkway’s protrusions and indentations respond to and respect the position of the trunks and canopies of the pre-existing plants, and in some cases portal-like openings anticipate their future growth. The walkway offers the city’s inhabitants an opportunity to PERCEIVE these spaces in a new way, using their senses: smelling the presence of the trees which perforate the structure vertically, and the climbing plants attached to it on various levels to offer shade and refresh the air; and seeing the full depth of the surrounding spaces thanks to the fact that from here the gaze reaches and “caresses” the city beyond the current edges of the park. The walkway’s decking, ramps and upper sections can house areas of seating and belvederes from which to admire the trees from different angles; small kiosks could serve coffee and refreshments or house bookcrossings and public readings; some areas could be used for public gatherings such as citizens’ associations’ meetings, neighbourhood committees and political meetings, or even for lessons and lectures – all of this contributing to the functional surface area available for activities involving large groups of people, while providing the very best of all contagion-prevention systems: the open air. Space, therefore, for all those simple activities which have always been performed in public squares, and which – even in the current circumstances – no one would wish to see abandoned, because they form part of what it means to be a healthy community of citizens, one element of a community’s civil liberties: the freedom to meet others, to see and be seen, to exchange news and opinions, to stroll and rest, etc.
For cultural/artistic events, the Flying Carpet’s overhead walkways can also become exhibition spaces – a new “Guggenheim en plein air” – where the only “distancing” involved is that which keeps ignorance at bay.
At the centre of the “Flying Carpet”, Gezi Park acquires a new vitality. As has already been underlined, its trees will be conserved and protected, thanks also to the removal of the impermeable paving materials – to be replaced with grass and free-draining stabilised-earth footpaths. Together with the installation of a rainwater drainage system, this will guarantee the delivery of higher volumes of water to the trees’ root systems, making them healthier and stronger. In design terms, the rainwater drainage system will effectively become a piece of circular land art, its forms echoing those of the competition site’s two most iconic features: the Gezi Park Fountain and the Republic Monument in Taksim Square. At a functional level, the existing bus stops will be repositioned and the bars currently situated along the course of the future ‘Flying Carpet’ will be relocated.