Sedad Hakkí Eldem

Architect, Turkey
Sedad Hakkí Eldem was the leading proponent of a regionalist and tradition-conscious
modernism in 20th-century Turkish architecture. Born in Istanbul as the descendent of an
elite Ottoman family, Eldem spent his childhood in Geneva, Zurich, and Munich, where
his father served as an Ottoman diplomat. He studied architecture in the Imperial School
of Fine Arts in Istanbul (1924–28; the school was established in 1882 by his great-uncle
Osman Hamdi Bey), which was based on the École des Beaux-Arts. After graduation, he
spent two formative years in Europe (1928–30), visiting the offices of Le Corbusier and
August Perret in Paris and working with Hans Poelzig in Berlin. His beautifully rendered
sketches, titled “Anatolian Houses,” dating from this period also reflect his fascination
with Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie houses, which were inspirational for his own vision of
the modern Turkish house. In 1931, he returned to Istanbul to start his own practice and
joined the faculty at the Academy, where he taught continuously for 48 years.
Eldem’s architectural training at the Academy coincided with the end of the Ottoman
revivalist (or national style) in Turkey. By 1930, that style was replaced by the
International Style-influenced German and Austrian modernism of Ankara, the symbol of
the new Kemalist Republic. Critical of the academicism of the former and the formal
sterility of the latter, Eldem posited the traditional Turkish residential vernacular as the
only viable source of a modern and national architecture. He devoted a lifetime to the
theorization, codification, and promotion of the “Turkish house” as a distinct cultural and
plastic type spread throughout the vast territories of the Ottoman Empire, especially in
Istanbul, the Balkans, and northern Anatolia. In 1934, he established the National
Architecture Seminar at the Academy to study and document hundreds of such traditional
houses, which, he argued, already embodied modernist qualities in the rationality of their
floor plans and the constructional logic of the timber frame clearly manifest in their
facades. Although much of this material perished in the Academy fire of 1948, it
constitutes the core of his Türk Evi Plan Tipler i (1954; Plan Types of Turkish Houses) and his monumental Türk E v i
(1984; Turkish House), conceived in five volumes. In addition to these seminal works,
Eldem published numerous monographs on individual pavilions, kiosks, and houses of
Istanbul as well as a two-volume documentary of the city’s engravings and old
Eldem’s early built works were largely private houses in Istanbul based on traditional
Turkish plans and displaying the characteristic tile roofs, wide overhanging eaves, and
modular repetition of projecting windows above the ground floor. These features became
his distinct personal style, which he elaborated in numerous private villas for wealthy
clients, mostly along the banks of the Bosphorous, well into the 1980s. In most examples,
the modular grid that acted as the generator of the plan, and the facade versus the in-fill
panels within the grid were distinctly articulated in different materials and colors. His
masterpiece, the paradigmatic Taslík Coffee House in Istanbul (1950; demolished in 1988
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 750
and rebuilt on an adjacent site), is a reinforced concrete replica of a 17th-century shore
mansion on the Bosphorous.
The larger and more monumental public buildings of Eldem’s early career were also
informed by his quest for a rationalist conception of modern Turkish architecture.
Working in partnership with Emin Onat and in close association with Paul Bonatz, Eldem
became the leading proponent of what was termed “National Architecture Movement” in
the 1940s, epitomized by the Faculties of Sciences and Letters of the University of
Istanbul (1942–44). This building is organized around a series of open courtyards and
displays the classicizing tendencies of the period in its use of monumental tall colonnades
and stone facing. The main facade is an elongated version of Eldem’s Turkish house idea,
blown up in scale and lifted above a monumental colonnade on the ground level with
clear allusions to Paul Bonatz’s Stuttgart Railway Station (1912–28). In the courtyards,
Eldem adopted the Ottoman walling technique of alternating brick and stone layers, also
used by Bruno Taut in the Faculty of Humanities Building in Ankara (1937–38).
The most acclaimed scheme of Eldem’s long career, however, was the Social Security
Administration Complex in Zeyrek, Istanbul (1962–64), which won an Aga Khan Award
in 1986. The program is skillfully scaled down and fragmented into smaller blocks, and
the scheme conforms to the topography of the triangular site sloping toward the old
neighborhoods of Zeyrek, with its narrow streets and wooden houses. In its sensitivity to
the scale and architectural character of one of the few remaining traditional
neighborhoods in Istanbul, the design marks the shift in Eldem’s attitude from the more
monumental nationalist classicism of the 1940s to a more contextualized modernism of
the 1960s.

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