Emre Arolat: What I do notice is that Turkish conditions are much more flexible than elsewhere in Europe. The prevailing atmosphere here is one of arbitrariness and a lack of standards. This frees the architect from restraints, although this may of course become a restriction. Europe is full of many ready-made solutions, called standards. They can make life easier, but at the same time they tie the architect's hands. It is only possible to question these standards when you come from an 'exotic' country or if you are a starchitect. Unless you are dealing with a very special project, not much is expected from the architect. From this perspective, Turkey is a more fertile and flexible place to work.
Omer Kanipak: Do you think there is a difference in the client-architect relationship?
EA: I've found that clients in EU countries are more institutionalized. European clients hardly deal with anything technical; they delegate everything to professionals, whereas in Turkey this hardly ever occurs. We are now working on one of the largest projects in Europe, a mixed-used complex located in Istanbul, where it's not at all unusual for the client to come to the construction site, don a helmet, and walk around inspecting the wall surfaces of the basement storage rooms.
Today there are many people in Turkey working on the most important projects of their lives. Modern construction activities have just begun in Turkey. We are passing into a new era in which private industry is the main client, rather than the government. It will take a couple of generations to see the institutionalization that's common in the EU. So yes, there is a very strong emotional relationship between the client and his building. In Europe, this relationship is much colder, more mechanical and also more qualified in many aspects.
OK: Now that architects are starting to practise worldwide, ethical issues such as the responsibility of architects on public projects are being discussed widely. What do you think the position of the architect should be?
EA: There is a duality here. On the one hand, I think you should pursue your profession with a kind of affirmation; you try to do your best by taking all the given preconditions into account and working towards a good and beautiful outcome. On the other hand, you should question the given constraints and insert some statements of principle that are worth fighting for into the proposed solution.
I believe an architect should show resistance, sometimes by making and sometimes by declining to make anything. But there is an important point here: an architect should always remain true to his beliefs. Otherwise, there is really no point. There are so many popular themes now, such as sustainability or ecology, that have become empty shells.
OK: Sustainability is treated as an unquestionable, 'sacred' issue. What are your views on this subject?
EA: This attitude jeopardizes many issues by covering them up. People find a vertical garden or a green terrace interesting, even enchanting. Yet 40% of global warming is caused by buildings and by roads and the traffic on these roads. Faced with this huge problem, it might seem like a good idea to create some more awareness by turning the walls of some buildings green, but that might also create the illusion that this is the real solution to the problem. I think that to foster this awareness, we don't need to make a wall green or turn the terrace into a garden. Instead, we should strive to improve the traffic load that today's construction will create in the future.
OK: You were for many years active in architectural education. Is there more in-depth research in architecture schools than in the media?
EA: Education has 'flattened' since my time as a student. Exceptions do exist, but the general story is that architectural education has always followed the market. I am not really optimistic in that regard. However, maybe ten years from now we'll be able to laugh about what we are saying now. The notion of 'depth' may have already become extinct and lost its meaning or importance. A few generations later, we may talk about an architecture that is consumed much faster. I think it was at a conference held in Ankara in 1998 that Peter Eisenmann claimed that whereas the lifespan of buildings used to be centuries, it is now only 25 years. But I think that lifespan is now even much shorter than 25 years.
A building that will only affect us for such a short time will have other influences in different contexts, at different times. I am afraid of this – this is a world totally unknown to me that I will never be able to accept. If architecture is going to be like this in 30 years' time, I wouldn't want to be still practising architecture. Even today I'm uncomfortable with the pace of architectural production. Even today I don't think it is deep enough. However, I don't think architectural education will be able to change this, because it has never been able to do so in the past.
OK: Many acclaimed architects who are now in their seventies, eighties or nineties still work enthusiastically. Why would you consider stopping practising architecture?
EA: As a fickle man I may have chosen to make many things rapidly and to produce in large quantities, consuming all the delights as soon as possible. I struggle to work in this market, not in the sense that it exhausts me; it just irks me really. After a certain point, it starts to become meaningless. One can exist in this world not only by 'conventionally' erecting buildings but also by producing or creating other things, such as in teaching, working on non-profit projects or working outside the field of architecture. I say this more and more frequently nowadays, because I feel that the meaning of the things that I struggle for is being lost.