Does experience create spatiality? Is it possible
to separate space from its representation in
order to experience a real confrontation of it?
Building practice commonly seeks above all to
sustain the infrastructure and purposes of functionalism.
On the other hand, however, design
always searches for the creative potential linked
to the interaction between humans and space.
A kind of "relationality" based on an experience
of the subjectivity of space could be the basic
Designed by the REX architecture firm, the design of the recently completed Vakko Fashion and Media Center in Istanbul raises a few important issues that are relatively new to the Turkish city: converting an existing structure in an urban space; a strong interactive communication process with the client (Cem Hakko); a "relational" interior design formed with a glass and mirror structure; and a depth of research into material usage that seems to have created a "localised" architecture practice for REX in Istanbul.
The complex steel structure applied to the existing 1980s' hotel construction consists of six boxes that cater for the different programmes contained within Vakko's headquarters (showrooms, auditorium, library, meeting rooms and offices). The building's interiors are basically formed and enveloped with combinations of glass and mirrors. These mirror-glass interiors reflect the spaces and people in endless spatial relations, with every single movement expanding in images that seem to fold in on themselves.
During my encounters with the people who work in these offices, I was told that they kept losing their sense of orientation. The orientations they have to discover everyday in this labyrinthine interior become an adventure and a personal spatial experience. Is this spatial experience a representation of design? The representation becomes not a closure that is only focused on the building as an object in itself, but as a flux or an interactive experience through the movements of the people who use the space.
As the philosopher Boris Groys states in one of his texts: "Design seeks to shape the gaze of viewers in such a way that they become capable of discovering things themselves." At bottom, the character of the design's representation does not guide the spatial experience in the interior of the Vakko building. Instead, we can experience the dissolution of the design's representation through the multiplicity of folded spaces with their mirror-glass interiors. Thus the primary spatial experience here is transformed into a relational design practice.
Taking into consideration the facade design of other multinational fashion brand buildings, REX developed a specially produced and designed glass skin with a local Turkish workshop. Hence the existing building's facade is wrapped with an ultra-thin sheath of glass, resulting from a combination of high technology and local craft workshops (a decision based on a close creative relationship with the craftsmen during production). REX exploits this advantage offered by Istanbul, consisting in the combined practices that provide architects with the possibility to find, create and re-form materials.
Awarding commissions to foreign architecture offices is not a new phenomenon, but neither is it very common in the rapidly expanding and developing city of Istanbul. The city's architecture scene continues to harbour the conflict of local-global tensions, ever since the semi-public competition in 2007 for the Maltepe area (located on Istanbul's southeast axis), organised by the Greater Municipality of Istanbul and entrusted to Zaha Hadid. In a world of global architectural production, Istanbul still struggles to present the work of contemporary architectural practices. In such an architectural environment, working in constrained conditions, REX demonstrates that it is possible to take advantage of the material production processes and creative design in Istanbul in order to create a localised practice. Furthermore, Istanbul is a fast expanding city in terms of construction and space production, with enormous numbers of building components existing in the urban space. Working on a pre-existing building and recycling it into a creative new architecture draws our attention as citizens not only to the potential of design, but also to the future of Istanbul's built environment.
Vakko Fashion Center and Power Media Center, Istanbul, Turkey
Design team: Erez Ella, Tomas Janka, Mathias Madaus, David Menicovich, Tsuyoshi Nakamoto, Joshua Prince-Ramus, Ishtiaq Rafiuddin, Tieliu Wu
Structural engineering: Buro Statik
Construction supervision: Cem Mimarlik
Plant engineering: Gurmen Muhendislik
Facade consultant: Front "Ring" and "Showcase" facade glass
Client: Vakko and Power Media
Built area: 5,400 m² (Vakko Fashion Center) and 3,700 m² (Power Media Center)
Design phase: February 2008 – June 2008
Construction phase: February 2008 – January 2010
Additional consultants: ARTE, Autoban, Cedetas, Dora, Eleksis, Norm Tecnic, Say Yapi, STEP, Superpool