Awards

2013 World Architecture Festival (Highly Commended-Culture)

Suyabatmaz Demirel Architects
Arif Suyabatmaz, Hakan Demirel
Team O. Ülgen, E. Yazkurt, S. A. Karaatlı, G. Ersel
Client Syrian Community
Location İstanbul/Turkey

Size 6.500 m2

The Syrian Orthodox Community is known as the first community that accepted Christianity. In the ancient times, they settled down in Mesopotamia and later spread all over the world. A recent survey predicts that there are over 20 million Syrians in the world, with a total of 17,000 inhabitants of the faith living in Turkey with the majority of 15,000 only in Istanbul. Besides Istanbul, there is also a dense population in the region of “Tur Abdin” which is near Mardin. In this region there are several architectural pieces from different centuries and they have a great effect on Mardin’s development. Mardin has many churches built around 400 A.C. but there had not been any new construction of religious buildings for a very long time, in almost 17 centuries. In spite of everything, the existing building stock has been very well preserved during all these centuries. Since there was no new formation, people living there could not witness the process.

The new Syrian Orthodox Church, thought to be built in Istanbul, is in Yeşilköy which is primarily a residential district. One of the most important features about this church is that it will be the first church built in Turkey after the foundation of the Turkish Republic. Although there is “Church of Virgin Mary” in Tarlabaşi, Istanbul built before the foundation of Turkish Republic however; it is more of a refurbishment of an existing block within a row of residential buildings. Moreover this new project is expected to be designed to integrate with some social facilities which require an area almost as much as the church building itself.

There has been no spatial definition for a church design before. Since this kind of a religious building design can be considered with various point of views, it shouldn’t be thought with a limitation of geometry. The term or “church” is actually not only the building itself but it also includes the community inside. In other words, what generates the church is the community and their lifestyle in this building. There is a great variety of plan schemes in the world that shows different possibilities of plan configuration of a church regarding the life of this community.

The community of the church uses more area than the church itself as a social space. In these social spaces, which are well integrated with the church, time is spent studying, socializing, playing games, dining and much more. This kind of a lifestyle may be related with the fact that they are one of the minorities living in a Muslim society and integration is essential. There is no specific impression about this kind of an issue in Turkey but they might see these social spaces as a necessity as this is the lifestyle they generally observe. This community is full of people who begin to find a world for themselves when they are inside these walls to get together with friends, meet new people from their own community, socialize and get married. This lifestyle has become their tradition in the course of time.

The social spaces also function as residences and offices for reverends in some places, where in other places they are common spaces, i.e, dining hall, multi-purpose hall and its stage, etc. It is critical to understand the integration of the religious church space and the residential unit when placed together.

Common spaces, designed in the basement floor between sunken gardens, connect these two structures at this level. The common space defines an area which is used not only after the worships in the church but also from the residence when there is no religious activity. This area holds two different functions together just like a platform and at the same time it saves this space from the feeling of a dark low underground place. It also converts this space to a courtyard with reference to the traditional churches by using a similar relation between different parts. While doing this, without any disruption to the church structure, some voids in the residence are defined and from these voids natural light is dispersing.

The surrounding of the church is a settlement which has mostly residential blocks that have specific height. Due to this existing situation, the church design has the risk of forming a result that may be perceived as size of a cathedral. Regarding to the speciality of this building, some exceptions can be done in the laws but the height around is non-ignorable. Proposed design does not want to come into prominence and dissociated from the neighbourhood. Therefore there is a number of conditions that the building aims for as its principle.

First of all; the church which is a single space doesn’t want to disturb its surrounding because of its gauge that may be evolving from its volume and size. This kind of disruption is actually because of its difference in terms of both size and function. Although it includes many functions inside, it will eventually be different from the rest of neighbourhood which are usually extroverted when the church is introverted. The design accepts this diversity from the beginning and the process develops accordingly. Instead of having an impressive and gorgeous image like in many cases, it prefers to behave as modest as it can be.

The building aims to create a pause between the moment people enter and before they enter to the building. It defines an interior surrounded by a rib structure which transforms the user feeling completely by losing the -outside-inside- relationship. Generally this size of a church offers a space for almost 600-700 people within a sitting arrangement however this number is increased in this case through the rib structure by designing niches on sides for people, which let them create their own private spaces.

Horizontal void passing through the structure in the ceiling, let people connect with the sky by the help of light coming through. This light opening continues till the end of altar. The ceiling panels which are almost 2 meters comes down more only above the altar and the light floating behind emphasizes this circular space more by defining the focal point of the space which is already significantly impressive. Both lights  in the ceiling and behind the altar, is organized in a way that never disturb people at eye level but more of a diffused light entering the space just like a divine light. This horizontal opening can be followed visually and it is also functioning as a line that illustrates the separation between men-women sitting arrangement of Syrian’s.

Hipped roof system is because of reconsidering the most basic building form. In a manner of speaking, it refers to the fact that the Syrians are the first community that accepted Christianity. Instead of making a geometrical preference, the building believes in forming a powerful space inside by dealing with the simplest geometry and searching for the truth in this simplicity. The design uses a simple form, simple repetitions, and tries not to take so much attention by dissociating.  It is not concerning about being a flash over-designed building, but it is searching for a better interior that answers all the needs of people. It tries to create a space that people will respect instead of being squeezed inside. At this point, the thing people need to believe is not the building itself, but the moments they live in the building.

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