Armenian architects took on a prominent role in the construction of palace buildings and official buildings in the Ottoman Empire. The staff of the Imperial Architects Office that directed such construction projects always included Armenian architects. Young recruits to this office were trained within a master-apprentice relationship. In other words, the Imperial Architects Office also operated as a kind of school of architecture.
Although it’s rooted in the 18th century, the Ottoman state’s more decisive turn towards the West took place in the 19th century with the declaration of the Tanzimat (Reorganization) Edict in 1839 and the Islahat (Reform) Edict in 1856. Winds of change from the West influenced architecture as much as any other field. Innovations in the fields of administration, law, education, health and social life led to the emergence of new building types like the school, hospital, post office, train station, apartment block, business building etc. These buildings that Ottoman architecture was alien to, began to change the physical appearance of at least a part of the city in a comprehensive manner.
Meanwhile, in 1831, the Imperial Architects Office had been abolished and replaced by the Directorate of Imperial Buildings. However, the training of architects was not among the duties of the directorate. Until the beginning of education in 1883 at the Imperial School of Fine Arts, that also formed the core of the present-day Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, there was no organized architectural education in the country.
Some of the new buildings were designed and constructed by foreign (European) architects who came to Istanbul to build the embassy buildings of their own countries and then stayed on to work on other projects. The architects of the Balian family on the other hand, had already been realizing the construction projects of the palace. Almost all the large mosques commissioned by sultans in Istanbul in the first half of the century were the work of the Balians. Increasingly, Levantine, Greek and other Armenian architects began to carry out the projects of public buildings and private buildings of their own communities. They were either trained by practice, or were graduating from the schools of architecture in Europe. Meanwhile, architecture seemed no longer to be a ‘popular’ profession for the Muslims of Ottoman society. After the opening of the School of Fine Arts, for a long period of time, the majority of students at the Department of Architecture were Rum/Greek and Armenian.
In the era of Westernization that took place throughout the entire 19th century and is also known as Ottoman Modernization, Armenian architects, and mainly Balians, played a great role in the transformation of Istanbul’s physical appearance.
A project by: Hrant Dink Vakfı, HAYCAR Mimar ve Mühendisler Dayanışma Derneği,
İstanbul 2010 Kültür Başkenti Ajansı, İstanbul Modern Sanat Müzesi
Sponsors: Enka Vakfı, Chrest Foundation, Fotoğraf Akademisi, APA Uniprint
Curator of the Exhibition : Hasan Kuruyazıcı
Design : Erkal Yavi
Photos : Gökhan Tan, Adalar Müzesi, Atölye MD, Özgür Bali, Anıl
Çizmecioğlu, Umur Çolgar, Sera Dink, Bahar Gökten, Burak Gölge, Tevfik Rıza
Gözlükçü, Sibel Günak, Beril Gür, Burak Kara, Serhat Keskin, Tuba Kılıç, Görkem
Kızılkayak, Berkay Tezcan, Duygu Tozduman, Damla Yedisan, Semra Yeşil, Kamil