Deconstructing Sinan's Townscape

“…one thing remains the same: the place the Bosphorus holds in our collective heart….(it) sustains the city and all those who dwell in it.” - Orhan Pamuk

Invited by Turkish Ceramics and the AJ, DSDHA explores the works of Mimar Sinan's, the first 'Starchitect', and writes about the picturesque in Isntanbul. 
The dramatic vistas of Istanbul’s historic peninsula offer to the eye an elegantly curated skyline, which has become synonymous with the identity of the city and that clearly owes much to the endeavours of Mimar Sinan over five hundred years ago. A network of elegant minarets and domes dominates Istanbul's horizon and marks its important nodal points. 

Our study – investigating the conditions that one may encounter when exploring the city under the ‘guidance’ of Sinan’s architecture – has focused on the complex relationship between the natural topography of the peninsula, the divine geometry of these prominent urban landmarks and the unruly character of the urban flesh upon which they rest. We have analysed a number of urban paths in a visual way, using an approach very similar to that championed by the English Townscape Movement in the years following WWII, whilst also exploiting the potential of new mapping technologies and digital tools to fully appreciate the effect of Sinan’s work on the city as a whole. 

Throughout the 40s the Architectural Review (AR) mounted one of the longest-lasting architectural campaigns of the 20th century. Its aim was to free planning from the cold embrace of Beaux-Arts Moderne and to devise new ways of generating cities. Under the banner of ‘Townscape’ they championed a new concept of urban design, central to which was a kinetic and multi-scaled appreciation of how urban experience and composition unfolds on the ground, as well as a sensibility akin to the Picturesque within art. Their approach to the built environment was essentially seeking to adapt modern architecture in a more informal way to deal with the concrete problems of reconstruction. 

There is relevance today in reviewing Sinan’s work through the lens of the Picturesque. At this point in history new technologies have accustomed us to a set of sophisticated yet bewildering visual paradigms, which simulate a God’s Eye view perspective: a sort of detached all-knowing observant gaze which goes in tandem with the astonishing capability to simultaneously experience more places than ever before via virtual means.  

Sinan’s mosques present an interesting case study to see what we can learn from a timeless architecture that has been located within the urban realm, to then be carefully nested, stitched to the temporal grain of the city. His apparent ability to simultaneously govern the human scale at ground level and the grand, superhuman view, is a virtue that has become essential for architecture. The built environment nowadays seem indeed to have acquired some uncanny connotations, being as it is the archetypal human undertaking and the familiar domain that sustains our everyday existence, yet one whose complexity increasingly escapes our comprehension without a necessary level of abstraction or technological aid. Architecture is now more than ever faced with the difficult task of giving coherence to the split nature of our urban experience.
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