Istanbul skyscrapers to be demolished
to protect the city's skyline

Onalti Dokuz skyscrapers in Istanbul, Turkey

News: the Turkish government has approved an order to demolish a series of new skyscrapers in the Zeytinburnu area of Istanbul to protect the historic views of key buildings including the Hagia Sofia.

Three skyscrapers in the Onalti Dokuz development in the west of Istanbul will be demolished or partially demolished, after the Turkish government's Council of State rejected appeals against a court ruling demanding their removal from the city's skyline.

The residential towers, designed by Alpar Architecture for developer Astay Gayrimenkul, were designed to form the centrepiece for a 12-hectare development site and vary in height from 36 to 27 storeys.

But the decision to allow their construction proved controversial, with critics and campaigners expressing dismay at the impact of the towers on the city's silhouette, including views of the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque.

The project coincided with the timing of an ultimatum from world heritage body UNESCO, who threatened to strip the city of its World Heritage Site status and add it to its list of endangered sites after repeated warnings about the city's approach to site management and the planning of major new construction projects.

Onalti Dokuz skyscrapers in Istanbul, Turkey

According to Turkish newspaper Todays Zaman, two legal cases were launched against the development – one seeking cancellation of the permits for the construction of the building and another to shut down the construction and destroy parts of the buildings that had already been completed.

In December last year, an Istanbul administrative court ordered the destruction of storeys on the Onalti Dukuz towers that were visible above the city's historic skyline.

Both the developer and the Istanbul and Zeytinburnu municipalities appealed against the decision, but the Council of State has now rejected their applications.

It is not clear who will have to foot the bill for the demolition.

In a statement reported by the state-run Anadolu news agency and repeated in Todays Zaman, local attorney Cihat Gökdemir who had been leading the case against the development said that the Zeytinburnu Municipality would have to demolish the skyscrapers in the near future and had no further legal avenues to explore.

Main image is from the Gorkorg blog.

Posted on Friday August 22nd 2014 at 12:14 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • James

    Utter madness. Massive legislative FAIL. What a total waste of resources and energy.

  • nasab5

    Well done Istanbul!

  • Rae Claire

    It’s never too late. Wasteful, of course, but for the best in the long term. I hope other cities will be so brave.

  • Walid Ghanem

    I do not know, they must cry over this waste of money and energy? Or they should be very good because there are people who care about city heritage and its wonderful historic appearance!

  • nathan

    I love the Hagia Sophia, but a great piece of architecture doesn’t deserve to own the skyline just because it was there first. The optimism new buildings can add for a city’s future trumps any “sacredness” an old building carries. People matter more than buildings.

  • Malina Palasthira

    Let’s put the restrictions in Bangkok before wasting so many resources like in Istanbul.

  • mik

    Naughty Unesco forcing Turkey to demolish buildings.
    Very bad Unesco!

  • Isaac Guerreiro

    I think the state of Turkey is prioritising the city skyline. It’s a beautiful way to think of the city, but may not be limited only to that.

  • Anne

    London should do the same to the Walkie Talkie skyscraper.

  • papou

    Good decision, it’s never too late to repair a mistake.

  • villainesta

    NOW you tell us!

  • Bruce Hitchman

    It’s a call for architects and developers to respect the vernacular.

  • from the future

    Good move. The skyscrapers shouldn’t have been approved construction in the first place, the skyline of such important historical area should be preserved among all else because it is the showcase of the country’s/city’s culture and heritage. There are many other places kilometers away from such sites for modern development. Developers should have thought of such risks before even planning such projects because culture and heritage preservation shall always prevail, unless we want our future generations to have no knowledge of their history.

  • Jack Woodburn

    Hummm… could developer Astay Gayrimenkul be facing bankruptcy after this fiasco? How many km away from Istanbul is acceptable?

  • Kay

    Well, as an Istabul lover and someone whose been the city more than a dozen times over the past 10 years I can say this news makes me very uneasy on many levels. On the one hand, I’ve witnessed first hand the development of Istanbul from a city withering with the times to a megalopolis that can compete with global cities across a variety of spectrums, modern architecture included. On the other, I’ve approached that massive appetite for growth with positive skepticism. The story of Istanbul in the 21st century is that of many cities in emerging markets – ambition, money, power and prestige. This is what drives Baku, Dubai, Beirut, Istanbul, New Delhi and Warsaw (to name a few). This did come at a cost, and that came in the form of lax planning laws that made it easy to get controversial plans out of the way easily, especially where big money is involved.

    However, we (and I refer to the design community at large here) must always be apprehensive when the state becomes so authoritative and starts ordering demolitions and/or rash construction however they please. Turkey has been getting much more authoritarian under Erdogan’s AKP rule and this news story does have eerie echoes of many other decisions Erdogan has taken over the years, not least the plans to build his military barracks over Gezi park.

    My humble two cents is that part of Istanbul’s charm was always this incredibly delicate interplay between a phenomenally rich history that is felt in every corner of the city, and an unquenchable thirst to move the city into the big leagues. This is best exemplified as you take a boat ride from the Golden Horn through to the Bosphorus strait as the panoramic of the city expands in the background. Mosque towers intermingle in harmony with Trump towers and residential expansion across the suburbs. You can’t stop the flow of cities, it will backfire…

  • Greg

    This is sad.
    The juxtaposition it creates is cool. A modern responsible Istanbul develops whilst the Hagia Sophia reveals, in its presence, a past civilisation. Social maturity is needed, not a demolition team.

  • gerald

    Why do people still associate high-rise buildings with progress? It might have been true way back in the 19th century, but it is definitely not valid in the 21st.

    High-rise buildings are ecological disasters as they easily consume 30 per cent more (operational) energy compared to three to four story buildings and need 60 per cent more embedded energy for construction. High-rise symbolizes nothing less than a back-ward mind set.

    By saving their past Istanbul (probably unknowingly) is saving its future in more than one way.

    • yazz

      I’m actually looking at the three towers now from my hotel. No, they are definitely not a sign of progress. Especially not when you hear that the developer was a good friend of the prime minister and as soon as the land was sold for £75 million, zoning plans miraculously changed, making the land worth 10 times more than it was sold for. They are a symbol of misused power and greed, not progression. Talking to people that work in the hotel, they are not at all against new building in the city but are against the building being done inappropriately. Well done the powers that be for making the brave decision.

      • Greg

        That’s crazy. The logic is eating itself. The bureaucracy which is leading to it’s destruction is equally sad as it’s development. Fact is they’re done – move on.

        To answer, why do people associate high buildings with progress? Economy. Land is a valuable as the human activity on it – therefore it’s a symbol of speed.

        It’s why chess has a timer.

        • First of all, high rise construction should be limited everywhere, it only suffocates downtowns and disrupts its hierarchy, creating climate, traffic and social issues.

          Secondly, if the financial crisis taught us one thing, it would be that construction boom is not a sign of a healthy economy. Besides, if the investors take over, Istanbul would become another soulless city for wealthy people to buy vacation homes. Just like London or Paris.

          I agree with you that the towers construction to demolition drama is colossal flop, but hopefully ends for the best. A city as mature as Istanbul should be a lot more meticulous in planning future developments.

          • Greg

            Point one, it’s narrow streets that clog cities, not high-rise buildings. Look to poverty for your social issues mate.

            Point two, construction is part of a healthy economy and always will be. Istanbul, London and Paris in the same vein is interesting.

            Yup, couldn’t agree more on future developments.

          • How urban must one be to choose this over a walk in narrow Istanbul alley?

  • thatissorad

    You dont know how much I wish this would happen!

  • What a waste!

  • fatihaltunkaya

    According to todays Zaman? What a liar newspaper it is.

  • Arjay Cee

    There is a better solution than wasteful destruction, and it is suggested by the ironic history of the Hagia Sofia itself.

    Until 1453, the building had spent nine centuries of its life as a Greek Orthodox church. The victorious Ottomans, ridding it and Constantinople herself of Greeks, gave the church a facelift. A minaret here, some covered-up mosaics there… In no time you have a mosque.

    The green solution to this little problem is dressing up the offending skyscrapers in the revered vernacular. They’re hideous cookie-cutter architecture anyway. Let them become fat minarets in drag; maybe Zaha Hadid can be commissioned to make them look like mosques from Pluto.

  • Marco Lammers

    It is not the first illegal skyscraper in Istanbul to be demolished (or to be ordered to be). I didn’t know this story, but I do know other examples.

    A terrible waste or resources indeed, but a deliberate risk taken by developers counting on their links with politicians to get skyscrapers legalised in zones where high building is off limits.

    There’s a well know example of a skyscraper built in central Taksim (maximum 7 floors allowed) demolished (from the 7th floor upwards) after the court judged it illegal. There’s the even more known example of the Süzer Plaza, where the developer succeeded to modify the frontiers of the city districts in an attempt to legalise the building, judged equally illegal, but so far never demolished.

    Istanbul is a city that doubles in size every 10 years. Unfortunately this comes with rather spectacular and widespread forms of corruption. Even its F1 circuit is built illegally (it is built in the city’s main water reservoir where any type of construction is off limit). Most of the plots specifically left empty following the 1999 earthquake as a safety measure are now filled with shopping centres, hotels and residences.

    It’s a simple calculation: high profile projects with strong political connections are hard and take time to undo, and the profit is worth the risk…

    If anything this is a legislative win, but one that I’m afraid won’t change much in the long run.

  • Marco Lammers

    If anybody is interested in a bit of background about Istanbul’s widespread habit of building illegal skyscrapers, this article might be helpful:

  • Elba

    Someone wrote once you could tell where society was heading by its tallest structures: they used to be church steeples, then hotels, banks and so on. Who wrote that? He was on to something.

  • Marco

    Manila is also facing the same issue – a 40 storey sky-rise building is currently being built with the approval of the City’s previous and current mayor. Many people are opposing this project because it will clearly obstruct the view of one of the Philippines’ famous landmark: the statue of our National Hero, Jose Rizal in Luneta Park.

  • Jimbo

    I applaud this.

  • Dalia

    I agree with this decision. Good job I find the skyscraper a type of visual and environmental pollution! We want to build more, higher and higher, we are human on earth not on air! We don’t need high-rise buildings if we still have large vacant areas that could be built on.