For 1475 years, the colossal dome and four minarets of the Hagia Sofia have remained the focus of Istanbul’s historic silhouette. That is, until three hulking towers known as the OnaltiDokuz Residences interrupted the scene last summer, sparking another battle over development in the Turkish capital. In late May, the Hurriyet Daily News reported that the city’s 4th Administrative Court ordered the demolition of the skyscrapers, claiming that their construction was illegal because it “negatively affected the world heritage site that the Turkish government was obliged to protect.” To guard against future infractions, this Wednesday the Turkish Parliament passed legislation calling for additional safeguards nationwide to protect historic areas from rapid urbanization.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed his distaste for high-rise development within the city in the past, and urged the towers’ owner, Mesut Toprak, to shorten his skyscrapers. The three towers, coming in at 37, 32, and 27 stories, are located in the Zeytinburnu district on the European side of Istanbul, and represent a recent surge in unplanned building and urbanization that is going on throughout the historic city. While the city’s economic upswing is welcomed, the non-contextual form it has taken is not. The public has reacted positively to the demolition ruling, but many worry that there is little hope in curbing the buildup at this point.
“I side with a form of architecture that accords with our culture,” said Erdogan in an address to local lawmakers last month. “In Istanbul and Ankara, there are structures that have gone against the characters of both cities. I don’t approve of vertical structures; rather I favor horizontal ones. Four stories should be above the ground, while the other four should be built underground.”
This comes in stark contrast to other cities like London and Washington, D.C. that are grappling with potentially raising height limits to allow for greater density and new development.
Meanwhile, the towers’ owners plan to seek an appeal, claiming that they complied with zoning regulations and that their project is in no way illegal.