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ankara, cr/theory, essay, ideology, memory, praxis, urban, utopia

Retrospective Design: Homage to Social Condensers*



“Our largest meetings are held in the factories. Stage plays and concerts are performed in large factories during work breaks. Thus the factory has become the crucible of Socialization for the urban population; its architecture is not merely the wrapping for a complex of machines but something completely new and different.”[1]

 [El Lissitzky | Russia an Architecture for World Revolution]


Parallel with Modernity Project’s the most wanted desire of engineering our social fabric, the Modernist architectural imagination as a means to envision alternative possibilities has long been a contested issue since the turn of the late Nineteenth Century: Within this ambitious paradigmatic endeavor the Avant Garde, particularly in architecture, was not solely interested in forms, functions and pure tectonics of the said built environment; on the contrary, the prime incentives of those movements and manifestos were to generate un-orthodox discourses and such bounded practices of new intellectual as well as ideological strongholds. It was in fact to tailor a new social role for architecture that made the architect a significant political subject in the organization and building of social life by which architecture was now regarded as a social condenser.[2]

A social condenser is not an empty container for possible practices; neither is it a contained function in itself. It is rather an interactive process through which the architectural program is in a constant and yet cooperative/collective/constructive communication with society/communities/groups of people/individuals for the sole purpose of engineering their perceptive as well as cognitive psyche in real-time everyday practices under such meta-guiding-principles, all premeditated through the objectives of Modernity. Of many utopian incentives of early Modernism, for instance, the well-known Siedlungs in central Europe, the Workers’ Club in Sovietic Landscape or Halkevleri[3] of the newly emerging nation-state of Anatolia in 1920s has many but one central driving force in common: they were and have been specifically designed and put into implementation as the first and foremost examples of how social condenser could best be utilized programmatically and architecturally.

In a century-long debate, if factory/atelier[4] was an apex of all social condensers, where production has the capacity to expel alienation for the sole aim of the class for itself, Bauhaus [in Weimar Germany] or Technical Arts Institute [VKhutein in Soviets] and then Köy Enstitüleri could also be regarded as innovative condensers through which such binary oppositions as “artisanal versus artistic”, “training versus education”, “production versus creation”, “study/work versus leisure/recreation”, “everyday versus academic/scholarly” seem to have been dissolved under one bounding social program; a program that is to encompass “a totality” embedded in 24 hours of cycles to generate a complete subject. It is a known fact that the said social program needs to be coupled with architectural programs as well in order to provide a complex milieu of work, study, leisure, gastronomy, hygiene and such everyday routines through cross-programing, which easily dismisses the orthodoxies of classrooms, teacher’s lounge, dormitory, canteen, sports-hall or “tören alanı”, “Atatürk Köşesi”, “müdür makamı”, etc., as forcefully accustomed in the Turkish context.

A social condenser rather cross-fertilizers all the known archetypes programmatically and produce complex layouts that would provide multi-layered spatial and social practices, based on demands and expectations as required by the everyday cycles.[5] An Urban [Vocational] Institute, in this respect, deserves a similar design procedure in the way to become a new social condenser in an urban context that could bring different layers of everyday life under three major headings:

Education/Training by Production – Factory/Atelier

Living by programmed Everyday-life Cycles – Housing Commune

Urban Contact by face-to-face Encounter – Social Club

Within this framework, an industrial district has been specifically chosen in order to design a new social program, which is expected to meet current/contemporary demands and expectations of an urban environment, complex in nature – now a complete derelict field in the city-center, the site has in fact captures a strong reminiscent of production and becomes a vibrant habitus in itself.


*This text is a revised version of METU Department of Architecture Arch202 Architectural Design Studio Brief, specifically penned out for the 2015-2016 Academic Year, Spring Semester. The overall intention of this post is to exemplify that architectural design can best be utilised for enhancing our capacity in critical readings as well: in respect to those of literary examples in our Modern history, architecture is now a medium of social condensers and the architect is the political subject of this uncanny intention. Along with the author himself the participants/critics of the said studio/course are Can Baykan, Marco Bruno, Fatih. C. Öz, İnci Basa, Ela Alanyalı, Sinem Çınar, Barış Yağlı, Yiğit Acar, Ezgi Balkanay, Zuhal Acar and Gökçe Önal. For a complete set of the given assignment, please visit: http://metuarch202habitat.tumblr.com

[1] El Lissitzky, Russia: An Architecture for World Revolution, Trans. Eric Dluhosch, The MIT Press: Cambridge and Massachusetts, 1984:p.58.

[2] İlknur Sudaş, An Inquiry on Bourgeois Conception of Social Housing Program for Working-Class: Karl Marx Hof in Vienna, [Advisor: Güven Arif Sargın], Unpublished Master’s Thesis: METU, Department of Architecture, 2011; İsben Önen, Locating the Structure-Agency Dichotomy in Architecture: Worker’s Club as a Type of Social Condenser in the Soviets 1917-32, [Advisor: Güven Arif Sargın], Unpublished Master’s Thesis, METU, Department of Architecture, 2006; Kıvanç Kılıç, Searching for the Avant-Garde in the Turkish Context: The Hıfzısıhha Enstitüsü, [Advisor: Güven Arif Sargın], Unpublished Master’s Thesis, METU, Department of Architecture, 2002.

[3] Neşe Gürallar, Halkevleri: İdeoloji ve Mimarlık, İletişim Yayınları: Ankara, 2003.

[4] Lucien Kroll, An Architecture of Complexity [Trans. Peter Blundell Jones] The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1987; Ali Cengizkan, Fabrika’da Barınmak; Erken Cumhuriyet Dönemi’nde Türkiye’de İşçi Konutları: Yaşam, Mekan ve Kent, [Edt.] Arkadaş Kitabevi: Ankara, 2009.

[5] Güven Arif Sargın, Hybrid Spaces, [Edt.] METU Faculty of Architecture Press: Ankara, 2004; Güven Arif Sargın, Ayşen Savaş, “Dialectical Urbanism; Tactical Instruments in Urban Design Education”, Cities, Vol.29, 2011: pp.358-368.


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