When thinking about modern architecture in Turkey, it would be easy to assume that the movement has only just started. Yet, rather than being a sudden shift from traditional architecture to modern, the process has taken over 100 years. The change of ideas and thinking in design and practical use started during the late days of the Ottoman Empire, which began to incorporate more Westernised European architecture into their buildings. When they were disbanded, and the new Turkish republic was formed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, there was a drive to shift the national identity from being connected to the Ottomans into a new country that would become a global player.
These days, modern Turkish architecture has evolved into dynamic blends of tradition and innovation, reflecting the nation's commitment to progress while preserving unique cultural identities. While millions of tourists annually arrive to visit the historical architecture, the likes of which are displayed in the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, Turkish and foreign architects have been slowly changing the landscapes of certain districts by designing landmark buildings that win global awards. Turkey’s modern architectural landscape portrays the nation's embrace of innovation while honouring its rich history.
The diverse array of famous modern buildings, from airports and museums to commercial centres and mosques, showcases the creativity and vision of Turkish architects. As the country continues to evolve, these structures serve as functional spaces and symbols of progressive Turkey, where the past and present coexist harmoniously. With intricate designs, international styles, and modern Turkish trends, public spaces and Turkish housing are about much more than concrete structures and focus on long-term strategies with sustainable design. Architectural buildings are putting some cities on the map, and the architects behind them are slowly working behind the scenes to build bigger and better.
The Story of Modern Architecture in Turkey
Sedad Hakkı Eldem - Pioneer of Modern Architecture
Sedad Hakkı Eldem heavily influenced the early days of modernist architecture. Born in 1908 in Istanbul, Eldem's architectural journey unfolded against a rapidly changing Turkey in the early 20th century. His legacy is reflected in numerous buildings and his unwavering commitment to preserving Turkey's architectural heritage. Sedad Hakkı Eldem's early exposure to Istanbul's rich architectural tapestry influenced his decision to pursue a career. He graduated from Istanbul’s Academy of Fine Arts laying the foundation for modernist architecture that would span over six decades. Notable Works include the Ataturk Library in Istanbul.
Vedat Tek – Leading the Way
Vedat Tek (1873–1942) was a prominent Ottoman and Turkish architect known for his significant contributions during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in Istanbul, Tek influenced architectural transitions from the late Ottoman Empire to the early years of Turkey. Tek received his education at the School of Civil Engineering in Istanbul, where he studied architecture. His architectural career began during significant political, social, and cultural transformations.
Vedat Tek witnessed the Ottoman Empire's decline and Turkey's establishment in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. He designed Ankara Palas, now used as an official state guest house. Vedat Tek's architectural approach embraced traditional Ottoman elements and modernist influences. He served as a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul, where he shaped the next generation of architects.
Other prominent architects that started the modern movement in Turkey include Behruz Cinici, Sami Sisa, Enver Tokay, Dogan Tekeli, and Nevzat Erol, who designed the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality city hall. A German architect, Bruno Taut, also spent the last years of his life in exile in Istanbul and taught as a lecturer. Giulio Mongeri also designed the first Ziraat Bank building in Ankara, completed in 1929. This building was a milestone in Turkish architecture, reflecting modernist principles and the emerging national identity. The Ziraat Bank building, characterised by simplicity, functionality, and modern design elements, departed from ornate Ottoman-era styles.
Postmodernism and Global Influences
In the latter half of the 20th century, Turkish architecture shifted towards postmodernism, with architects drawing inspiration from various global trends. As Turkey moves into the 21st century, contemporary architects increasingly focus on sustainability and environmentally conscious design. Istanbul Financial Center perfectly displays modern, sustainable development for future urban planning in Turkey. Furthermore, architects are exploring innovative materials and construction techniques to create structures that balance aesthetic appeal with environmental responsibility. The Istanbul International Financial Center's design incorporates green spaces, energy-efficient systems, and intelligent technologies to minimise its ecological footprint.
Famous Modern Buildings in Istanbul
Its diverse cultural heritage makes Istanbul a canvas for modern architects. From bustling metropolises and governmental buildings to serene coastal towns, modern buildings in Turkey stand as testaments to architectural innovation, pushing boundaries of design while embracing the nation's cultural identity.
Inaugurated in 2018, Istanbul Airport symbolises Turkey's aviation ambition. Designed by renowned architecture firm Grimshaw, the airport boasts sleek, modern designs and cutting-edge facilities, reflecting Turkey's global status. Zorlu Center combines residential, retail, and office spaces in the heart of Istanbul's business district. The centrepiece is the Zorlu Performing Arts Center, designed by the award-winning architect Emre Arolat. The building's dynamic form and transparent façade contribute to the modern aesthetics of the surrounding area.
As one of Istanbul's tallest buildings, Sapphire redefines the city's skyline. Designed by Turkish architect Murat Tabanlıoğlu, the s distinctive shape and blue glass exterior make the building a modern icon. The building houses offices, residences, and a shopping mall, encapsulating concepts of a vertical city. Kanyon, an innovative shopping and entertainment centre in Istanbul, was a collaborative effort between architectural firms Jerde Partnership and Tabanlıoğlu Architects. The striking canyon-like design, featuring open-air spaces and glass facades, creates dynamic and inviting urban environments.
Sancaklar Mosque, on the outskirts of Istanbul, highlights modern Islamic architecture. Designed by Emre Arolat Architects, the mosque harmoniously blends with its natural surroundings, using raw materials and minimalist designs that reflect tranquillity and spirituality. Florya Atatürk Marine Mansion on the shores of the Marmara Sea in Istanbul holds historical significance as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk spent time there. Florya Atatürk Marine Mansion's architectural styles reflect the early 20th century with elements of Ottoman architectural traditions combined with European influences. The mansion is set in well-maintained gardens with pathways and green spaces.
The New Ataturk Culture Center in Taksim Square - Istanbul
If ever there was a building to cause such an uproar, the Ataturk Culture Centre on Taksim Square would win. Ataturk Centre was initially opened in 1969. However, decline set in over the years and architectural elements lost their glory. The master plan was to hold design competitions for the private sector for rebuilding; however, there were many objections from local cultural groups and architectural movements. Eventually, the building went ahead, and these days, the new Ataturk Cultural Centre showcases Turkey's best work and design process. Letting in lots of natural daylight, the official opening ceremony in 2021 once again highlighted the area.
Renzo Piano and the Istanbul Modern Art Museum
Renzo Piano, an internationally acclaimed Italian architect born on September 14, 1937, in Genoa, Italy, is widely recognised for innovative and influential contributions to modern architecture. Piano's designs are characterised by functionality, aesthetics, and consideration for the surrounding environment. The Renzo Piano building workshop designed the new museum building for the Istanbul art building sitting in Karakoy on the golden horn.
He was inspired by the Bosphorus and golden horn, and the building reflects light and resembles ships travelling between Europe and Asia. The façade is made of aluminium panels that shimmer like fish scales. Inside the museum building, the ground floor is transparent. It offers waterfront views with a library, education and event spaces, touchscreens, a café, and a museum shop. There is also an iconic installation called "False Ceiling" by Richard Wentworth, and three spheres by Olafur Eliasson as you go up the central staircase.
They appear to float in space and are made from circular mirrors. The spheres become more complex as you climb higher. The site-specific artwork called "Your Unexpected Journey" contrasts with the building's straight lines, adds unique touches to Renzo Piano's architecture, and makes the museum building globally famous for its international style. (More about architecture in Istanbul.)
Famous Architecture in Ankara
Ankara, the newly declared capital, also became a canvas for architects to showcase their ideals. The city's architecture, especially in the 1930s and 1940s, saw the construction of monumental buildings like the Grand National Assembly, designed by architects Clemens Holzmeister and Giulio Mongeri. Atakule Communications and Observation Tower, an iconic symbol of Ankara, was built in 1989 and designed by architect Ragıp Buluç. The tower's sleek design and illuminated exterior make the building prominent and offer panoramic views. Atakule Shopping Mall, located near the Atakule Tower, complements the surrounding urban environment. The mall features contemporary architectural designs, providing shopping and entertainment options for residents and visitors.
The TBMM building, Turkey's legislative centre, is an architectural masterpiece. Designed by architect Clemens Holzmeister, the structure represents modern and classical styles. The building's construction began in the 1920s and continued into the 1930s. CerModern is Ankara's contemporary art museum in the CerModern Arts Center. The building was renovated and repurposed to house the museum, featuring modern design elements to host various contemporary art exhibitions and cultural events.
Ankara Central Station, also known as Ankara Gar in Turkish, is a central railway station that connects Ankara to various cities across Turkey through the Turkish State Railways (TCDD) network. The original Ankara Central Station, opened in 1937, reflects characteristic styles of early Republican-era buildings and embodies modernist and classical period elements. Ankara Opera House, officially known as the "Turkish State Opera and Ballet (Devlet Opera ve Balesi)," is a prominent cultural venue. The opera house features modern architectural designs that reflect functionality and aesthetic appeal and accommodate various performing arts events, including opera, ballet, and classical music concerts.
Skyline Visionaries: Celebrating Famous Architects Shaping Turkey's Built Environment
Turkey has been home to visionary architects influencing the nation's skyline. From blending tradition with modernity to contemporary design, these architects have played pivotal roles in Turkey's architectural identity.
Mimar Kemaleddin Bey: A prominent figure in the Turkish Republic's early years, Mimar Kemaleddin Bey was an architect and urban planner. He influenced Ankara as the new capital and designed significant buildings, showcasing Ottoman and modern architectural styles.
Turgut Cansever: Known for his contributions to modern Turkish architecture, Turgut Cansever was a crucial figure in the post-World War II era. His designs, like the Faculty of Language, History, and Geography building at Ankara University, exemplify transitions from traditional to modernist architectural principles.
Ergin İslam: Ergin İslam, a contemporary architect, has impacted Istanbul's urban fabric. His work often explores modern design and environmental sustainability. İslam's projects reflect a commitment to innovative architecture and consciousness of ecological considerations.
Tabanlıoğlu Family: As one of Turkey's leading female architects, Melkan Gürsel has been instrumental in shaping contemporary architectural scenes. She joined the partnership of Hayati and Murat Tabanlıoğlu, father and son, who have designed various global buildings.
Emre Arolat: Renowned for his work in Turkey and internationally, Emre Arolat is the co-founder of Emre Arolat Architects. His designs, including the iconic structure of Sancaklar Mosque and Antakya Museum Hotel, showcase a commitment to modern, minimalist aesthetics while respecting each project's cultural context and historical significance. The team have also worked on Sabiha Gokcen and Dalaman international airport, and Yalikavak marina.
Modern Architectural Design of Turkish Houses
The mid-20th century introduced the Bauhaus movement in Turkish architecture. Apartment buildings with more Westernised architectural styles emerged, especially in urban areas. Simple and functional designs became more common, and architects embraced modernist principles. Rapid urbanisation shifted housing trends to high-rise apartment buildings in major cities. These structures often feature modern amenities, sleek designs, and residential and commercial spaces.
As awareness of environmental issues grows, there's an increasing emphasis on sustainable and energy-efficient housing. Architects are incorporating green practices, like energy-efficient materials and renewable energy sources. Adaptive reuse projects, transforming old structures into modern living spaces while retaining historical charm, are becoming more common.
Gated communities, offering security and various amenities, have gained popularity in urban and suburban areas. These developments often feature various architectural styles, catering to different preferences. Additionally, they have onsite leisure facilities like gardens, jogging tracks, gyms, and saunas. One new property market is the outskirt areas of Istanbul, which has also seen many real estate investors flock worldwide.
From modern apartment living for the average family to millionaire homes, don't think Turkey has neglected luxury design. The most notable shift in this sector was in the coastal resort of Yalikavak. Years ago, wealthy people came flocking from around the world when they built the marina, which was the only one in Turkey capable of hosting mega yachts. Naturally, the shift transitioned into the real estate market, and architects flocked to design the latest luxury homes that would capture the attention of millionaires. One notable work was the luxury villas designed by Richard Meier, who is noted for his use of clean lines and natural daylight.
Where do Turks Study Architecture?
Ankara University, one of Turkey's oldest and most prestigious universities, has a Faculty of Architecture offering education and research opportunities. The faculty, established in 1963 has driven architectural education and practice trends in Turkey by providing undergraduate and graduate programs. The undergraduate program typically spans five years, leading to a Bachelor's degree in Architecture. Graduate programs include Master's and Ph.D. degrees, allowing students to specialise in various areas. The curriculum provides students with architectural theory, design principles, and technical skills, and courses cover various topics, including architectural history, urban planning, building technology, and design studios.
Where to see Historical Architecture
Despite the trend of modern architecture in Turkey, historical and traditional architecture remains in every town and city. Indeed, Turkey is not short of architectural wonders, but Istanbul is the most famous destination for this. Portraying Ottoman and Byzantine architecture from the 7th century, head to the historical district of Sultanahmet to see many architectural wonders of the old. Although it is a modern area, historical buildings on Istiklal Avenue display typical neoclassical architecture, and the Bosphorus historic districts display fabulous Ottoman mansions.
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