Memo From Istanbul: Insider’s Take
This fall in Istanbul, Atölye (atelier in Turkish) co-founders Engin Ayaz and Kerem Alperm and partner Dr. Uli Barnhoefer will launch an independent, interdisciplinary makers space. With the economy growing, the government embattled, and an increased demand for contemporary art and design products, Atölye represents a concerted push by a fragmented design community towards collaboration and creative incubation. It also seeks more direct channels to a consumer generation that is still learning about modern design. Istanbul natives Ayaz and Alper tend to think globally while acting locally since they returned to the city only within the last year.
Ayaz, a former Arup staffer, earned a dual degree in architectural design and structural engineering from Stanford and a degree from NYU’s ITP media arts program. Alper, a Wesleyan alum, has a dual Master’s degree from the Stanford Gaduate School of Business and Stanford’s design school. They will “curate” a diverse membership to co-work in the space, share a workshop stocked with prototyping equipment—including a 3D printer, laser cutter and media lab — and attend workshops, lectures and social events. Ayaz and Alper founded Atölye only last year and yet are already reaching thousands of people both in Istanbul and internationally by email newsletter, Facebook and Twitter. “The numbers look good,” Ayaz points out, “considering we don’t exist yet.”
Interior Design: What are the advantages of making progressive design in Istanbul?
Engin Ayaz: One factor is convenience. We can work closely with craftsmen and makers here; they still reside in central areas of city and they have a lot of know-how in the techniques of making. They are the last generation of their kind, so we treat them as precious collaborators for our projects.
Kerem Alper: Istanbul has so many cultural layers that have built on one another through history so today working in any field in design, people can get inspiration from and factor them into their own projects. The industrial heritage also makes Istanbul a unique place. Our goal is to both understand the past and create a path for the future of that industrial heritage. What is the contemporary form of that? How will it transform itself over the next decades?
EA: We think that there are real problems to solve here across all sectors: For instance, what can you do when transportation is one of biggest nightmares in Istanbul? How do you re-appropriate old craft traditions into new furniture or industrial design?
ID: What is the value of bringing together diverse design disciplines in Istanbul?
EA: It’s not only design disciplines. That is valuable, but it’s already happening. What’s missing is the collaboration of designers with non-designers, as well. With Atölye we’re casting design as a very wide net. The next step is having a designer or architect working closely with an engineer or computer scientist or artist. It’s important that business people, social scientists, marketing people are also part of the dialogue in the early stages of every project. To create exceptional things, we believe in the T-shaped people metaphor: you need both lateral knowledge across different disciplines, literacy in ergonomics, market research, structures, materials, as well as depth in a single subject matter.
ID: Which groups in the ?stanbul creative sector are catching your eye at the moment?
KA: Our values are shared by Iskele 47 on the Asian side, a low-key version of Atölye.
EA: Tasarim Atölye Kadiköy (TAK) is a unique example of looking at things on a neighborhood level and finding solutions at the grassroots. And I Am Prototype, who did the Austrian consulate, Nerdworking and Studio X.
ID: What trends do you see in the design world here?
KA: We’re seeing a hybrid world where digital and physical design collide, which could be called “physical computing” or “embodied systems” or, as we say, “sensitive products” (because “smart” implies only the left side of the brain) but it all hints at: If you’re doing an app or a website, what is the physical counterpart of this?
ID: What are the challenges that designers face in ?stanbul right now?
EA: One thing that keeps surprising us is the lack of value attributed to intellectual work; clients are willing to pay for a chair or a table because that’s something tangible, but don’t attribute value to the time spent in research and development and making prototypes and this is reflected in how creatives are compensated. But if you’re truly innovating, it’s a more time-consuming process.
KA: Here things start with mistrust. One thing we told ourselves before coming here: Start with trust not with doubt. The reason we got excited about Atölye in first place was this lack of community to trust each other, to back each other up and the lack of a single space in which to go from idea to design to prototype: lack of both infrastructure and community. Designers here are sort of solo warriors. How can we fight together instead is the question we are hoping to answer.