CollectiveArchitects shared with us their proposal for the Istanbul Disaster Prevention and Education Center. Their building design is articulated according to the four natural elements – earth, fire, air and water. A main atrium is dedicated to each element. These atriums are also orientation points, which makes going around the building easier and more clear. Furthermore, well illuminated by natural light, the atriums provide visitors places where they can relax after what they have experienced in the adjoining rooms. There are no particular actions pre-determined in those spaces. There can be projections on the walls, exhibition of drawings and sculptures or light and sound experiences. These can be changed periodically and attract also the people that have already visited the center. More images and architects’ description after the break.
The development of our civilization, probably the most advanced complex system in the world, is, as all other higher-ordered systems, driven by evolution. Evolution, on the other hand, is constrained by environmental factors, and driven mainly by their diversification. Differences are necessary to produce flows. Whatever flows we are talking about (matter, energy, information), they are all emerging based on differences and friction in the environment. The history of Turkey, and of Istanbul in particular, can be perceived as a great illustration of the described phenomenon. The way in which new order, aesthetics, forms and social behaviors emerge from subjective chaos, historical friction and cultural diversification, makes the history of Istanbul a flag example in this discourse. By being under influence of European, Asian and African culture, Istanbul evolved into a unique combination of all of those. Yet it becomes much more than just the sum of the parts. For example, while the typical Turkish patterns and ornaments are the local mutation of Arabic patterns, the former are driven more by geometrical rules than by the organic forms of their ancestors.
One must understand that the social and cultural friction in Istanbul is directly connected to its geographical position. Moreover, located at the boundary between continents, the city is experiencing also a geophysical friction generated by continental plates. From time to time those interactions manifest themselves as earthquakes. However this kind of phenomena is hardly perceived just as the natural course of things. A human an more subjective dimension is unavoidably added . In order to better understand this point let us switch for a moment from earth to air, which is in fact the first of the 4 basic elements in Nature. Its movement is guided by the level of energy possessed by the air particles. The linear increase of the particles energy is observed as an increase in wind speed, but when the critical threshold of the energy level is achieved, a non-linear behavior and a higher order emerge. In the case of the air, it can be observed as a tornado or hurricane: highly ordered and energetic directional air movements. When an higher-ordered system, like a tornado, interacts with another system, the outcome is usually destructive for the less energetic inter-actor. The same rule can be applied to systems of human civilization, like cities. While highly ordered in their internal structure, they have a destructive influence on the surrounding systems which results e.g. in pollution and degradation of nature. The definition of disaster is created by humans and it referees to their interest for development end evolution. Nevertheless another point of view is possible. If we consider our civilization as one of the systems of which Nature is composed, moving away from the anthropocentric model, we can realize that what we call disasters are in fact natural phenomena characterized by higher order and evolution. Only if we manage to look beyond our own interests we can fully understand and prevent negative consequences of friction between systems or in common words “disasters”.
The evolution of the city and the culture follow similar rules as the ones described before: they are driven again by friction and they emerge from energy flow. When the geographical position of Istanbul started to be considered as an advantage, the city began to evolve, secured inside the boundaries of the historical Walls of Constantinople, but not closed to the external influence. It uses its trading position and cultural diversification as an advantage. New forms of culture, art and sciences were developed. These process of ordering and protecting an highly energetic tissue of urban space was achieved by the means of the knowledge, of its position, the appreciation of other systems and a proper protection of the internal urban flows. Thus achieving order requires knowledge, appreciation and facilitation for friction and chaos.
There is a valuable lesson here. An higher order can be achieved and controlled only by experience, knowledge, and facilitation. While many forces that drives natural disasters are still beyond our command, it is our duty to respect them, to learn about them and to present both their dark and bright sides! The facilitation and distribution of this knowledge require a safe space, a boundary or a metaphorical wall to understand how chaos is a pre-state of order, and that our civilization is not so different from the four natural elements and their behavior. In the end we are a part of the whole, but to grasp this we need to go from chaos, through understanding to appreciation. Then we can reach aether, the 5th element that unites all the others.
The whole building (9100 m2) is divided into three sections: conference, educational and infrastructure. The visitors’ adventure in the Disaster Prevention Center starts in the Main Hall. Depending on what is their aim, people can go to the conference part (3 seminar rooms and a conference hall), reach the ticket zone, that contains all the facilities connected with disasters, visit the gift-shop or or relax sitting in the café. In the atriums, visitors can have an overview of the topic to which the area is dedicated. E.g. [01_EARTH] precedes the earthquake simulation section and the earthquake mechanism room. It explains how ground masses might be damaging and harmful to people and environment but also, what can they create with their power (it shows negative and positive aspects of the element creation.)
A shelter with a capacity of 150 people, divided into 2 parts, contains places to sleep, to sit, toilets and a place to prepare meals. It’s the last room to be visited during the trip around the Centre. The long corridor that leads to it demonstrates and recalls anxiety or even fear connected with situations in which it needs to be used. Because of the masses of soil that surround it, the shelter is seen also as the safest place in the whole building. The central square, or courtyard, is a place, that require a little effort to be entered It symbolizes aether, the 5th element in nature. Aether is also called, from Latin, ‘quinta essentia’ which stands for the element that unites the other four. In the design, aether stands for something more, it stands for order. It is the natural order, a safe place among urban, cultural and natural crucible characteristic of the plot and of Turkey in general. The order is protected by the building metaphor of wall. To get to the courtyard, one have to go on the roof using one of the staircases located both inside and outside the building. There is no direct access to the aether. That is what makes reaching aether like achieving something important and valuable. Knowledge and appreciation is given by experience and learning. One can fully understand aether only through understanding the nature of the four elements that are introduced in the building and crystallized in its mass as sky-lighten atriums.
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Team: Anna Pawlowska, Monika Michalik, Mariusz Polski
Status: Competition Entry. Istanbul Disaster Prevention and Education Center. ThyssenKrupp Elevator Architecture Award 2011