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An Architect’s Creative Journey Between New York, New Haven, Istanbul and Ajman: Emre Arolat Shares his Experience

An Architect’s Creative Journey Between New York, New Haven, Istanbul and Ajman: Emre Arolat Shares his Experience
An Architect’s Creative Journey Between New York, New Haven, Istanbul and Ajman: Emre Arolat Shares his Experience, Emre Arolat Architecture Reveals Design for Nora Mosque Near Dubai
Emre Arolat Architecture Reveals Design for Nora Mosque Near Dubai

Emre Arolat has a long and distinguished career in architecture, marked by honors such as the Aga Khan Award for architecture and appointments such as the co-curatorship of the 2012 Istanbul Design Biennial. As both a practicing architect and an educator (he teaches at the Yale School of Architecture), Arolat spends a great deal of time traveling around the world. In this guest essay, Arolat shares his experience on the road, illuminating a personal creative process. - AD Editorial Team 

The MetLife Building in New York
The MetLife Building in New York

The MetLife Building suddenly appears before you as you arrive at Park Avenue walking north from Union Square.  Years ago it was the headquarters of Pan American. The name has changed, but somehow they have left the building untouched.  You can see the roof of Grand Central Terminal as well. You think you are almost there, but one way or another it will take you twenty minutes more to reach it.     

I run into the giant hall.  Once again, I've had no time to buy a ticket.  I board the 11:34 Metro North train at the last minute.  I couldn't even get a coffee. As always, the same metallic voice announces we are about to depart for New Haven.

The weather is glorious.  Autumn's red leaves all along the road.  I will see this view many times more during this semester until the end of the year.  So beautiful...

I know almost nothing about the other buildings on the Yale campus. But putting aside all its positive characteristics, there is a conservatism to the School of Architecture that is not easy to sense until one goes inside. I have to admit it is a kind of conservatism I too have gradually come to adopt, especially in the last ten years. Rudolph Hall's thick walls do not easily betray that contemporary screwiness, architectural tendencies defined by the desire for unruly, gigantic, purely interesting forms.  Deborah [Berke] often says, "I want you to have fun too." But it is all taken very seriously.  I like this arrested commitment. Clearly these spaces flowing into one another do not acquire quality without reason.  

Harlem is the first stop.  The material layers of swift transformation pass before my eyes one by one.  Here the memory of space, traces of time and brand new desires blend in an irreparable drive for gentrification.

I think this is one of the things I love best about this train trip.  On the one hand, there is a strange freedom in it, while on the other the rails run right through the middle of this unlikely weave.  A chain of dozens, hundreds of disparate conditions.

On my tablet I prepare the theoretical framework for a discussion on context I will have with the students. This must be the most interesting article I have read about Collins Avenue.  Miami has a strange story. The uncanny has seeped into every vein, yet its people seek pleasure to the very end. I get a few emails at this point. One from the United Arab Emirates catches my eye...  

Rashid Al Ghurair is a wealthy young businessman.  His companies handle several different kinds of business. A ruthless illness suddenly took his mother from him cruelly, and in an untimely manner.  "It has been only two weeks," he says.  Though he struggled for years to save her.  He left no treatment untried, but in vain...  As soon as I get off the train, I call him at the number he sent me.  I can feel the pain in his voice from thousands of kilometers away...

A few weeks later… In an entirely different geography.  He comes in a Tesla to get me from the hotel. Quite unexpected from a man who makes his living largely from oil.  And he is driving himself. Not the custom here for such a rich man to drive his own car. We talk along the way. He is clearly well educated. An intelligent, forward-thinking, openhearted man.  And he loves architecture. "I wanted to build a mosque in my mother's memory. And I hope it will help to change this terrible feeling I have inside me, even if just a little. I have studied Sancaklar.  I didn't want to talk with any other architect."

We arrive at Ajman after quite some time.  We go toward the city center. The built environment is strangely disorganized.  Obviously, the city is swiftly changing its skin. Big and small, high and low all mixed in together.  "Here we are," he says. We get out of the car and begin to walk. It is mid-day. I am thinking how horribly hot it must be in summer.  Just now the December sun shines directly down on us...

The lot is surrounded by roads.  Sheikh Rashid Bin Humeed Boulevard, coming from the south, is a main artery that runs the whole length of the city parallel to the sea.  The sea lies northwest, but is not visible from ground level. Huge residential buildings rise behind us. They create a thick, gigantic wall.  I try to make a quick count. They must be around thirty-five stories each. There's context for you! The job will be very hard this time...

A few days later I am back in New Haven.  The Study is simple, pleasant university hotel.  I especially do not turn on the lights in my room.  Night and fog are falling together and the city, not lively under any circumstances, is completely steeped in gloom.  I sit at the wooden desk by the window. I have not even opened my suitcase. Two to three-story structures directly in front of me, uniform with their bright green cover.  A few high buildings in the distance. I drift in the yellow light of street lamps appearing and disappearing in the fog. My eyes are here, but my mind is thousands of kilometers away.

"Since it is impossible to deal with those giant structures, we will throw the ball from the other corner this time."  I hurriedly turn on the table lamp.  Beside it are the hotel notepad and a soft lead pencil.  I relax...

“and it came with its own glance, from deep inside of the earth”

I work with a group of friends in the Istanbul and New York offices on the idea that appeared with a sketch on a night in New Haven in a silent hotel room.  Dozens of people work feverishly for nearly three months. We seemed to have a lot of time, but the day of the presentation approaches swiftly. Tension is high.  The more we try to do a little more, just a little more, the project grows and grows. And the more tired we get, the more excited we are...

I finish the presentation.  There is not a sound in the room.  In the dark everyone's eyes are on him.  He sits still as a statue. He looks deeper and deeper into the black screen.  I watch his fixed eyes anxiously. After a long time he turns his gaze on me. He speaks in a whisper.

"If only she could have seen it too..."  

About Emre Arolat, M.Arch, RIBA

Born in Ankara, Turkey, Emre Arolat comes from a long family tradition of architects. After graduating from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul, Emre joined his parents’ architecture firm, and in 2004, formed his own firm EAA – Emre Arolat Architecture with co-founder Gonca Pasolar.

Emre Arolat has lectured and taught at design schools around the world and was recently named Norman R. Foster Visiting Professor at the Yale School of Architecture. Emre Arolat also held a professorship at the International Academy of Architecture.

Emre Arolat has collaborated on many projects with fine arts institutions, a notable example being his collaboration with the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV), in which he worked with the organization to co-curate the first Istanbul Design Biennale. 

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Cite: Emre Arolat. "An Architect’s Creative Journey Between New York, New Haven, Istanbul and Ajman: Emre Arolat Shares his Experience" 16 Mar 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884
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Emre Arolat Architecture Reveals Design for Nora Mosque Near Dubai

土耳其建筑师 Emre Arolat 的旅行日记

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