Sevince Bayrak and Oral Göktaş, founders of the Istanbul-based studio SO? Architecture and Ideas, were selected as curators for the Pavilion of Türkiye in the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia 2023, with an exhibition project titled Ghost Stories: Carrier Bag Theory of Architecture. The installation questions the accepted perceptions of unused buildings in order to discover more hopeful proposals for the future. The exhibition will be open from May 20th until November 26th, 2023, under the coordination of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV). The project team consists of Aysima Akın, Kevser Reyyan Doğan, Merve Akdoğan and the research team includes Taylan Tosun, Doğu Tonkur, Hatice Bahar Çoklar Berke Şevketoğlu, Duygu Sayğı.
In order to reconsider the opportunities presented by unused buildings across Türkiye, the research project looks at Elizabeth Fisher’s Carrier Bag Theory of Evolution. This approach argues that, rather than hunting tools, the first cultural device used by humans was probably a carrier bag used for transporting the vegetables gathered. The idea was expanded to create an alternative to the weapon-wielding heroic story of destruction to a collaborative and unfamiliar life story. Translated to the country's built environment, this concept suggests listening to and understanding the stories of abandoned buildings, rather than focusing on more heroic, successful examples.
The preparation for the exhibition included an open call, launched in December 2022, aimed at compiling recent documentation of unused buildings. Following this, an archive was composed containing images of hundreds of residences, building complexes, abandoned production sites, partially or completely empty skyscrapers, hotels, schools, hospitals, restaurants, and recreational facilities. The exhibition focuses on opportunities for reinforcing and reusing the existing building stock, understanding this as an even more urgent issue following the devastating earthquakes in Kahramanmaraş.
The exhibition has a dual setup, as suggested by the title. The Ghost Stories section will present examples of abandoned buildings with various functions in “The Cloud.” The Carrier Bag Theory of Architecture area is positioned as a colorful "Workbench," aiming to transform this real but idle painting into a storehouse of hope for the future of cities. A manifesto will be displayed in the workbench area, with plans to initiate discussions on the role of existing structures. This is expressed through 15 chapters, each provided with a dedicated table in the workbench area: Story, Theory, Addiction, Ghosts, Entropy, Expiry Date, Why Demolish?, CSI, Concrescere, Repair Shop, Venice Charter – Revisited, Learning From, Test Drive, Transformers, The Pool. Additionally, the curators are preparing a book that further develops the research into the theme.
Since construction in Türkiye is triggered by economic growth rather than spatial needs, we have a huge variety of unused buildings, from hospitals to airports. As we were preparing this project, two earthquakes, with magnitudes of 7.7 and 7.6, struck South-eastern Türkiye, causing massive damage. In a country with an enormous building stock that has to be reinforced to resist earthquakes – since it is not possible to rebuild them all – we need to find ways to transform the existing and introduce novel tools and methods to nurture our collective dreams and discussions. - Sevince Bayrak and Oral Göktaş
SO? Architecture and Ideas' work has been published internationally as the winners of the Young Architects Programme by MoMA/PS1 and one of the invited participants in the competition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The studio has been nominated for the Mies and Aga Khan Awards, and they were among the finalists of the Architectural Review Emerging Architecture Award 2019. Sevince Bayrak and Oral Göktaş' recent works include the cultural center Beylikduzu Ataturk Arts, and the transformation of a swimming pool and a hangar for a public hall, both in the city of Istanbul.
For the 18th edition of the International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, curator Lesley Lokko has chosen the theme The Laboratory of the Future. Other countries have also announced their selected curators and exhibition projects, with many of them focusing on forgotten or hidden aspects of the built environment. The Bulgarian Pavilion explores school abandonment and urban decline; Germany has chosen ARCH+ and Summacumfemmer Büro Juliane Greb as curators with a project focused on repair and maintenance, while the UAE pavilion will be curated by Faysal Tabbarah, who chose to explore the potential of the dry landscape of his country.
Editor's Note: This is an update of an article originally published on November 23, 2022.