ISTANBUL, Turkey — From the top suites in Istanbul’s newest development in Atasehir, one can see the city’s great waterways laid out, the churning waters of the Sea of Marmara devolving into the more docile Bosporus Strait. But it’s not the views that have cast a spotlight on this project, nor their attempt to transform this suburban hillside into Istanbul’s newest financial district and business center.
What makes the Atasehir development worth talking about is that it is about to become one of the "greenest" projects in the country. The first mixed-use development in Turkey to apply the U.S.-developed LEED standards for environmentally sustainable building, Atasehir is breaking new ground amid a movement for sustainable architecture in Turkey.
“Green building in Turkey has reached an unprecedented peak,” said Duygu Erten, the founding Vice President of Green Building Association of Turkey. “Unheard of several years ago, now major commercial developments advertise an awareness of environmental issues. Malls and major office developments are engaging in green retrofit processes.”
The 340,000-square-meter (3,660-square-feet) Atasehir project was designed by international architecture company RMJM for Turkish real estate development company Varyap, and will include rainwater collection sites and facilities to optimize water usage and reduce energy consumption, wind turbine technology, cooling water pools that enhance the external landscape and a co-generation plant that will produce electricity for the development.
But before the project began, the RMJM team took a trip with their clients to the famed Topkapi Palace, home of the sultans and harems of the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years.
“You look at the Ottoman Empire and the history of the region and you see this wonderful heritage of progressive approaches to building a civilization,” said Chris Jones of RMJM’s Istanbul studios. “But at some point in the 20th century Turkey seems to have lost its way and become very generic.”
The Topkapi Palace — also built on a hillside overlooking the water — was constructed of local materials and used its abundant water resources to cool the palace through central water channels, pools and rainwater storage.
“With this project we are trying to encourage Turkey to return to its regional influences, to return to an idea of sustainability centered on one's own environment.”
The design of Atasehir uses the site’s topography, climate and surrounding context to maximize the site's natural potential and inform the landscaping.
These ideas, though central to building sustainably, are nothing new.
Turkey’s first green building case study, the METU Solar House in Ankara, was built in 1975, and in a global sense the cause began in the 1960s. Why, then, is this movement gaining momentum only now?
“The need for sustainable development in the construction sector has become significant recently mostly due to the major resource consumption and contamination buildings generate,” Erten said.
Cities cover less than 1 percent of the earth's surface but are responsible for up to 75 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. With more than 50 percent of the world's population living in cities — Istanbul being the fifth-most populous city in the world, with over 12 million residents — many are arguing that it’s time to reconsider the way we approach the built environment.
Turkey's dependency on gas makes them dependent on Russia, which provides 65 percent of the Turkish supply. Many are looking to green building as a way to cut the addiction and enhance energy supply security.
Pressure to align to EU environmental regulations have also pushed the government into a more eco-friendly stance. In 2008, the central government finished implementing insulation requirements that, with 100 percent compliance, could be expected to save billions of dollars and 70 percent of the country’s heating energy.
“When it comes to green buildings, government response has been slow, but in a year or so I see them becoming a major player in building green,” Erten said. “Also, international investors and non-profits are importing an environmentally conscious ethos to some of Turkey’s high-profile developments.”
KREATIF Architecture has been designing a green campus project at Tuzla, a suburb of Istanbul, which will be the first green campus built to BREEAM code — Britain’s standard for environmentally sustainable building — in Turkey. Multi Turkmall and BALPARMAK Honey Factory are also building malls that will follow the BREEAM standards.
“The really exciting thing is that Turkey still has close connections to local producers and craftsmen, and it’s an open field for green building,” said Kirk Henderson, a designer and "sustainability coordinator" at Avci Architects. “If we can get the right people in place to support these ideas, I think this could be an amazing space for them to grow.”
For Erten, who has long been a crusader for this movement in Turkey, the answer is simple: “Green buildings emit less CO2, use less water and less energy than standard buildings. This is about our health … our children, and the future of our planet.”