Empire, Nation and Modern Architecture: Ottoman/Turkish Case in Global Context

Few other modern nations exhibit the geographical, historical and cultural complexity of Turkey and even fewer have such tangled and difficult dilemmas of identity largely resulting from the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural legacy of the Ottoman Empire on the margins of Europe. Focusing on the specific experience of Ottoman Empire/ Modern Turkey from the 18th century into the present, yet discussing this experience within a broader trans-national and comparative context, this course will address the role of architecture in the making of modern national identities. As distinct from studies framed exclusively by postcolonial theory, this course is informed primarily by theories of modernity and nationalism. It will argue that \”nationalization of identities\” is the historically defining dimension of modernity everywhere and that \”the quest for national expression\” is an integral aspect, not an aberration of modernism in culture and architecture. While the specific, competing architectural forms, styles and symbols in terms of which nations have been and are still being \”imagined\” vary greatly, the course will suggest that they all belong in the historiography of modern architecture – a historiography that has traditionally neglected the \”national question\” in favor of the \”international\” character of modern technologies, programs and aesthetic canons. Avoiding the western/non-western binary opposition which privileges the \”west\” as the exclusive source of modern transformations in other parts of the world, the course will highlight the multiplicity of exchanges and influences in all directions. Pertinent contrasts/ comparisons will be drawn between the late Ottoman experience and those of other dynastic empires (such as Austria-Hungary, China, Japan, Russia, Iran) that have grappled with similar issues of modernity and national identity around the turn of the last century as reflected in their architectural/ stylistic/ spatial practices. Similarly, 20th century Turkish experiments to \”nationalize\” modernism through various discourses of regionalism, locality and vernacular modernism will be discussed with reference to parallel searches for national expression in interwar and post-WWII modernism in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Weekly thematic lectures on Ottoman/Turkish architecture will be complemented by more focused, in depth discussion of selected texts, buildings and projects, to provoke meaningful comparisons with the experiences of other modern nations from Brazil and Mexico to China and Japan.