Istanbul: From Imperial Capital to Global City

In the summer of 2013, popular discontent with the authoritarian neo-liberal urban policies of the Turkish government exploded in Istanbul, revealing the political nature of public space and the importance of the “right to the city” movements in modern democracies. This lecture/seminar course intends to give a historical perspective to these contemporary events and look at how a city like Istanbul became what it is today. It offers an overview of Istanbul’s urban/architectural transformations in the last two centuries, situating these developments within both the historical dynamics of modern Turkey and the broader trans-national context of the region and the world at large. In particular, four distinct periods will be covered, marked by important political-social-cultural shifts and the introduction of new urban visions, with corresponding changes in the city’s skyline, macro form, landscape, architecture and overall urban aesthetics: 1) late Ottoman reforms in urban administration, infrastructure and transportation, accompanied by the cosmopolitan architecture of fin de siècle Istanbul; 2) early republican transformations in the 1930s and 1940s: the master plan of Henri Prost and the new public spaces of secular modernity; 3) post-WWII urban interventions and the onset of massive migration, speculative apartment boom and squatter developments transforming Istanbul from a “shore city” to a “hinterland city” and 4) “branding” of Istanbul as a global city since the 1980s: trans-national spaces of consumption, gated communities and suburban sprawl. The primary objective of the course is to investigate the complex, hybrid and contested urban history and geography of a unique world city in the context of imperial, national and global politics. Lectures will be supplemented by discussion of assigned readings; selections of literature and film will also be used wherever relevant. Course requirements are regular attendance and active participation in class discussions, three short response papers during the semester and one long research/analysis paper on a topic to be decided in consultation with the instructor.