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Architecture and Urban Planning - A Memoir \ David Best
IV 1980 - 1990
Istanbul

The following year I completed visiting the last of the monumental works of the three great architects, who have fundamentally deepened my understanding of my chosen profession, by visiting again Istanbul.  I had promised Mr. Atun, the Speaker of the Parliament in Northern Cyprus, that I would study more thoroughly the architecture of Sinan, that great contemporary of Michelangelo.  As I have written earlier, I was lucky to have had a student who had studied in my studio in the Faculty of Architecture at the Technion, who had been born and lived in Istanbul before immigrating to Israel.  Her name was Rosie, and she was as talented in architecture as she was a delightful person.  She helped me plan my visit to Istanbul and was kind enough to arrange to be there during part of my visit to that great city.   The plane touched down at midnight at the Istanbul airport and the drive into the city through the dark streets, staring out of the car window at the characteristic silhouette of the domes and minarets, like deep black cardboard cut-outs against the dull gray sky, was a thrilling experience.  It was nothing compared to the revelation of Sinan's great ‘Suleymaniye’ in the sunlight of the early morning, or my reverent entry into the magnificent space and glare of the ‘Aye Sophia’ in the late afternoon, with the fenestrated upper walls hanging like gigantic lace curtains around me. The sheer quality of the superb architecture of the mosques and public buildings throughout Istanbul astounded me.  I decided to avoid the danger of the visual indigestion of seeing too much in the short time of a single week, and concentrated my study on these two buildings, but particularly the ‘Suleymaniye’, which was more a small city rather than a building.  I had not been aware of the variety of the built elements in and around the central Mosque itself.  The configuration of the medresas, which were the teaching part of the complex, was a textbook of urban design.  The apparently rigid repetition of the classrooms and courtyards was given a subtle visual diversity by their manipulation into the changing levels and network of the carefully proportioned corridors, which wove the many units of the complex into a rich urban fabric.  The interspersion of small courtyards with the classroom blocks reminded me of my friend's Shadarach Woods 'Free University' in Berlin, and I cursed myself for not having asked him if indeed the layout of the medresas was a model for his innovative concept of his University.  Sadly he had died, still relatively young, some few years ago.  I had met him last in Boston in the early 70's, although my vivid memory of him was still as a young man on the third floor of ‘Unite d'Habitation’ in Marseilles in 1950. 

   The Mosque itself had the complexity of a great symphony, one of those seemingly unending symphonies of Mahler or Bruckner.  When you thought that the composer or the architect had reached the apex of their creative talent, there was still some unimaginable expression of beauty to be revealed by the astounding mastery of their orchestration and shear craftsmanship that seemed inevitable and almost endless.

     The process of building the ‘Suleymaniye’, the logistic complexity of marshaling the vast amount of building materials from different parts of the world, and the organization of the work of the many hundreds of craftsmen within such a short period of time, makes a modern architect feel quite humble.




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