In the library of Het Nieuwe Instituut, neat rows of tables are set up between the gleaming black metal of a modular furniture system. Burcu Köken is sitting at one of the front tables, on which orderly brown boxes and folders have been arranged in formation. Suspended in time, waiting to be opened, they represent another ordering system of space: the archives held in the National Collection of Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning. Burcu is a PhD candidate in the Architecture and Democracy programme, a collaboration between TU Delft, Het Nieuwe Instituut and Jaap Bakema Study Centre. Central to her research is the comprehensive study of the architecture journals Forum, RIBA Journal and Mimarlık between 1960-1980, and how they relate to the advancement of various social programmes during the postwar period. She has completed previous research on Mimarlık in Ankara, Turkey.
In front of you are some materials from the archive. What’s in the boxes?
Burcu Köken: Mainly archives from the International Union of Architects, the UIA (a global organization uniting architects across the world). These boxes came from the Van den Broek archive. Jo Van den Broek was a president of the UIA for a while. It includes correspondence and various kinds of publications.
What are you looking for when you go through them?
Actually, rather than having a particular focus, I’m mostly going with the flow to see what I find, because when I have a destination, I may get distracted and may not include all the information I might need afterwards.
Your PhD focuses on architecture magazines. What kind of publications did the UIA produce that are interesting for your research?
I’m not sure yet. This is what I’m interested in finding out. Today, Dirk van den Heuvel and I were talking about it, we don’t know exactly which kind of publications they did. Some are small, like these bulletins, some are reports about what they did in a certain year, and others are about a congress.
My research is basically on publications. There are three magazines that I’m interested in: RIBA Journal from the UK, Forum from the Netherlands and Mimarlık from Turkey. The period that I’m currently looking at covers the 1960s and 1970s. The UIA was quite active in those periods and quite prominent in these countries – the UK, the Netherlands and Turkey. So, in order to understand how the UIA communicated with these international groups, it was important for me to understand what kind of publications they did in those years. Because this was the main way to circulate information.
What do you think about working with the archive material from the National Collection of Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning?
It’s really surprising, first of all. It is really fun for me. You might get lost in the abundance of material, or you might find something that really attracts you and gives you a perfect direction for your research. Also, it gives me a deeper and wider perspective, seeing the material about the architects and the organisations. For example, with Van den Broek, we know about his projects and his biography, but this gives us a different perspective about him: how he acts in this organisation.
Do you have an example of something you’ve already discovered, something unexpected perhaps?
It’s too early to expect anything. But for example, when I was studying Mimarlık, it provided some information about the UIA, but always after 1963. I didn’t know that Van den Broek, as UIA president, visited Turkey before that, in 1959. But in the UIA archives I found an invitation from the Chamber of Architects, the publisher of Mimarlık magazine, inviting him to dinner in Ankara Palace. Perhaps now I can find more information about this visit in the archive in Ankara. So, that was my little discovery.
Why are you looking at the 1960-1980 period?
The study of these three magazines made me realise that this period, the postwar era, is quite interesting for each country – although I’m still not as knowledgeable about the UK and the Netherlands as I am about the Turkish context. In each country, the media’s impact was rising, and individual expression was increasing. Also, these countries were challenged by different ideas, mostly socialist ideas.
I’m curious to hear more about Mimarlik magazine and Turkey during the postwar period. Was Mimarlik meant to be read by everybody?
Mimarlık was first published as an instrument to connect architects; it was the inhouse publication of the Chamber of Architects. Since the chamber couldn’t be present in every city, they used Mimarlık as a tool to connect with the members. Before Mimarlık, they were publishing bulletins; but it wasn’t well developed. These bulletins were mostly about what was discussed by the chamber; what was going on with the profession; legal issues. It was more about regulations.
More like the UIA’s publications.
Yes. But with Mimarlık they started to include much more intellectual stuff, more international information as well as articles from their own writers and academics in Turkey. It was becoming more like a magazine. Their first idea was to connect with architects, but they developed from that. In the 1970s, it had become more like a tool to connect society with architecture, and also connect architects with society.
The writers: were they all architects, or also other professionals?
It was open to all contributions, actually. In the early years, they wanted support from their readers: come and write, and we can just discuss things! And in later years they wanted to be more inclusive regarding engineering as well as the arts. We see lots of fine arts professors writing in it, about the arts or about the public environment. Some specialists, for example in light or engineers, wrote on a specific topic. It was free for its members, that’s why it was more inclusive, since it didn’t have problems with sales or being commercial.
You are part of the PhD programme Architecture and Democracy. The programme seeks to investigate how, over the course of the 20th century, architecture and urban planning played a role in representing, embodying and enabling democracy. Why did you decide to study these magazines as part of your PhD?
I think architectural magazines give lots of insights, not just about the profession but also about the social environment. When I was studying Mimarlık, I also had the chance to read about the news during those years. Because they were also publishing some of the news as it related to architecture, and the way they saw this connection made me realise that it’s a magazine that could give me some wider insights. In the postwar period, these magazines and the architecture profession shared the tendency to become more open to people, more inclusive with the public, more socialist, not as a political stance but as part of a more public or open architecture.
Back then, these architecture magazines had an impact on society beyond the architecture profession.
RIBA and the Chamber of Architects are institutions, one a royal institution and the other a legal institution, so they had this connection with people and with government and they played a great role in understanding the social environment. That’s also why I choose these three, but I’m not sure if I can make it more comprehensive or remove one during the course of my research.
The magazines give different perspectives, but they are also close enough that they relate to each other.
Yes, through the UIA mostly.
Last question: what’s your favourite magazine?
That’s a really difficult question! I like podcasts!
Yes, me too.
Well, I do still read Mimarlık, but maybe I’m biased! In general, I really like reading magazines which give me a broader perspective, not only on architecture, but on more topics. So, when they include different kinds of information within a single article. That’s why I like podcasts as well. I get the chance to hold different opinions in my mind that I can connect with a text or topic. It gives me an image of today.
Interview by Soscha Monteiro
Burcu Köken holds a Master of Architecture degree from the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. She worked as a research assistant in Izmir Institute of Technology and as a lecturer in Cankaya University. Currently Burcu is a PhD candidate in the Architecture and Democracy programme, a collaboration between TU Delft, Jaap Bakema Study Centre and Het Nieuwe Instituut.
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