In September I was in Stockholm to do a Happyplaces co-creation session at Gather Festival, ‘a meeting point for Tech, Science and Innovation, Business, Public Sector, Culture and Creativity’. I had the idea to find spaces abroad regularly to share my learnings of my journey so far with other people, and to at the same time share and test ideas for the book in the making. Gather Festival was wonderful for that. I always like to go to and be in the Nordics. The people, the lower pace of life, the light, the nature.
Getting to the venue was interesting. My hotel was far, far away from the festival venue. I decided to take an Uber which brought me into the right direction, leaving me behind in a residential neighbourhood, still 25 minutes away from the venue on foot. But it was a wonderful sunny day, making the stroll a welcome gift. The festival was organised in Sickla, located on a redeveloped industrial estate in Nacka. The location was easy to find, marked with a massive G. Then there always is that funny moment of arriving somewhere and finding your way. I took the normal entrance, but was then guided towards the speakers entrance. I received lots of friendliness and speakers perks and entered the space. When I was sorting out my stuff, the programme, a moustache with glittering eyes joined me on my bench. The eyes and moustache belonged to Cenk, an architect from Turkey with a dash of Swedishness as I learned later, as he was waiting for Oskar to arrive, a work-colleague-friend from Sweden.
Cenk told about his urban politics and critical design projects and proactive design ideas. For someone with a PhD in Architecture, his creative productions are wide-ranging: from radio production, music, design research, creative entrepreneurship, social innovation to events organisation. He was also one of the members and project coordinators of pro-bono architecture practice Herkes İçin Mimarlık Derneği (Architecture For All Association) but was now mostly focussed on his architecture and research practice NOBON.
We entered into conversation and never left it. We talked about architecture, projects, his Swedish connections through work, about architecting connections instead of buildings, and the art of meeting people and having conversations. I asked him if he would be willing to share his thoughts with me the next day, that I would then bring my camera. He was. And then we kept on conversing. About the importance of bringing people together, physically. Because we’re becoming individualised and more and more disconnected, it could even become a medical treatment, to be amongst other people in a nice environment. We talked about the dutch word ‘gezellig’, the Danish ‘hygge’ and how architects should strive for that, like fellow architect Jamie van Lede was also proposing: to design building that are ‘gezellig’, loosely translated meaning ‘buildings that allow people to be together in’. And we talked a whole lot more.
Parties get it started
Hi everyone! I’m in Sweden. I come here quite often. We’re here in a park, you cannot see it, but it is a cool space in Sickla in Stockholm. I’m an architect, but I do all kinds of things. Maybe some architects don’t like me, because I don’t do architecture in the way that they want to, but I do create environments and space for people. I create space for different types of people, sometimes creative people, school children or citizens of a small town. I create environments for people to get together and create socially inclusive lives. That all started with a personal need. I was searching for friends. Somewhere during my architectural studies, I realised that the profession was mostly about knowing people and bringing people together for the right causes. I was not from Istanbul, the city where I was studying. I didn’t know any people that might commission me for any architectural job or design project. Then I thought: ‘What can I do?’ One day I realised that our school building was quite cool, a historical building in Istanbul, Turkey. It has these eight-meter high and six-meter wide corridors, with sometimes quite high towers. I decided that it would be my experiment space for organising parties. Because I believe that parties are the right environments to bring people together, to start a conversation for no reason, to flirt, to get new friends and maybe even talk about new collaborations. Sometimes these collaborations can become more than business. Often that happens. And through those connections, we create our everyday life.
I believe that parties are the right environments to bring people together, to start a conversation for no reason. And through those connections, we create our everyday life.
The power of business connections and fun memories
I started to bring together in this historic building. Those were my friends, from my graduation year and other students, and when that worked, I extended my network of people by organising these parties somewhere else, open to everyone. I found this small bar, which is a perfect setting to make new friends, and started to make small installations to create some fresh feeling each time. We organised a party every 15 days, and people were coming back, and that is also what I aimed for. That’s why I made those installations, I designed small presents for them to have an extra incentive, but also to give them something concrete as a memory to take back home. I did this for a couple of months, and I liked it. It gave me unlimited free drinks, they played the music that we liked, but I also got suspicious because no work derived from it. But after a couple of months, somebody approached me that he bought a house and asked me to take a look. That was my first commission as an architect. That was the moment that I realised that people needed this, that type of environment where they can come together and be a part of that. And to then build from there: business connections and fun memories. It made me understand the power of it. So we kept on organising these events.
We had this party of 200 people on the streets of Istanbul. Then an owner of a bar approached us. He had a couple of places on that same street. He said: ‘I have this bar, would you like to run it?’ I was 26 or 27 at the time and thought that it was the perfect age to have a bar. The idea to create an environment for people to meet and enjoy the moment would be much more enjoyable. I said yes, and we started to run that bar. The good thing was that he was also open to the fact that we were not ‘managing’ the place. In the beginning, I was a little bit scared of counting the bottles at the end of the month, to make the proper calculations for the income. And I was also a bit afraid of being extremely responsible to this landowner. But we started to work. We had openings, film screenings, concerts, workshops and strange gatherings like talks by interesting people that I knew who were, for example, chasing the garbage collectors in the streets and secretly record their paths on the streets of Istanbul. They never made that public though. But also about the dark side of the fashion industry. This lasted for two years, including a couple of other places too for other people.
I figured out that my architecture is different, my understanding of architecture. I want to build environments and spaces for people. They happen in a specific period, then they appear only amongst the people there, and then they disappear again.
When people ask me what I do, I say that I also do architecture commissions, but I am mostly a professional bar and restaurant designer. But I don’t think I’m a typical architect. I figured out that my architecture is different, my understanding of architecture. I want to build environments and spaces for people. They happen in a specific period, then they appear only amongst the people there, and then they disappear again. You may call it event design, but it is more than that. I also organise talks, exhibitions and this all started for that need that I had, to meet new people. The moment that I realised that I need a network of people to survive businesswise and lifewise, I was searching for new friends. And in the end, through all these experiences, I found out that I maybe had found a method. I also learned that I could also multiply those kinds of skills to other places.
From mindset to changing minds
I moved back to my city, and this process started all over. I learned that a lot of people were complaining about the city and their lives. I thought that strange, to complain about the city you live in because I always thought that in any environment, either a city or a house, we all experience our own autobiographic stories. The experience of the space is hugely dependent on perception or neurological connections. If people felt like that, that also might apply to me. But I didn’t want to have that mindset, so I decided to change the minds of the people. I could maybe reuse that approach or methodology that I applied back in Istanbul. I started to organise events and environments for people who had a positive mindset, like creatives, entrepreneurs, designers, social entrepreneurs and more. They were also missing something and were struggling with similar topics. In a way, they were multiplying their depression by convincing themselves about this over and over again. However, there were plenty of people around, but they didn’t know about it. I made suggestions for collaborations for some people that might be helpful to get over some difficulties that they were experiencing. They were the people I wanted to have around me in the city. Imagine that you would be surrounded by people who are always complaining about their environment, their lives, about impossibilities in their own everyday experiences. Then you need to get some therapy or maybe need some pills. But there are also other ways: you find people that are kind of positive about what they are doing and then multiply that by connecting them. Those connections can create alternative environments for all of these people to survive. And this energy can be reflected in the city. I came up with a motto, ‘Possible in Izmir’ which is the city where I live. I organised an event as I did during my time in Istanbul. I wrote to the people who I thought should meet and know each other. I hosted gatherings, and until now, 170 people make presentations at those events.
For me, life itself is the primary resource or material. And people build the spaces for themselves by collaborating and by sharing.
Some of them started collaborations and sometimes even started something new. People also started to share this motto ‘Possible in Izmir’ and sent me messages that they liked the positive attitude of it towards the city. Because they thought a whole lot more is possible, but they never dared to share it. The best thing for me was that it brought me new friends, and it gave me a reason to stay in Izmir to try to open up more connections for other people and myself as well. So, for an architect, of someone who has architecture as educational background, I consider this to be my form of architecture. I now have the confidence to say that. It does not include any brickwork, concrete or plaster, computational design or 3D printers. For me, life itself is the primary resource or material. And people build the spaces for themselves by collaborating and by sharing. If I would describe my happy place, then it would be an environment where I can approach someone to start something.