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The Buyukada Museum: Building New Viewpoints on the Istanbul Pogrom

Part 2 Dissertation 2011
Costa Elia
Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) | UK
In the early hours of the 6th September 1955, the streets of Istanbul were suddenly interrupted by violence; angry mobs descended on the city, attacking the homes and businesses of the city’s minorities, the first act in their subsequent disappearance from Istanbul’s demography. Amidst what has now been named as the ‘Istanbul Pogrom’, a photographer roamed the streets, taking six rolls of film that today remain as visual testament to the event and its aftermath.

Images of urban violence are part of the staple of any contemporary newscast, accepted and debated as ‘objective’ evidence of the injustices and protests that happen in the streets; pictorial proof of societal turmoil. At the heart of this investigation is a desire to critique the ‘objectivity’ of photographic history. Focusing on the photographs of the pogrom, this thesis records and expands on various methods of enquiry into the images – archival, theoretical reflection, design practice and design-writing – to complicate the notion of a fixed visual view-point as the sole position of certainty.

In identifying a common thread that runs through parallel debates in literary, visual and spatial theory (for example the writings of Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag and Mieke Bal), the investigation outlines a theoretical framing for a type of view-point that works through the process of superimposition, as a way of involving the viewer’s subjective experience of the images more directly in the narrative they generate of the pogrom. Particular concepts in literary theory of spectatorship, subjectivity and voice help define how this mode of viewing can create a greater sense of engagement with the event.

The thesis – comprising three interconnected elements – a Museum Guide, an Image Guide and an Exhibit Guide – demonstrates how the spatial possibilities of superimposition can be manifested architecturally, in the design of a monument and a museum to the pogrom, which position their viewers as much as part of the exhibits as the viewed objects. It concludes with a discussion of the implications of this work for both architectural design and architectural criticism, suggesting a mode of writing that attempts to replicate in text the visual effect of the superimposition.

Costa Elia

Dr Jane Rendell
Dr Iain Borden
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