SAH Blog

  • A Broken Silhouette

    By
    Emily Neumeier
     |
    Apr 30, 2014

    This article originally appeared on the blog Stambouline and has been republished here with permission. Stambouline is dedicated to exploring the art and architecture of the Ottoman Empire, looking at the stories behind the buildings and objects that have been left behind. Each post introduces a new place or object. The main contributor to the blog, Emily Neumeier, is a graduate student studying the history of art at the University of Pennsylvania. 

    Istanbul's new Metro Bridge and the political battle over the city's historic panorama


    [1] Different profiles of the new Metro Bridge across Istanbul's Golden Horn, showing how the bridge would affect the different silhouettes of the surrounding site. Adapted from a graphic by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, 2009. 

    On February 15th, Istanbul's new metro line officially went into service. The project, initiated by the Greater Istanbul Municipality in 2005, unites the city's various metro lines, extending trains in Taksim Square directly into the old city, with connections to Atatürk Airport and the opposite Anatolian shore. [Fig. 2] While the majority of this new extension runs unseen underground, the most visibly prominent feature of the line is a bridge extending across the waters of the Golden Horn (Trk. Haliç). This past autumn, residents watched as the two 65-meter-tall pylons, supporting the bridge in a cable-stay system, slowly rose into the sky. At the opening ceremony last month, Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyıp Erdoğan was quoted saying "for this metro line, we constructed a bridge on the Haliç that will enhance Istanbul's beauty." The Prime Minister was also careful throughout his speech to stress that every precaution was taken so as not to harm any of the monuments "in an area harboring a history spanning thousands of years." These platitudes about the importance of protecting Istanbul's cultural patrimony were no doubt crafted in direct response to the backlash of scathing criticism that the bridge design faced from not only the local press and academic community, but also a UNESCO mission whose findings threatened to land Istanbul on the list of "World Heritage Monuments at Risk." The main concern lodged against the new Metro Bridge is that certain features (particularly the tall pylons, suspension cables, and rail station in the center of the bridge) block the view from the north towards the historic peninsula of the old city, especially the 16th-century Süleymaniye Mosque Complex. [Fig. 3] Erdoğan would call this addition to the old city's skyline an enhancement; others, an obstruction. As one of the major projects that the city's top brass rushed to completion to meet the deadline of the March 30 municipal elections, the Haliç Metro Bridge and Istanbul's historic skyline are a case study in how the current government's massive infrastructure projects have become a tense political battleground.


    [2] Map Showing the new metro extension from Taksim to Yenikapı. Drawn in Google Earth.


    [3] The Haliç Metro Bridge, March 2014. Looking from the shore of Beyoğlu onto the historic peninsula, the bridge partially obstructs the view to the Süleymaniyye Mosque. Photo by Emily Neumeier. 


    [4] Original design proposed for the Haliç Bridge, 2007. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.

    In 2007, the original designs for the bridge by Hakan Kiran Architecture were revealed. [Fig. 4] The plans proposed two gilded 82-meter-tall pylons, which curved at the top into "horns" (Get it? Because the bridge is crossing the Golden Horn). Unfortunately for the Greater Istanbul Municipality, UNESCO does not seem to have a similar sense of humor when it comes to visual puns. The city's historic peninsula, which is clearly defined by the old land and sea walls, was inscribed on the register of UNESCO's "World Heritage Sites" in 1985. Because the new bridge would impact the view to the peninsula from the north, and construction would require the demolition of several historic buildings within the core area, the organization decided to step in. UNESCO made it clear that if significant changes were not made in the proposed bridge design, this project could demote Istanbul to the similarly-named but decidedly less-fun list of "World Heritage Sites in Danger," joining the illustrious company of Bamiyan and Damascus. So, the architects on the project scaled down the plans, most notably lowering the height of the bridge's pylons by about 20 meters, and changing their color from a golden yellow to a grey-white tone. With a few other minor alterations, this is basically what we see built on the ground today. The report from a joint UNESCO/ICOMOS monitoring mission to Istanbul in 2009 gives a sense of the farcical proceedings. When the investigators inquired after the cable-stay design, curious if any other options had been considered:

    The mission was informed that 11 alternative designs [for the bridge] had been presented to the Conservation Council, but the alternatives were produced 10 years ago and were not studied proposals – they were only suggestions. Some of the suggestions were just copied and pasted from books on bridges. It seems clear that no alternative design has so far been seriously considered and, with regard to the design of the current proposal for a cable-stay bridge, during the meeting it was stated that the intention was to 'introduce a new work of art – a new contemporary element in the area.' [34]
    In 2011, UNESCO finally approved the construction of the Metro Bridge, lending legitimacy to the project's backers. (Congratulating themselves on a job well done, the organization proceeded to be completely out to lunch on the destruction of the Yedikule gardens and the lightning-fast construction of a 270,000 square meter platform protruding into the Marmara Sea, which was inaugurated with an 1.5 million-person rally on March 23.) Many local critics, however, still felt that the changes in the design did not adequately address the primary concern of blocking the northern view to Istanbul's peninsula [Fig. 5], again summed up in the 2009 report: 
    The overall design of the bridge, with pylons and cable stays and the thickening of the deck through the incorporation of a station, will have a significant visual impact on key attributes of the property such as the silhouette of the Historic Peninsula...the design of the bridge is inappropriate for this position, both because it will impede irreversibly on many important views of the World Heritage Site and because the bridge, presented as a 'work of art,' will compete with the Süleymaniye Mosque, identified at the time of inscription as a work of human genius, designed by Sinan. [34-35]

    [5] View of Istanbul's historic peninsula, looking from Galata. Abdullah Fréres, ca. 1880-93, Library of Congress.


    [6] View of the Inner Courtyard of the Süleymaniye Mosque. Photo by Michael Polczynsky, 2014.

    The Turkish press and local academics expressed outrage about the bridge's potential to impede on the visual integrity of the peninsula's skyline. There has been no shortage of colorful metaphors; according to various critics, the bridge threatens to "break", "stab", and "violate" the silhouette of the old city. In the eyes of many, the pointed tops of the pylons are not horns, but daggers, slicing the panorama into two. This visceral imagery characterizing the landscape as a prone body vulnerable to violent attack is a familiar leitmotif, especially in the wake of modern warfare and the large-scale urban planning projects of the 20th century. In her article on the "ideology of preservation" in Istanbul, Nur Altınyıldız traces how in the 19th century the large mosque complexes dotting the hills of the peninsula [Fig. 6], which originally were service-oriented institutions and themselves agents of urban growth and renewal, were increasingly divorced from this service context and re-classified as "historic" monuments whose preservation stood at odds with the modern signifiers of progress such as opening new roads (or new metro bridges). [234] 


    [7] View from the Süleymaniye Mosque Complex to the Golden Horn. Photo by Michael Polczynsky, 2014.

    As the UNESCO report alludes, and commentators frequently point out, the silhouette under question is an Ottoman contribution to the city. When Sultan Süleyman commissioned the Süleymaniye (c. 1550-1558) on the top of Istanbul's third hill, he was following the precedent established by his predecessors Sultan Mehmed II and Bayezid II, who had constructed their own mosque complexes along the ridges of the peninsula in the 15th century. Significantly, the Süleymaniye complex was originally designed so that the auxiliary buildings flanking the mosque on its northern side, towards the Golden Horn, were constructed on a lower terrace so that the monument would have an unobstructed view of Galata, Üsküdar, and the Bosphorus [Necipoğlu, 106]. [Fig. 7] In this unmistakable declaration of power, the mosque, as a stand-in for its sultanic patron, commanded a wide gaze and likewise demanded to be seen. It is certainly no coincidence that the "audience" on the opposite shore of the Golden Horn was largely composed of foreigners and non-Muslim communities, who from their perch in Galata were always to some extent on the outside looking in to the city proper. Throughout the centuries, European cartographers and artists endlessly recorded this view, the Golden Horn panorama becoming its own veritable genre in the imagery of Istanbul. Now that the heart of the modern city has shifted to the area around Taksim Square, it could be argued that what was once the purview of foreigners, and Ottoman elites in the 19th century, has now been democratized (or, more cynically, commodified), becoming a monument deserving preservation in its own right. 


    [8] A sign advertising the opening of the Haliç Metro Bridge. The slogan reads "The Metro Everywhere, the Metro to Every Place." Under the slogan is the name and signature of the Istanbul Mayor, Kadir Topbaş. Photo by Emily Neumeier.

    Some people are wondering what the fuss is all about. The Mayor of the Greater Istanbul Municipality Kadir Topbaş points out that, in truth, the view of the Süleymaniye is only obstructed from specific vantages, primarily the Beyoğlu neighborhoods just west of the new bridge. (read: tourists don't go there, so why is everyone getting upset?) On the other hand, Edhem Eldem wonders at the public outcry when the Süleymaniye or the starchitect Sinan's genius is threatened, but the relative silence to the arguably much more egregious destruction of Byzantine-era material. The controversy is reminiscent of the frequent criticism lobbed at Santiago Calatrava's distinctive bridge designs, which are often cited for not taking the local context or geography into account, and, on top of that, being needlessly expensive and poorly-built. Almost a full month after the official opening, the Vezneciler stop on Istanbul's new metro line was still being completed. During such time, passengers traveling from Taksim over the Haliç Bridge were treated to a creepy view of the unfinished station, complete with flickering lights and tubes hanging from the ceiling.


    [9] A view approaching the station on the bridge. Photo by Emily Neumeier.

    A 2013 petition signed by faculty members of Istanbul's Boğaziçi University lists the Haliç Bridge as only one of many recent infrastructure projects that, the faculty argues, are being completed at such a fast rate and with so little public participation or accountability that the damage being done will be "irreversible." And that is precisely the point. It is the sincere wish of the bridge's designers (including Topbaş himself, trained as an architect) that this project will endure the test of time. Aiming to create a work of art that could rival the Süleymaniye, the current municipal government has done its best to insert their own contribution to the historic skyline, evidently full-aware of the site's significance to the public imagination of Istanbul. In hopes of finding some kind of press release on the opening of the bridge, I looked on the official website promoting the new bridge project. The website, unlike the bridge itself, was still under construction.

    EMILY NEUMEIER is a doctoral candidate in the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania.

    **The report of the joint UNESCO/ICOMOS 2009 visit to Istanbul can be found here.

    ALTINYILDIZ, Nur. "The Architectural Heritage of Istanbul and the Ideology of Preservation."Muqarnas 24 (2007), pp. 281-305.

    GUIDONI, Enrico. "Sinan's Construction of the Urban Panorama." Environmental Design: Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre 1-2 (1987): pp. 20-41.

    KORKUT, Sevgi. "Istanbul's silhouette to change as metro line comes into view." Today's Zaman, 12 November 2012.

    NECİPOĞLU, Gülrü. "The Süleymaniye Complex in Istanbul: ِAn Interpretation." Muqarnas 3 (1985), pp. 92-117.

    VARDAR, Nilay. "Tüm İtirazların Ardından Haliç Köprüsü." Bianet, 24 January 2014.
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  • Good Night: A Dazzling New Era of Metropolitan Light

    By
    Sandy Isenstadt
     |
    Apr 22, 2014
    Article via Places Journal


    The Bay Lights, San Francisco, project by Leo Villareal for the Bay Bridge, test run, January 2013. [Photograph: Leo Villareal, via Wikimedia]

    Great White Way
    The lights of New York dazzled Vladimir Mayakovski when he came to visit in 1925. The revolutionary poet of modernism felt “a constant electrical breeze” in the great city, powering trains to the horizon and elevators to the stars, igniting the metropolitan elements; "the buildings are glowing with electricity,” he wrote. Bewitched, he stared hard into the dizzying views, his vision racing down the vanishing streets netted with wires and lights. [1] For Mayakovski, New York in the early 20th century was the frenzied heart of modernity, the new world metropolis where the self-conscious avant-garde aesthetic experiment of the old world was eclipsed by the unblinking gaze of blazing lamps, as if the white-hot heart of human consciousness itself were on display. 

    The invention of the infrastructures of artificial light, first gas, then electric, was as fundamental to modernization as was any system of transportation, communication or energy, and as momentous as urbanization itself. But for Mayakovski electric light was more than a technology of modernization; it pointed toward a certain kind of modernism, an emerging way of understanding and expressing the world. Mayakovski, along with such contemporary artists as Marcel Duchamp and Sergei Eisenstein, saw in electric lighting the end of one way of life and the advent of another. Self-mandated to see beyond the horizon, the poet, he wrote, was indebted to the harbingers of new life and, as result, always “paying out exorbitant fines and interest." "I am in debt to Broadway’s dazzling streetlamps,” he declared, as he traveled in his eager search for emotional insolvency. Urban street lighting was, for Mayakovski, nothing less than a locus of modernism. 

    Continue reading on Places Journal

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  • Team-Based Learning for Art Historians

    By
    Jennifer Ball and Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank
     |
    Apr 15, 2014

    The post features ART HISTORY TEACHING RESOURCES (AHTR), a website aimed at supporting the teaching of art and architectural history. It is peer-populated with teaching content, including syllabi, assignments and lesson plans, as well as blog entries about pedagogy. It was co-founded in 2011 by Michelle Millar Fisher, doctoral candidate in Art History at the Graduate Center, CUNY and Karen Shelby, Assistant Professor of Art History at Baruch College, CUNY and a graduate of the Graduate Center. AHTR has been awarded a Kress Grant for Digital Resources and will be undergoing an upgrade by the same people who have designed award-winning projects for the Metropolitan Museum in New York.


    Recently we participated in a workshop on Team-Based Learning (TBL) at Brooklyn College, a process where your students are divided into permanent teams for the entire semester. The teams work during class on activities based on readings. You can read more about it in a short article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Also take a look at the TBL website. Similar to the ‘Flipped Classroom’ students do the reading (yes! they actually do it) BEFORE the subject is taught in class and are quizzed on that material before each unit of study (typically 4-7 units a semester). Classroom time, then, is spent on active learning activities in teams that are meant to promote deeper learning than a typical lecture. Team-based learning was developed by professors working with Business and Marketing majors with large lecture classes. While we were both attracted to the idea that students reportedly read and engage more, we wondered ‘Can this be applied to an art history class?’ Beginning in the Fall 2013 we began to experiment teaching our classes using this method, fully implementing it this semester. The conversation that follows is our take on using TBL in an art history class.

    Chart for survey activity

    Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 6.51.28 PM

    Jenn: I have used TBL in two upper-level art history classes – Foundations of Islamic Art and Romanesque Art and in general it has been a positive experience! But the way it was taught in the workshops needs some tweaking for art history. Perhaps a good place for us to start is on what works well in TBL.

    Lauren: I have used TBL in two courses – a one semester, global survey (50 students) and an upper level Mesoamerican Art course (25 students). Overall, I think students enjoyed the experience, even if some students expressed their concern of working in teams. Personally, I found it rewarding and challenging, particularly because of the unique nature of teaching Art History. So, yes, let’s focus on what works well.

    Jenn: The teams work on what are called “Application Activities” in TBL jargon. My most successful one so far has been on monasteries, and it took three class periods. Students had 6 primary source readings to do in advance. Each reading was about the monastic life, for example we read Benedict and Peter the Venerable. They also had to do a reading on monasteries, learning to identify three monasteries: Cluny, Fontenay, and Monte Cassino. Students had to fill out a grid on the reading asking them to list the ideal behaviors and ideal environments that each writer espoused. In class, the teams then created one grid, discussing the readings and fleshing out what they had done on their own. Following that, each team had to glean the three biggest problems facing abbotts in the Middle Ages and post them for the whole class. We had a great discussion! Students were able to say so much about other team’s lists because they knew the material so well at this point. During the second class, they were asked to create their own ideal monastery with a drawn plan, a page on what was included and why, and a list of 10 rules for their monks. It was so exciting listening to their conversations. I heard one woman arguing why her group needed to include a chapter house for their monastery. Another group ran a hostel for pilgrims and carefully designed their monastery to separate the laity from the monks, without having seen a medieval example of this. During the final class, each team hung up their beautifully drawn monasteries and rules. Teams were then asked to go around and evaluate the other teams’ monasteries. With post-its, they wrote questions on the other projects and put a star on their favorite monastery. The class ended with a really in-depth discussion and they got so much more out of it than they would have, had I simply lectured on monasteries.

    Lauren: One of my successful application activities for my art-history survey focused on the subject of power and patronage. Prior to class, students read four Smarthistory entries about patronage, an Ashokan pillar, the Merode Altarpiece, and Bernini’s St. Teresa in Ecstasy. I asked students to complete a chart that helped them list important points from the reading and organize their ideas. In class, I delivered a mini-lecture about patronage in general. In teams, they engaged in 5-10 minute activities that asked them why patronage is important for studying the history of art. For the remainder of class and for most of the following one, teams created a poster that addressed the following: “Which of the objects best endorses the political ambitions, social position, or prestige of the patron(s)? State your specific choice and explain why you selected it in 1-2 sentences. Then, provide and discuss at least 5 pieces of evidence (stylistic, iconographic, contextual, etc.) to support your claim.” After each team completed their poster, they taped it to a wall to engage in a gallery walk (more TBL jargon). All teams had to decide which team produced the best claim and evidence, and which team did not defend their claim sufficiently. They used a green and red post-it (with their team name and a comment) to designate the “best” and “needs improvement.” They couldn’t vote for themselves.

    The results were wonderful. As I walked around the room, students asked me questions about the readings or specific follow-up questions about the artworks. One team exclaimed that the chart was so useful because they could organize their ideas before discussing them as a team. Another team mentioned that choosing one object was challenging, specifically because all three offered excellent case studies. Listening to their discussion as they narrowed it to one object was exciting, as well as insightful. I was able to see them working as art historians, rather than listen to me give them information.

    Once each team finished their posters and commented on other teams’ end products, we engaged in a class-wide discussion about those posters that received green or red post-its. This allowed us to discuss as a group how to make an effective claim and support it. One team even decided to rate themselves as the least effective; they noted that in the process of reading other teams’ posters they realized their claim was too general and their evidence vague. This same team mentioned to the class the steps they would take to develop a better argument. It was wonderful to see members of other teams realize how they could improve their own poster (several students even jumped up to mark additional data on posters). Three teams presented excellent posters, and we discussed why these examples were most effective.

    If we skip ahead to the midterm, students used this application activity as a model for writing effective comparative essays. The midterm essays were the best I’ve ever received in a survey class.

    For my upper division art history class, I had a wonderful team activity focused on the Postclassic international style and symbol set (PISSS) in Mesoamerica. Students read a short article prior to class that discussed what the style and symbol set entailed. Near the beginning of class, I asked students to decide which of the following the PISSS related to most: hipsters, traffic signs, cartoons, videogames, or corporate branding (e.g., Coca-Cola). I initially thought this discussion would be brief, but as I walked around the room I overheard the most exciting discussions about the topic and so extended it to 30-minutes. Each team then simultaneously reported using stock cards (labeled with A, B, etc.). This allowed us all to know instantly how each team responded. We then discussed the answers, and teams articulated why they felt their answer addressed the question best. One team chose hipsters and had a very creative answer that perfectly captured how the PISSS parallels aspects of the contemporary moment. And we fulfilled my dream of discussing hipsters in Art History.

    Jenn: Any downsides Lauren?

    Lauren: One drawback of TBL is that it focuses heavily on multiple-choice questions for the quizzes (the Readiness Assurance Tests, or RATs). I have realized that I need much improvement in writing questions, as well as providing answers that are not too easy or too difficult. I also have noticed that students take longer on these quizzes than I expected. I originally gave a 20 question quiz for the first unit. I quickly realized that 20 questions took almost 2 hours because they took it individually first and then again as a team. I’ve changed these quizzes to be 10 questions, and I feel they are just as effective—if not more so.

    Another potential weakness of TBL is that we don’t look in as much detail at images on the screen. Jenn and I have requested iPads to use in our TBL classes because we hope that this will allow teams to look more closely at specific images in color rather than the black-and-white images in a reading or textbook. It also allows students to look at images in any order they choose rather than in a linear fashion (like Powerpoint).

    Jenn: Lauren, I completely agree—I need to take a workshop in multiple choice! I’m not sure I will stick with that—the first semester I gave short-answer quizzes and I think that works better for me.

    I would add that group dynamics are challenging at times. The teams have to evaluate each other, which counts toward their grade. Nevertheless, some people are not team players. The team tends to bring most people into the fold eventually but I’ve had a few hold outs and their grade suffers. I wonder how fairly that assesses their work. But, working in a group is a skill like any other.

    I’m pretty happy with TBL and want to do more, though I never thought I’d be bringing scissors, poster board and markers into my college classroom! We’re making guidebooks for pilgrims this week.

    Lauren: I agree; I think TBL has some amazing benefits—and I love having the lights on more often. I actually get to see my students.

    Jennifer Ball is Associate Professor of Byzantine Art at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center. She publishes on Byzantine textiles, dress and portraits, and this fall will begin a fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for her project, Habit Forming: Representations of Byzantine Monastics, 9th–15th Centuries.

    Lauren G. Kilroy-Ewbank is Assistant Professor of Latin American Art at Brooklyn College. She specializes in the Colonial Spanish Americas, publishing primarily on body parts, religious icons, and death-related arts. She has a forthcoming book on images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in colonial Mexico.

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