The PelicanWeb's Journal of Sustainable Development

Research Digest on Integral Human Development,
Solidarity, Sustainability, and Related Global Issues

Vol. 6, No. 5, May 2010
Luis T. Gutierrez, Editor

Home Page
















Political Engagement with Design:
A Design Intervention for Local Development
in an Area of Gentrification in Istanbul

Cigdem Kaya
Department of Industrial Product Design
Istanbul Technical University
Istanbul, Turkey
Burcu (Yancatarol) Yagiz
Department of Industrial Design
Kadir Has University
Istanbul, Turkey


The new policy of urban generation1 in historical Istanbul includes areas with significant cultural heritage2. The perspective of this renovation policy lacks sufficient attention to the sustainment of the material culture of local communities.

One of these areas consists of two neighborhoods next to each other (Neslisah and Hatice Sultan) known as Sulukule. This Romani settlement has been identified for her famous music and entertainment culture in Istanbul since the community’s first settlement in 1054 (Cengiz et al, 2006). According to the new policy of urban generation, the inhabitants of these neighborhoods had to move to the suburbs from the center of the city so that the neighborhood could be demolished and rebuilt. Even though the residents have acknowledged the necessity of physical renovation in the area, it became apparent that this renovation has not been planned with the participation of the Romani community that simultaneously faces poverty and social segregation.

This study is going to reveal the process of intervening in the area by design to explore the potentials of design practice in representing the presence of the particular material culture of a community and its social segregation that have been underrepresented in urban regeneration policies. The results of this project show how design’s potential can be used as a tool for socio-cultural resistance in Istanbul neighborhoods.


It is suggested that the professional tools of designers, especially of industrial designers, can be used efficiently to assist a local community with fostering and sustaining local production (Manzini, 2004; Maffei et al, 2004). If an industrial designer can see his practice as a process of creating “relationships, networks and meanings” as opposed to creating finalized mass produced items, he can appreciate the outcome of the “process” that is not limited to “industry” but is built in a “community” on the field. The industrial designer’s toolbox, equipped with skills geared towards mass production can be reshaped by the contexts where design as a vision needs to take different forms, and may even be formless (Hunt, 2003).

Dilnot (2007) aims to illuminate the ways that design can change everyday life in a more responsible and responsive manner by ‘…identifying, even if very loosely, the capacities that design entails which might allow design to engage, even if symbolically, in making a humane world.’ (Dilnot, 2007) Grouping these capacities in five areas, Dilnot (2007) indicates the roles that design can take on other than creating products:

‘1. Design’s capacities to do with organizing and planning (organization, planning, programming, scenarios, schematics)
2. Those to do with mediating and attuning our relationships (negotiation, mediation, attunement, resonance, reciprocity)
3. Capacities of moving from existing to preferred situations /capacities of intervention (translation, intervention, transfiguration, (re-)configuration, disposition)
4. Natalic capacities, those involved in bringing something new into the world (possibilities, propositions, origination, invention, innovation)
5. Transfigurative and poetic capacities (transformation, revelation, transfiguration, poetic gauging of existence, aesthetic discovery)’ (Dilnot, 2007)
Capacities mentioned above define processes instead of products. Every process requires a certain investment of technical, social and communicative skills that are flexible enough to be adapted to new contexts. Therefore, a designer’s skills are re-configurable and adaptable to utilize design’s capacities as processes that are not always linear but emergent, organic and semi-organized (Dilnot, 2007). In this study, strategies to communicate the indefinite material culture of Sulukule were analyzed from the above perspective that deconstructs and uses design instrumentally according to its indirect but evident capacities. In the Sulukule case, the researchers observed how these capacities bring different processes and different solutions in a peculiar field. The outcome after two years of fieldwork (from November 2006 to June 2008) in Sulukule can suggest a guideline for designers who would like to assist the communication of the cultural production of a local community in gentrified fields in a metropolis.

In the following sections the reasons, dynamics and consequences of gentrification will be explained first. Then, the case of the Romani neighborhood of Sulukule in Istanbul will be introduced as a case of gentrification as opposed to a case of rehabilitation with its political, sociological and historical dimensions. Finally, the design interventions in the field for the sustainment of the unique material culture and its potency for local development are going to be introduced and discussed.


A city’s transformation into a node in the global network requires a significant change in the way it is represented. The city (metropolis) needs to go through strategic transformations led by political, economic and cultural authorities. One of these strategic transformations appears to be an aesthetic one that has the agenda of turning the city into a “spectacle”3 to be represented globally. The process of becoming a global city creates tensions between the local and the global. The grand agenda of turning the city into a spectacle involves not only the spread of “spectaclist aesthetics”4 throughout the city but also the commoditization of the local everyday in a manipulative way. The “spectaclist” agenda identifies a preferred aesthetic for the city and emphasizes polarizations between the bright and the dark sides of the city in order to better strategize urban transformation as an aesthetic project.

The tension created in the city represents a scaled-down version of the world’s new polarization between the “functioning core” and the “non-integrating gap”5 (Barnett, 2004). The tensions emerging between the poles of development show how “the functioning core” insistently approaches “the non-integrating gaps” as the execution sites of its global economic and political agenda that aims to control the global flow of capital through revised strategies of colonization, assimilation and marginalization. The agenda of turning the city into a spectacle identifies “the functioning cores” and “non-integrating gaps” of the city and generates projects for the spread of the “preferred aesthetic” from the metropolitan centers to “non-functioning” peripheries. The hegemony of glorification disguised as development spreads with regard to the application methods of the grand “spectaclist” narrative.

It can be suggested that the mechanism of the spectacle works generally in two different levels. The transformation begins on a visual level, transforming the architectural landscape of the city. The preferred aesthetics is promoted in urban life by “cleansing” the periphery that projects shadows on the city’s bright face from its current struggle except for its useful assets (such as valuable land, historical monuments etc.) In world cities that are under constant transformation to be the centres of global attention, gentrification appears to underline most of the urban renewal projects proposed by local governments.

Gentrification as a major strategy to spread the “spectaclist” aesthetic throughout the city cleanses the non-integrating gap for its useful assets especially for the valuable land. (Yardimci, 2005). Urban renewal projects, devoid of cultural and social content, usually claim to improve the quality of living in degenerated neighborhoods. However, by identifying non-functioning gaps in the city and by proposing the type of ‘change’ that is not relevant to the everyday realities of the resident communities, urban renewal projects turn into political tools that help the realization of the “spectaclist” agenda. Non-integrating gaps of the city are constantly subject to the functioning core’s pressures either to be transformed according to the aesthetic agenda or to be marginalized to the degree that socio-economic degradation splits the communities apart. The colonialist approach of the city’s globally functioning parts defines non-integrating localities (the land, the residents and the material culture) as disempowered “non-globals” by ‘progressive spatial segregation, separation and exclusion.’ (Bauman, 1998: 3) Gentrification, particularly in Istanbul, seems to have direct effects on the dislocation of marginal cultures. The enactment of dislocating these communities means to rip off the cultural bonds between the localities and to erase their culture from the collective memory of the city. It is worrisome that the communicational breakdown between the globalizing communities and the traumatized localities help sharpen the gaps (Bauman, 1998).

The urban colonization characterized by architectural transformation echoes also in the cultural practices of the city, on a socio-cultural level. Debord (1967), states that the city as a spectacle ‘brings in negation and consumption in the cultural sphere.’ (Debord 1967, 129) The “aesthetization” continues in the material culture of localities in various ways. The local, the non-integrating gap, is commoditized and presented as “the exotic” with its socio-economic struggles so that it appears to be an asset that can be promoted with an emphasis on cultural diversity. Manzini (2005) calls this ‘the tourist-related supermarket type’ of localism illustrated in the examples of the Brazilian favelas or the spiritual tourism to India. The local culture is not only misrepresented but it is also consumed as a touristic experience. Over-marketing material culture as a touristic experience exemplifies how the agenda of “aesthetization” applied on the material culture of localities through consumption negates the natural flow of the local daily production. While the locality starts to be consumed by the new aesthetics through commodities, the organic and cohesive production in the locality is interrupted and ‘dissipation of communal networks and forceful individualization of destiny’ traumatize the communities (Bauman, 1998: 100). On the other hand, “aesthetization” of everyday production as a local initiative with the residents who are defined not as “passive receivers” but also as “the participants” can be a method of getting around the establishment of “spectaclist aesthetics”. Such methods aim to counter-direct the global dynamics in the city to enable the community to better use their skills. This is how “aesthetization” of everyday through consumption and commoditization of cultural production can be a tool for people with design training to assist the non-integrating gap to be visible. This involves engaging the residents into the local production and solidifying ‘the territorial capital into a policy or a design program.’ (Thackara, 2005: 79)

The “designerly” focus of this study is to understand tactical “anesthetization” of everyday life through design by re-evaluating the modes of cultural production in degenerated neighborhoods. By using design’s capacities stated by Dilnot (2007), it is aimed to turn the non-integrating gap’s exploited relationships with the functioning core to a negotiation of authorship, resources, labor and money in a way that can empower the non-integrating gap.


According to urban planner Cabannes (2008) Istanbul is currently dealing with all the problems that many metropolises will experience in the future (Cabannes, 2008). Istanbul, where approximately 13 million people (city records, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, 2008) from many different places and backgrounds live, receives massive amount of migration as the economic and cultural capital of Turkey. Due to the tremendously high rate of migration and income difference, new neighborhoods are formed as the size of the city grows day by day (Erder, 1996, 2006). This situation brings many complicated issues about how to use design knowledge to construct the local production within the city in a neighborhood scale. Sustainable construction of localities with the help of design can show that the fine differences of localities are indeed the building stones of a socially just and culturally diverse city. Quoting Cabannes (2008): ‘If Istanbul succeeds, we will all succeed.’ (Cabannes, 2008)

The field

The field “Sulukule” was named after the water distribution system of the Roman Empire and can literally be translated as “Water Tower”. The abundance of the baths, fountains and Byzantian cisterns in the area indicate that the water channel enters the inners of the city from Sulukule and diverges into three smaller branches across the historical peninsula (Cecen, 1934).

The Romani community has been living in Sulukule since they were located in this area about 954 years ago (Cengiz et al, 2006). Sulukule area, which was only a place for settlement in the beginning, has turned into a symbol of the Romani culture due to the integration of Romani traditions with the features of the land. The neighborhood is located next to the city walls of Istanbul (Theodosian Walls) that are in UNESCO’s world heritage list. The area is also located in the preservation zone of UNESCO and is considered as tangible and the intangible heritage (UNESCO, 2008).

Sulukule is one of the first Romani settlements where Romani music as a school developed into a genre that is known worldwide. Along with the music, entertainment industry grew in the area that shortly became a point of attraction in Istanbul tourist guides. Until the prohibition of music houses in 1990’s, musical production was the main source of income in the neighborhood. When the music houses were closed down, the Romani community faced unemployment and lost its income from its entertainment production. More importantly, the communal ties empowered by collective production have been weakened by individual efforts to find alternative sources of income.

The second major loss in Sulukule is due to Code 53666 developed by the government aiming to (1) rehabilitate areas that are under threat of earthquake and (2) to rehabilitate physically worn out and degenerated areas that are considered old and unsafe. The neighborhood’s being old, unsafe and associated with thievery has created acute issues of social segregation. Dislocating the non-integrating gap to replace the unwanted aesthetics by a ‘cleaner’ architecture can be the hidden reason behind the proposal when the increasing value of the land in central Istanbul is considered (Oral, 2007; Turmen, 2006; Turker, 2007).

According to the renovation project proposed by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, 85%-90% of the Sulukule residencies are going to be torn down and be replaced by a large suburban type residency. The property owners in Sulukule were approached by the local municipality and were encouraged to sell their properties. In return, the Sulukule residents were offered houses in Tasoluk, a suburban residency 36 kilometers outside the city. According to the plan, those, who accept to move to the new houses, can start living there immediately, paying a monthly amount to buy the houses that they live in.

Unlike the renewal suggests the design issue in Sulukule is about how to monitor a healthy cultural integration of the neighborhood to the city’s scene more than how to apply the necessary features of a healthy architectural transformation. With the government’s proposal, it is obvious that the Sulukule residents re-located 36 kilometers away from their land will not be able to re-buy the properties that they used to live in. The nature of communal production will be destroyed and the members of the community who have urban jobs like shoe shining and selling flowers will struggle to find jobs in the suburbs. The renewal plan ignores the fact that the dislocated community can neither sustain their cultural practices nor their jobs in their new location. They will have to find ways to come back to the city and relocate themselves. Therefore, if there is going to be an urban renewal, the local residents should participate in the formulation process. Having participated in the “40 days 40 nights Sulukule” events, the designers suggest that design’s capacities can be used first to make the Sulukule community visible.

Government’s urban renewal proposal, if not generated from the valid facts of the area, has the potential to sharpen the social and economic gaps between communities who have developed ways to sustain daily life via patterns of communal solidarity. Even if this rehabilitation builds a safer neighborhood, it washes away material culture of a unique community. On the other hand, if local cultural production is protected and supported, the globe can benefit from each community’s way of living as sustainable practical knowledge that passes on to the coming generations. Therefore, reducing Sulukule area down to the land’s monetary value and location would mean ignoring the Romani rituals, traditions, modes of everyday production and community interaction that are embedded in the street life of the neighborhood. Romani communities, which are famous for their natural talents in performance and music, have transformed the everyday in Sulukule into a performance with their daily exchange on the streets or at the festivals and events in local squares, conversations on doorsteps and communal cooking.

The involvement of designers, who are also the authors of this paper, with the project was in 2007, when a chain of actions were organized to create a platform of resistance against the proposed rehabilitation project. This chain of actions started forty days before the demolition and was carried out along these forty days under the name “40 days 40 nights Sulukule”. It was co-organized by NGOs (such as Human Settlements Foundation and Accessible Living Foundation), architects, urban planners, sociologists, artists, musicians, historians, photographers, filmmakers and volunteers who united under the name of Sulukule Platform. The actions were widely exposed to public by media (Ingin, 2007) as the main aim was to make the local problems visible by gaining as much public attention as possible. These actions created a think tank and a platform of creativity with the involvement of several experts mentioned above to reveal the potency of the region. These experts designed workshops in their fields and worked with the local community to valorize their skills or to teach them new skills. The majority of the workshops focused on music production, painting, fanzine production and weaving under the theme of “daily life in the neighborhood”. Each workshop ended with a performance or a show such as concerts, art shows or sale. These workshops enabled the neighborhood to be visible. Having participated in the “40 days 40 nights Sulukule” events, the designers suggest that design’s capacities can be used first to make the Sulukule community visible. The design interventions that are the subject of this study share this common aim and intend to use design’s capacities to strategize the process of visibility.

To understand the characteristics of the field the territorial capital of the neighborhood, in other words the assets of the neighborhood had to be identified first. According to Thackara (2005) ‘….Hard assets include natural beauty and features; shopping facilities; cultural attractions; and buildings, museums, monuments and the like. Soft assets are all about people and culture: skills, traditions, festivals, events and occasions, situations, settings, social ties, civic loyalty, memories, and the capacity to facilitate learning of various kinds.’ (Thackara, 2005: 79)

In this project design interventions had to blend in the existing socio-cultural features of the field so that they could have a sustainable effect. During their visits to the neighborhood, the designers decided to focus on the soft assets of the field for two reasons. First of all, the designers’ political power as mere designers was restricted to access the hard assets in the field. The second reason is the intangibility of the soft assets. Since soft assets sustain mainly through oral culture and behavior, its effects can live free from hard assets; in other words even though the neighborhood is demolished, the soft assets will find channels to sustain themselves.

As soft assets are the organic bonds that tie the community to their living spaces, sustaining everyday production can happen only if these organic bonds are strategically used to facilitate the local production by utilizing the inherent skills, social ties and of the traditions. Identifying hard assets and soft assets (Thackara, 2005) through ethnographic research was the first step of the fieldwork in this study. During the study, designers identified an unexpected potential for design for local development and named this potential as “the liquid assets of the field”.

The Potency of the Region

For the last two years, the designers have been working in Neslisah and Hatice Sultan neighborhoods, interacting with the community and participating in their everyday production in order to identify the overlooked or unregistered capacities, all of which carry unique features of the Romani culture7. The capacity of the region -the potency- can be studied in three groups: (1) the intangible heritage in everyday rituals (soft assets) (2) the tangible features that house soft assets (hard assets) (3) the assets that are concealed in material culture and that have the potency to be manipulated by design (liquid assets).

It can be said that Sulukule’s valuable hard assets are the main reasons behind the government’s renewal plan. The soft assets of the neighborhood, especially everyday life of a unique community, are ignored by this plan. As the hard assets host the soft assets, they are organically bound to each other. The design interventions in this study aim to liquidate both the hard and soft assets in a way that they cannot be captured as “valuable” by political authorities but can they can still be communicated to the public as a part of the community’s identity.

1. Soft Asset: Music and Performance

Soft assets do not only tie the members of the community to their physical surroundings but also have the potential to communicate the presence of the community to the other parts of the city.

Other than being the major source of income in Sulukule, music production appears to be a shared medium of everyday cultural expression for all members of the community. The neighborhood becomes the school where musical traditions pass onto the coming generations. Community is tied to its surrounding organically through collective music production that also shapes the architectural organization of the neighborhood. Unique architectural typographies such as quads, patios and doorsteps are formed to host collective production of music, cooking and practice of crafts.

On the narrow streets of Sulukule, cross talks (atisma [atishma]) mixed with music and poetry appear to be a communicational everyday practice. These cross talks between individuals are spontaneous performances that flow for instance in between an old lady on a terrace and a group of ladies sitting on a doorstep across the street.

While cross talks start as more intimate interpersonal actions, their volume raises by the spontaneous involvement of music to communicate its presence to the neighborhood. This performance has also been professionally performed at venues in the city. The famous brass band from the region called Sulukule Romani Orchestra performs at some of the well-established venues in Istanbul such as Garage Istanbul, Gemi and Tierra. The band also released an album in 2007.

Hidrellez8 is another soft asset that unites Romani community not only with the neighborhood but also with the city residents. Residents from all around the city come to the neighborhood to participate in the Hidrellez festival and become a part of the Romani community for one night. Hidrellez, as a tradition, acts as an organic bond that displays the presence of the channels of communication embedded in the collective memory of the city.

2. Hard Asset: Theodosian Land Walls

Hard assets of Sulukule are architectural elements that characterize the visual environment of the neighborhood. The most significant hard asset of the field in the neighborhood is the ancient city wall of Istanbul (Theodosian Wall): a landmark that borders the field. The meaning of the wall and its relationship with the city has been discussed before and during the demolition. Although, the neighborhood has been identified with the wall; prior research explains the relationship only physically.

The relationship of the wall to the neighborhood is more than a case of being next to each other. There is an intangible connection between the Romani community and the land’s history represented by the wall. According to one of the folk stories, a Romani folk opened the “Pempton Gate” to Fatih Sultan Mehmet and let him in the city. It is said that the key to the field was thus given to the Romanis and they have lived there since then. The wall carries these stories about the inhabitants’ lives in oral tradition via storytelling. Besides this, Hidrellez, which is mentioned as one of the soft assets in Sulukule, has been celebrated traditionally by the Theodosian Land Wall for a thousand years. The wall is a monument with memory that still connects with present day and stands for the Romani community’s significance for Istanbul. Thus, the city wall by the neighborhood sustains the solidarity of the community and serves as an invaluable landmark for the community.

3. Liquid Asset: The name

Liquid assets of the neighborhood do not exist by themselves. It is designers’ particular decision to extract liquid assets among the hard and soft assets. In other words, hard and soft assets have been “liquidated” by being extracted from their initial local context and by being re-introduced to the new global context through design interventions. The decision of which asset to “liquidate” depends on the boundaries of what can be done by design and how it can be sustained. As mentioned above, in this project the designers set liquid assets among the soft assets of the neighborhood due to power restrictions and concerns of sustaining the interventions’ resonance.

Liquid assets are considered as parts of the community’s identity that will exist even when the community is dislocated. They can flow along with time and reside in collective memory. That’s why; they cannot easily be manipulated by politics. Liquid assets are free of monetary value, therefore they are no good to buy and sell. These sustain on a non-physical basis. That is why they are strong although they are not easily visible. One common strategy for designers who would like to engage in complicated projects with political conflict can be working with liquid assets so that they can by-pass political and financial restrictions.

The liquid potency of the field lies in its name: ‘Sulukule’ constitutes a concept that embraces the identity of the community. ‘Sulukule’ as a liquid asset identifies a distinction between geographical Sulukule and cultural Sulukule as a community. It is important to understand that what constitute ‘Sulukule’ are not only two neighborhoods but also the Romani oral history and the festive rituals that have been preserved by Romanis for centuries. The liquid assets of the field can be summarized in two groups. 1) The liquidated accumulation of everyday rituals. 2) The tangible opportunities of production that can be created.

It can be suggested to designers who would like work in the area to find ways of pointing at, guiding and communicating “what is already there”. This is a proactive strategy to make the oral cultural heritage as “visible” as possible. Making the “liquid assets” of the neighborhood become visible involves a tactical use of design to communicate the neighborhood’s potential as a cultural heritage both to the public and to the community itself. In this case, design can take on a type of formlessness that can be directed by the dynamics of everyday (Hunt, 2003). By creating platforms of interaction and communication designers can prepare the groundwork for tangible projects of local production. This can also utilize design’s capacities of translation and negotiation in creating bonds between the stakeholders (Balaram, 1998; Dilnot, 2007).


Community empowerment projects such as the Sulukule project intend not to focus on the possible economic outcome first (not to see the area as a matter of fact) but to see the field as a designed and constructed artifice that embodies our fantasies as well as of our needs to know, to remember and to forget (Hamdi, 2004, 8). Design’s capacities are employed in the process of transforming the locality into a resistant body that has ability to adapt to changes by constantly re-evaluating its daily practices and benefiting from its liquid assets (Balaram, 1998; Hamdi, 2004).

i. Potential Liquid Assets of the Field:

1. The region has a reputation with its music worldwide but lacks powerful connection to the global Romani music network.

2. Many women are experienced in the textile industry (i.e. hand stitching, bead working, stamping, embroidery and ironing)

3. Sulukule is located by the city walls (Theodosian Land Walls) of Istanbul which are protected by UNESCO world heritage. However, this feature has never been used to market the area as a point of attraction. Therefore, connecting this landmark to the community’s daily production by giving it another form can liquidate the Theodosian Land Walls as a part of the Sulukule identity.

4. The community has an old tradition of performing, dancing and festivity. However, this feature has never been visible through presentation at a national and global level.

ii. Suggestions to Transform the Identified Liquid Assets

1. A Romani music and dances research center can be established. Music and performance residencies at the center can be offered to connect to the global Romani music network.

2. Women have experience in textile industry. Besides this, flamboyant dressing of the Romanis in the field has become a style. These textiles can be introduced with the stories of the region.

3. Collective spaces shaped by collective rituals not only house daily dances and performances but also items that are shared such as fridges, washing machines, soap and water. These small patterns are examples of sharing products instead of individually owning them. It is typical to observe approximately five houses to share one refrigerator that is located in the quad.

4. Collective cooking is also common in Sulukule. It has been observed that some women experiment with making colorful (such as red) ashure9. Besides this, many people were home cooking food for the entertainment houses before they were shut down in 1990s. Taking into consideration that the community likes collective cooking and experimenting, festive dinners that include the city residents can be arranged in the area.

iii. Design Interventions

Some of the above suggestions have been visually represented via design interventions. It is important to remind that these interventions aim to register the present material culture of the field via liquidating some of its assets. It is also important to underline that the strength of these projects come from the necessity of individuals’ involvement to be realized.


Sulukule Cookies Project: Informal local economy in Sulukule is mostly based on domestic production of food and cheap labor in textiles. “Sulukule Cookies Project” aims to valorize the potential of women’s particular talent in everyday production while exploring the potentials of forming a local economy through promotion and sale of the “Sulukule branded” cookies. The proposal also makes visual references to the Theodosian Land Walls. The cookies are made in the form of wall bricks to be displayed on top of each other referencing to the defined geometry of the wall. By proposing the sale of the cookies in famous pastry shops in Istanbul, the project also aims to make a memorial for the “unwanted” and “neglected” financial struggle of the neighborhood in the culture of consumption.

Figure 1. Sulukule Cookies Project,
design by Burcu (Yancatarol) Yagiz and Cigdem Kaya, 2007.


Sulukule FM”: Music production, both as a communal process and also as a source of income, is a vital element of Sulukule’s identity. Radio Sulukule is proposed as an active and economical tool to cherish the unique culture of Sulukule, its history and musical forms. As a platform for discussion, the radio can also help to voice the everyday struggles and issues of the neighborhood.

Figure 2. Logo of Radio Sulukule,
design by Burcu (Yancatarol) Yagiz and Cigdem Kaya, 2007.


Sulukule Blue”: The blue-green color that is commonly found on the poorly re-painted buildings of Sulukule creates a unique color scale of blue-green shades as one of the most striking visual elements in the physical surroundings of Sulukule. It is proposed that the unique blue of Sulukule is protected by international copyright as the “Sulukule Blue” like artists such as Yves Klein and Marc Chagall “invented” and “registered” the “International Klein Blue” and “Chagall Blue”.

Figure 3. “Sulukule Blue”,
design by Burcu Yancatarol and Cigdem Kaya, 2007.


Sulukule Tags”: The Sulukule tags aim to encourage the residents to carry their collective memory on everyday objects to wherever they go. By sticking these tags on the products they produce or sell, Sulukule residents can spread the tags as cultural parasites and celebrate their identity with this silent protest.

Figure 4. Sulukule Tags,
design by Burcu Yancatarol and Cigdem Kaya, 2007.

Figure 5. Sulukule Tags,
design by Burcu Yancatarol and Cigdem Kaya, 2007.


After the explorations of UNESCO in the field in 2008, some suggestions and warnings about Sulukule were listed in the World Heritage Commission Report of 2008. To preserve the cultural texture of the area, the commission suggests that ‘a physical and social renovation should be developed according to the needs and the identity of the community’ (WHC report, 2008).

This design project aims to constitute the first step of a process that will create channels of communication to accomplish visibility by liquidating the assets of the community. In Sulukule project, the neighborhood’s hard and soft assets are “liquidated” as a strategy of counter-branding.

Given the tensions between the global and the local, it can be said that grassroots globalization should occur in the local not merely by developing commodities of variety in an ethnocentric way but to sustain the ‘production of locality’ which ‘is socially produced’. (Harvey, 1984; Hardt&Negri, 2000; Appadurai, 1996). Thus, “local” is a social machine that creates and recreates identities and differences that are understood as the “local” (Harvey, 1984; Hardt&Negri, 2000; Appadurai, 1996).

Depending on this definition, the local is seen not merely as different “visual forms” in a romantic way but also as different behaviours and ways of living (i.e. sharing washing machines, sharing fridges, washing days, cooking days can be observed in Sulukule) These are the designers’ sources of appropriation that will both empower the community and create its own market. Designers’ strategies and alternative designs as ‘brands’ may be digested, quoted, used and imitated by the mainstream market. However, it is unique to design that ideas are indispensable. A designer can re-produce locality again and again. This oscillation can be named as counter-branding.

In a complex area like Sulukule, the designers embraced the problems and evaluated them as a project of “branding degeneration” that will co-create resistance with the residents. Counter-branding, as a strategy takes on “conventional” branding strategies of design and aims to present visual facets of a political conflict.

The assets of the field that are malleable into these different design projects are mostly liquid assets. As stated above, liquid assets are generally concepts are tightly linked to the hard assets and soft assets defined by Thackara (2005). Liquid assets evoke design ideas that consciously translate hard assets and soft assets of the field that form “culture” in traditional capitalism to neo-liberal capitalism as “bastardized commodities”.


Design by itself seems to be a quite weak tool to involve in political conflict. The core question of “What can you change in a web of power politics?” often comes up in discussions especially among young social scientists. As designers, who know the infrastructure of how commodities circulate materially and socially, we also acknowledge that any action cannot exist free from the market. Although we cannot change this complex infrastructure that drifts the idiosyncrasies of the non-integrating gap as designers, we can find ways to co-exist. As designers, our influence on societal and economic life on a legislative level is out of question. Yet, on a personal level, at the bottom of the pyramid the dialogue that we start while we work with real people inevitably starts other social formations especially for those individuals who are in search of self-reliance. Although we could not negotiate with the administration as designers and change the obvious situation, we gave the residents a reason to meet at the same place on a certain day and talk to each other while they have been working with us.

Sulukule at its current state illustrates all the tensions that generate from the expansion of spectaclist aesthetics of the “globally functioning parts of the city on the “non-integrating, localized gaps”. However, Sulukule also renders microcosms that can benefit from design interventions on an everyday basis and utilize the capacities of design to organize the territorial capital according to the following observation.

The working methods of a designer for this aim involve collaboration with a web of artists, activists, social scientists and a facilitator such as an NGO that can provide a platform for communication. In order to be a part of a network of stakeholders, we suggest designers to adapt the skill-set they acquired from their formal training to the conditions of the locality that is constantly under political, economic and cultural pressures.

It should as well be stated that these projects, Sulukule as a case, require patience and ability to work under political stress. Unlike the examples from “the functioning core”, the projects in the “non-integrating gap” are held with scarce resources, facing poverty. Thus, the designer should be experienced in feasibility, efficiency and even fundraising. It can be said that design education can introduce these concepts to future designers as realities of their context. This awareness, taking its roots from being “non-integrated”, can bring a new sensitivity about the profession of industrial design in the functioning core.

Designer’s participation in such a process departs from the common design process that leads to a final product. Design’s capacities stated by Dilnot (2007) point out processes of growth instead of end products. Therefore, these capacities not only envision alternative roles for designers in different levels, but also shake the affirmative ground for defining what the product really is. Design’s capacities neither mark ‘the end’ nor address sole “outcomes”. Instead, they address the bigger pictures, the contexts and the actors that are involved in different levels by creating patterns. In the case of Sulukule, the design proposals utilize multiple capacities of design to ‘move from existing to preferred situations’ (Dilnot, 2007). By intervening on the current situation and evaluating the potentials of the area, capacities of intervention are employed to identify entering points into an ongoing urban process. The physical outcomes of the design proposals function not only as products but also as tools to transform relationships and interactions between the stakeholders. Therefore, the typical design process mediates relationships creating venues for participation.

Sulukule is not only a symbol of the Romani music and Romani lifestyle in Istanbul, but also is a case of resistance against the increasing urban rehabilitation processes. Genuine collective rituals such as the street and quad weddings, depiction of trousseau of young girls and funerals are valuable resources to be introduced to the world from the perspective of a designer in a rapidly fragmenting and privatized world.

The authors would like to thank Asli Kiyak Ingin (Human Settlements Foundation) for her efforts in initiating, sustaining and supporting new ideas of local development for Sulukule and her continuous generous support to our work.


1 Suggested to the Turkish Parliament to become a law (1/984) with the name “Urban Transformation and Development Law” on 1 March 2005 and was accepted by the Turkish Parliament. (records of the Parliament from the Parliament Web Site)

2 This part of the city is named as the ‘Historical Peninsula’. Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and the Ottoman Imperial Palace are located in this 1.3 miles square (5 square kilometers) wide triangular piece of land.

3 The term “spectacle” throughout this article is used after Debord’s The Society of Spectacle (1967). According to Debord (1967): ‘The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images’ (Debord, 1967).

4 The term “spectaclist aesthetics” has been derived from Debord’s definition of the features of the “spectacle” in The Society of Spectacle (1967). “Spectaclist aesthetics” stands for any visual representation that has direct influence on class segregation and cultural homogenization mainly by mass media. For instance, The International Style has widely been criticized for being “spectaclist”.

5 As Pentagon strategist Barnett (2004) points out, the functioning core is characterized with ‘those parts of the world that are actively integrating their national economies into a global economy’ as North America, Europe, China, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. On the other hand, ‘regions of the world that are largely disconnected from the global economy and the rule sets that define its stability’ such as Caribbean Rim, Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East are classified as the non-integrating gap (Barnett, 2004).

6 “The majority of the settlements in Istanbul are unsafe, unstable and under the threat of the earthquake. It has been observed and scientifically proved that several urban problems were identified because some regions are degenerated, some house illegal settlements which caused irregular urbanization. The most appropriate solution to these problems in Istanbul is to apply sustainable urban transformation with improvement, abandonment, renovation, regeneration, project development etc. for cultural, physically safe, good quality and social and economical development in the areas under risk, degenerated areas and areas without proper infrastructure for common good.” (Translated from Reason chapter of the Code 5366 accepted in the Turkish Parliament on May 16th, 2005)

7 The major method of this field work was ethnographic research. The researchers have visited the field several times during their research and made informal interviews with the community. Most of these conversations were daily chats. This was mainly facilitated by architect Asli Kiyak Ingin (Huma Settlements Foundation, chair) who has been one of the activist initiators of the civil resistance known as Sulukule Platform. Her relationships with the community enabled the researchers to gain thrust in the field. Cooperating with NGOs who have been working on the field was very helpful. During these visits numerous photos were taken to document everyday life. These photographs were studied in means of many elements to find common design features which are peculiar to the area. The findings were evaluated together with the sociological analysis held by NGOs.

8 A nocturnal celebration of the arrival of the spring where bonfires are started and young people jump on fire, wishes are written on pieces of paper and are tied to rose bushes.

9 “Ashure” is a traditional desert. There are many connotations in several different religious resources. In Turkish oral history it is mostly associated with the story of Noah’s ark. After the hurricane Noah’s ark sits on Mount Ararat and the survivors have only some grains left. They cook whatever is left with sugar and make a pudding. This tradition has continued since then. It is regarded as a way of appreciating “less” and understanding how vital food is. “Ashure” contains wheat, nuts, raisins and pieces of dry fruit.


Appadurai, A. (2000). Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination. Public Culture, 12(1).

Barnett, P.M.T. (2004). Blog Entry. Retrieved from the Thomas P. M. Barnett Weblog, December 2004.

Bauman, Z. (1998). Globalization: The Human Consequence. Columbia University Press. New York, USA.

Cabannes, Y. (2008). Lecture at Istanbul Technical University.

Cecen, K (1934). Istanbul’da Osmanli Devrinde Su Istanbul. I.T.U. Bilim ve Teknoloji Arastirma Merkezi. N.I. 292.

Cengiz, B., Foggo Y.H. (2006). Tarihi Sulukule Evleri Yikiliyor ama Oturanin Fikrini Soran Yok. Retrieved June 2006.

Debord, G. (1967). Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, (1995 edition). New York, USA.

Dilnot, C. (2007). Culture As Our Chance, of Finally, Being Human. Lecture at Parsons The New School For Design. October 16, 2007. New York, USA.

Erder, S. (2006). Refah Toplumunda Ghetto. Istanbul Bilgi University Press. Istanbul, Turkey.

Erder, S. (1996). Istanbul’a Bir Kent Kondu: Umraniye. Iletisim Yayinlari. Istanbul, Turkey.

Foggo, H. (2008). Sulukulelileri Saklasak mi, Yesil Alan mi Yapsak? Radikal 2. Retrieved January 2008.

Hunt, J. (2003). Tactical Formlessness, in Strangely Familiar, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA.

Ingin Kiyak, Asli. (2007). Yerellik ve Direnme. Retrieved May 2008.

Maffei, S., Villari, B., (2004). Designer as a Learning Enabler for Strategic Design Processes in Local Development: Evidences from ME.Design Research Case Studies. Cumulus Creative Linking Working Papers. Publication Series G, Oslo, University of Art and Design Helsinki.

Manzini, E. (2004). Sustainable Ways of Living. Retrieved January 2006.

Manzini, E., (2005). A Cosmopolitan Localism: Prospects for a Sustainable Local Development and the Possible Role of Design. Dis-Indaco, Politecnico di Milano, 1.2.2005. Retrieved May 2006.

Oral, F. (2007). Kapimizdaki Kentsel Donusum Tehlikesi. Radikal 2. Retrieved November 2007.

Thackara, John. (2005). In the Bubble: Designing In a Complex World. The MIT Press. Cambridge, USA.

Tuna K., Satiroglu A., Caglayandereli M. (2007). Neslisah Mahallesi Toplumsal Yapi Arastirmasi. Unpublished Report (with contributions of Seda Bilan, Rukiye Eyaz Cal, Suvat Parin, Zeynep Demirci, Zafer Acik, Nilay Goncu, Bihter Celik ve Nuri Demirel).

Turmen, R. (2006). Romanlar AIHM’de. Radikal 2. Retrieved November 2006.

Yardimci, Sibel. (2005). Kentsel Degisim ve Festivalizm: Kuresellesen Istanbul’da Bienal. Iletisim Yayinlari. Istanbul, Turkey.

40 Gun 40 Gece Sulukule. Blog Entries. Retrieved November 2007, from 40 Gun 40 Gece Sulukule.

Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality News. Retrieved May 2008.

UNESCO Home Page. Retrieved April 2008.

Thomas P. M. Barnett Glossary. Retrieved May 2008.

© 2010 Cigdem Kaya & Burcu (Yancatarol) Yagiz

Page 1      Page 2      Page 3      Page 4      Page 5

Supplement 1      Supplement 2

PelicanWeb Home Page


Cigdem Kaya is a Research Assistant and PhD candidate in the Industrial Product Design Department, Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey. She received her BSc in Industrial Design from Istanbul Technical University in 2003 and MFA from New Genres from The San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, USA in 2006. Kaya has been residing and working in Istanbul since 2006 while pursuing her doctoral studies on the potency of social transformation through of art and design practice at Istanbul Technical University. Kaya is a Fulbright alumna. She can be contacted at kayac@itu.edu.tr

Burcu (Yancatarol) Yagiz is a full-time instructor in the Industrial Design Department, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey, and a PhD candidate in Art History, Art History Graduate Program, Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey. She received her BSc degree in industrial design from Istanbul Technical University in 2003, and her MID (Master of Industrial Design) degree from the Industrial Design Department at The University of The Arts, Philadelphia, USA in 2006. She worked as a design consultant for various companies and also as a part-time faculty at the Parsons New School for Design in New York City. She can be contacted at burcu.yancatarol@khas.edu.tr


Sustainable Everyday Project

Doors of Perception

MIT Visual Arts Program


What is Wrong with Gentrification?

Istanbul Technical University (ITU)

ITU Department of Industrial Product Design

Kadir Has University

Kadir Has Faculty of Fine Arts


History of Istanbul

Sulukule, Istanbul

40 Gun 40 Gece Sulukule

Another Sulukule is Possible!

Sulukule, Istanbul

click to view a larger image
Sulukule, Istanbul

"I saw God in myself
And I loved her ...
I loved her fiercely."

Ntozake Shange, USA (b. 1948)


Write to the Editor
Send email to Subscribe
Send email to Unsubscribe
Link to the Google Groups Website
Link to the PelicanWeb Home Page


Creative Commons License

Page 3      



Subscribe to the
"PelicanWeb's Journal of
Sustainable Development"

via the Solidarity-Sustainability Group

Enter your email address: