Inspiring a Social Revolution

Orchestrating the brilliance of individuals, rethinking an urban space and creating an oasis

Istanbul is a vibrant cacophony of culture and history straddling Asia and Europe that is dissected by the deep blue water of the Bosphorus. Its streets and architecture are a story book that stretches across centuries. What Istanbul is not is a purpose built city, rather each era is absorbed and assimilated, creating a tangled metropolis of more than 15 million people. As technology and youth pulls Turkey into the future, business districts display a skyline that is rapidly changing not unlike London or New York.

In a city where east literally meets west, Zorlu provided a unique opportunity for the WATG team to orchestrate the brilliance of individuals to rethink an urban space and create an oasis in Istanbul unlike anything seen before. John Goldwyn comments that “The approach was to think in terms of creating something that would have an effect on the user that would change the way they feel about the city”. Conventional thinking proposes that landscape in the city equals steps and fountains, and what WATG ended up doing thankfully was the complete antithesis of this. The thrill for the team is that people tell them all the time when they’re in Turkey or meeting them in other places, that Zorlu is one of the most incredible things they have ever seen, and it really is.

“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what a project looks like, it’s what it feels like. It’s important for us to do something unexpected”

Located right in the middle of the European side of Istanbul, the surrounds are a complete urban expression of high rise buildings and a large luxury hotel with hard interior landscaping. So the perimeter the team designed was specifically a totally different expression of landscape architecture. It ended up being a crazy, soft, highly programmed and interactive environment. The idea was based on the concept of people coming to shop, stay or work in the area, so there was a need to create a captive audience situation that makes people want to stay and inhabit the retail and restaurant space. That is exactly what has happened, they do stay, and in the heat of summer the water court encourages children to play. In Istanbul it really is the only thing of its type, there’s nothing else like it. It never ceases to surprise; where else could you see butterflies in the centre of the city? Wild flowers and olive trees are a definite nod to keeping a relevant connection to Turkey and its botanical origins. John notes “At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what a project looks like, it’s what it feels like. It’s important for us to do something unexpected.”

“It’s a simple fact that if your children are happy, you’re happy”

Having Demet Karaoglu (who was born and grew up in Turkey) involved was genius because of her personal understanding of the people who would visit this playground space. Demet is a delight to talk to about Zorlu as she reveals how she is inspired by creative things outside of architecture such as photography where you see things in a frame. Her whimsical take on a walk in a park at Canary Wharf and being amused by the recorded sound of chirping frogs is enchanting. Clearly with Demet it’s details that create surprise. She understood that the regular expectation of a playground in Istanbul is a couple of swings and a slide, and that children are often in cars being driven from one place to another with few places for them to run around. Her local knowledge becomes evident when she explains “Turkish people are the most fun loving people and not conservative at all, but they are traditional and not so keen on their kids getting dirty while playing”.

If you visit Zorlu now it’s a reality, you can sit and watch, and see the impact WATG have had on children’s playing behaviour. They have quite literally inspired a social revolution. Being a father himself John says “It’s a simple fact that if your children are happy, you’re happy”. Turning the corner in a city like Istanbul and encountering Zorlu can and does change the way people can feel about their city. It’s a piece of urban space that has been saved for the people, used by the people. The WATG team have created something that is not just functional, but inspires an emotional response and lifts the spirit. It’s a happy and wondrous place that brings families and children together in a revolutionary way.

WATG Landscape Expertise
John Goldwyn Profile
Projects in Europe