ISTANBUL – Rotterdam-based firm Inter.National.Design’s (IND) recently-completed Arkadia Apartments stands a heraldic monolith in an endless forest of decaying concrete blocks that define many of Istanbul’s southern neighbourhoods. Urban planners of this area are currently seeking to rein in the footprint of the sprawl, densifying and improving the infrastructure of existing structures rather than leaving a trail of neglect behind further new-builds.

Arkadia itself replaces a complex in the style of its surroundings dating from the 1970s, stretching 4 storeys taller and offering 12 additional units. A competing nominee for the 2015 Mies van der Rohe Award, the building certainly embodies traits of the honorary architect’s own high-rise projects such as the Lake Shore Apartments in Chicago. Tenants enter by a permeable ground-floor that facilitates the circulation of pedestrians just as much as that of the region’s varying wind currents. A regimented grid of aluminium and glass overlays a base of reinforced concrete.

Several additional nuances take IND beyond mere apprentice status. On the north and south faces, prefabricated panels of vertically-combed wood overlay the grid with autonomous irregularity. The material produces a textural contrast on the façade and regulates the entry of natural light to common spaces on the floor plan. As head architects Felix Madrazo and Arman Akdogan point out, it is the region’s first contemporary use of a typology common to Turkish modern architecture between the 1950s and 1970s – citing the country’s pavilion at Expo 58 in Brussels as a key example. Compared to the terracotta roofs topping the adjacent homogeneous complexes as desultory afterthoughts, the panelling hence offers a more subtle and imaginative integration of its local culture.

A steel frame, freed of structural function, forms the top layer of the exterior. While accentuating and elaborating on the boundary between wood and glass along the north and south walls, it carries the improvised rhythm onto the east and west. The landscape, also part of IND’s commission, echoes the freeform modulation with rectangular patches of alternating grass, wood, stone and water.

Photos Fernando Alda
Figures courtesy of Inter.National.Design