Setting modern trends in one of the world’s old cities

 —  Article by Natalie Holmes

my kind of building - Akmerkez

“Akmerkez single-handedly transformed Istanbul’s historical skyline. It’s a glorious symbol of modernity that changed people’s ideas about what was possible—and desirable.”

Completed in 1993, Akmerkez was among Istanbul’s earliest mixed-use buildings. It’s where JLL Country Chairman for Turkey, Avi Alkas, started his career, but that’s not the only reason it holds an emotional connection. Alkas has since seen how the building’s innovative design and use of space have come to define a generation of contemporary constructions across the city.

Akmerkez consists of three towers atop a triangular shaped shopping mall, with a total of 170,000 m2 of retail, residential and office space. The building was freshly renovated in 2014 and remains a successful mixed-use venture.

“Cosmology-wise, it was well designed, enabling you to walk around it with good visibility, due to the v-shaped placement between the four shopping floors. This layout set the standard for shopping centers across the country,” says Alkas.

With 14 floors of offices and 22 floors of residences, Akmerkez was one of the first high-rise towers on Istanbul’s skyline. After its construction, tall buildings began to spring up on nearby Buyukdere Street, which went on to become the city’s CBD, home to major banking headquarters.

“It was bright and different. It became a symbol of modernity. To Istanbul, which is an exotic and historical city, the capital of so many empires, and home to the one of the world’s oldest bazaars, Akmerkez was a total turnaround,” Alkas adds.

Reinventing the idea of space

Though Akmerkez was not the first modern shopping center in Turkey (it was actually the fifth—the first being American-style Galleria), it came to be influential, inspiring developers of Istanbul’s costly downtown area to make extra use of the space beneath a building. “The darker, underneath section could become the shopping area,” explains Alkas, “With luxury offices and residences in the lighter space above.”

The building was also at the front of the retail wave bringing extended opening hours to one of the city’s key shopping areas. “Until 1993, shops on the high street were not open on Sundays,” says Alkas. “Galleria started the trend but Akmerkez followed suit soon after, opening not only on Sundays but also on public holidays. It became one of the first places to be open 365 days a year.”

As well as influencing a swathe of developments across the country, Akmerkez is a source of inspiration for Alkas personally. One of his current mixed-use projects, Vadistanbul, takes lessons from its design. “Akmerkez was a first-generation mall. There was not much natural light, and the small corridors were lit mainly by the shopfronts themselves,” he says. “Now, design tends to be more about ‘enclosed open-air’ design; covered, but not indoor. In Vadistanbul, we are authentically reviving the historical arcade concept.”

Due for completion in late 2017, Vadistanbul is a smaller but in many ways more ambitious mixed-use building. Located on brown belt, on the site of a former cosmetics factory, the project includes an initiative to pump water from the Bosphorus to revive a small river that runs towards the Golden Horn. The goal is environmental as well as social rejuvenation. “A pleasure destination during Ottoman times, the area is becoming a lively point of attraction and residence once again,” says Alkas.

As for Akmerkez, the decades-old building’s appeal endures to this day. Initially criticized for being “too shiny”, according to Alkas it has come to be appreciated by locals, especially because of the care taken during recent refurbishment. “With a new perimeter and upgraded lighting, it resembles a modern Hong Kong high-rise. It is a point of reference for the city,” he concludes.

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