Tuesday April 29th 2014: Hagia Sophia + Sultanhamet Camii


Hagia Sophia was originally a Greek church, later an imperial mosque, and is now a museum in Istanbul. I have been excited to visit this famous historic architecture ever since we learned it would be one of our destinations. To have a better experience we left earlier than usual, to avoid getting overwhelmed by the crowd. When we got there the museum was closed, but people had already begun to line up.

 At nine thirty we finally got into the museum. I have to say, I was shocked by the magnificent interior design and decoration. The drawings of Jesus and the Virgin Mary are the main ornamental elements.  As we continued inward, a portrait of Mary appeared. It was located under the tallest dome, about 30 meters from the ground, facing the entrance. The whole wall was lit with golden- yellow lights, which gave a divine expression to the museum.  This, combined with the painted windows, enhanced the mood of the museum. Since the museum was once an imperial mosque, framed calligraphies were part of the interior design. They were hung on the lower walls to allow tourists to get close and take a deep look.

After the gorgeous Hagia Sophia, we went to the Blue Mosque, which is another significant piece of Ottoman architecture. The mosque is only one block away from the museum. There are three doors to get in, and we chose the one which had a lower density of tourists, on the right. The hallway that connects with the main part of the mosque was a narrow tunnel with very low roof, so the tallest person in class (Spencer) had to bend to get in. The inside of the mosque was very traditionally arranged, similar to the ones we went to before.

Comparing those two historical buildings, there are some similarities and differences. The Blue Mosque is a very typical mosque. This can be seen easily from the domes, use of calligraphy, and inner lighting strategies. On the other hand, the Hagia Sophia was first a church before it was a mosque, and is currently a museum. Thus, it’s calligraphies and lighting elements that are similar to the Blue Mosque have a different feel within the overall picture and feel of the Hagia Sophia. The interior creates a palimpsest effect,  reflecting the various layers of Istanbul’s larger historical context:  it’s various styles, periods and movements, and how they intersect on the tangible landscape.


Superpool was started by Selva Gürdoğan and Gregers Tang Thomsen, after they met working at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). Since starting Superpool in Istanbul, where Gürdoğan is from, they have created several mapping projects of Istanbul’s informal systems and changing conditions. From such inquires came the books Mapping Istanbul, which explores “large tracts of uncharted contemporary Istanbul” and Becoming Istanbul, which is a “critical database  exploring the problematics of Istanbul.” They are amazing books, both visually and content-wise, that anyone interested in design and urban planning should seek out.

When we entered the firm, their creative and experimental MO was evident in their models, playful seating and atmosphere. There was a children’s area in the back, with crayon drawings adorning the wall and several toys and soft surfaces for little ones to play close to mom or dad. We sat on several brightly colored, block like seats, while Thomsen showed us videos and photos from past and current projects. The firms interest in experimentation lies beyond the experiential and cultural, and delves into the material and structural through their involvement with the TailerCrete research project.  The firm is working with the EU’s FP7 program to explore new industrial technologies “for tailor-made concrete structures at mass customized prices.” Basically, they are looking into methods to make more organic and responsive concrete forms cost-effective and competitive. To accomplish this they are simplifying and streamlining concrete formwork, experimenting with formwork materiality and utilizing robotics. From such research, they hope to reduce waste created by the industry and to make more organic forms cost efficient and accessible.

What stood out most about our visit to Superpool was the various methods they used to communicate ideas. Many of their projects used animation to express ideas about urban development in Istanbul, in a fun and clear way. It pushed me to think about how, in the current cacophony of media possibilities, new methods and mediums could be used to better express my own design ideas, particularly design terminology or concepts that the average person has had little prior exposure to.