Prepared by Mohammad al-Asad and Dalia al-Husseini, 2003
Another question inquired as to what Ozkan thought one should do when teaching the architectural traditions of the Islamic world. There are great works of architecture, but very limited writings of relevance to architecture have survived. These include writings on beauty by Ibn al-Haytham (AlHazen; c. 965 - 1039), and technical design and construction manuals by al-Buzjani (940 - 998) and al-Kashi (d. 1429). Here, Ozkan stated that he usually apologizes to his students because there is such a small number of surviving manuals on architecture from the Islamic world. Moreover, it is very difficult to determine the level of effectiveness of such manuals. In contrast, even in the case of Gothic manuals, of which very few survive, it is known that they were influential with masons, and that they were passed on from mason to mason. Gothic manuals, explained Ozkan, seem to have been effective in that they informed the practice. In this context, Ozkan brought up the example of Sinan (d. 1588), the great Ottoman architect, who served as chief royal architect during the 16th century under the Ottoman Sultans Suleyman and Selim II. There are about 1000 buildings attributed to Sinan that are found in different parts of the Ottoman Empire. Here, one realizes that he could not have designed all of them. Therefore, design and construction manuals must have existed to allow the various master masons, masons, and various craftsmen who worked under his supervision to build this large number of buildings in different parts of the Ottoman world. Ozkan therefore is confident that design and construction manuals must have existed in the Islamic world, and that these would have explained issues such as aesthetics and systems of proportion. The question that remains however is "where are they?" He added that we would have to wait for historians to uncover more information that would better inform us about this matter. (7)
Another questioner suggested that since so few written sources on architecture have survived in the Islamic world, we might have no alternative but to project our thinking on this heritage, and maybe start from there to develop some clues that would help us understand its architectural traditions. Ozkan answered that he absolutely agrees with this approach. In fact, he mentioned that one exercise he would like to carry out in this context is to imagine what if, in the 16th century, Sinan got the brief for the design of the Church of Saint Peter from Pope Pius IV, while Michelangelo got the brief for the Suleymaniye from Sultan Suleyman. It would be very interesting to see how each of these two architects would react. It would be an exercise in history, he explained, since one would have to understand the conditions of the project. It also would be an exercise in creativity, which, in order to be valid, has to take on synchronic lines of thinking. He added that it is true that he did not want to project his own values on works of architecture, but he is finding out that by developing his system of categorization, he in fact already has done that. He expects that if he were to tell Alberti he was an ‘analgoic theorist,' Alberti would be very unhappy about it!
Another question commented on the absence of writings on architecture in the contemporary Islamic world. The questioner mentioned that the two most prolific writers from the Islamic world are Hassan Fathy and Rifat Chadirji. However, it is interesting to note that Chadirji the architect and Chadirji the author have not overlapped, since Chadirji stopped practicing architecture in 1979, and since then has turned his attention fully to writing. The questioner inquired if Ozkan has come across any other contemporary architects from the Islamic world who made any valuable contributions as writers. Ozkan responded that if one was to refer to the "Eastern," instead of Islamic world, we have Charles Correa's The New Landscape (London: Butterworth Architecture, 1989), which effectively defines new ideas on urbanism. (8)
The questioner went on to ask if we might conclude that since the contemporary Muslim world has not been able to support its architectural production with the written word, might we consider this as a sign of a weakness in its architectural production? After all, many of the great architects of the Western tradition, ranging from Palladio to Le Corbusier, are known for their writings as well as for their designs. Ozkan responded by using Turkey as an example. He stated that Turkey has over thirty thousand architects, of whom ten to twenty are rather famous. It seems that every year one of them decides that a book should be published about their work. And what a number of them do is call him to ask if he would write about their work. However, they themselves do not do any writing. He mentioned a personal experience involving Sedad Hakki Eldem (1908 - 1988), who can be viewed as one of Turkey's most prominent modern architects (9). When Ozkan and a number of his colleagues started a project of putting together a monograph about Eldem, they found one piece of writing by him. In this article, Eldem more or less expressed the opinions that the state should govern everything, and that all buildings should be built of stone. It was very difficult to present this architect through this lone piece of writing. Instead what Ozkan and his colleagues did was to meet with Eldem on a regular basis to ask him about various issues, such as his work, his life, his views, ... etc. However, Eldem, who was a very polite man, got very nervous about this process of interviewing and eventually stated: "Sir, I thought you were going to write a book, not interrogate me!" In the end, Ozkan and his colleagues did manage to put together ideas that represented Eldem's thinking. However, as he now reflects on the project, he believes that they had to deal with Eldem more or less as psychoanalysts, who worked on drawing thoughts out of him. In other words, Eldem ended up offering something that is intuitive, but did not go much more beyond that into the realm of effectively articulating his thoughts.
Ozkan continued by bringing a somewhat similar example, that of the British architect James Sterling (1926 - 92), under whom he studied. He mentioned that Sterling often took his students to see his buildings, and when he was asked "why did you do that?" he would get angry and respond "what's wrong with it?". Basically, that was his "theory." This is the answer one would get from an architect as prominent as James Sterling. Ozkan added that it is such attitudes that made him decide not to go into the design realm itself, which he nonetheless very much likes, enjoys, and appreciates, but to explore a different line of discourse, which is the externalization of the ideas.
Another questioner inquired why the Aga Khan Award does not acknowledge writing as a category that would receive an award, and maybe even compel those who compete for the award to write something. Here, Ozkan answered that the Award does encourage that, and pointed out that they did produce the Mimar series of books, which consumed much of his time and energy, and to which the book on Eldem belongs. The series of books also featured Hassan Fathy, Charles Correa, and Raj Rewal. (10) It was thought that the Award should "create our own heroes," in that he and his colleagues at the Award believed there were many talented architects in the Islamic world whose ideas and work needed to be presented to the world. However, Ozkan added that writings of this nature should not always come from the Award. As he sees it, the Aga Khan Award has dominated the architectural scene in the Islamic world. Consequently, it is imperative that other cultural institutions in the Islamic world play a more active and effective role in promoting its architecture.
The last question commented on the fact that the Chairman's Award has only been given to architects who also have written: Hassan Fathy and Rifat Chadirji. Ozkan replied that the statement is both true and not true. It is not true because the upcoming Chairman's Award (for the eighth cycle, which took place in 2001) will acknowledge the architectural contributions of Geoffrey Bawa, who has no writings whatsoever. Here, it should be emphasized that in contrast to the other prizes of a given cycle of the Award, the Chairman's award is not awarded for buildings, but to acknowledge the work and thinking of a specific architect. For instance, Hassan Fathy talked about architecture for the poor, and ignited a whole spectrum of voluntary activity, prompting many people to work in helping other people, thus making Fathy very influential and effective from that point of view. As for Chadirji, he effectively raised the issue of contextualism. In other words, they received the Chairman's Award in recognition of their ideas rather than their architecture. For this cycle, Ozkan stated that the Chairman's award is being given to a person who has no writings, only works of architecture.
A follow-up question was whether the Chairman's Award could be given to someone who is not an architect, a politician, for instance, or maybe a mayor of a certain city. Ozkan answered that while such people have not been considered for the Chairman's Award, they have been acknowledged among the recipients of the Aga Khan Award. After all, in order to come up with good architecture, the architect should have certain input from the client in the form of architects' briefs and the like. For instance in the field of conservation the Association de Sauvegarde de la Medina de Tunis has received more than one Aga Khan Award. This association is a leader in the field of conservation in the Arab world. Also worth noting is the Riyadh Development Authority, which received the Aga Khan Awards a number of times. Mohammad al-Shaikh, who served as the president of the authority, was a most effective client. He has strong ideas and a clear vision on a variety of issues relating to the built environment, ranging from landscaping to roads. In this context, Ozkan also gave the example of Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba in Brazil, who was able to transform this city into a model developing-world urban center. Although he is not involved in serving Muslim communities, he presents the type of leadership that the Aga Khan Award looks for in determining the Award winners.