Han Tumertekin

Principal and Founder, Mimarlar Tasarim Danismanlik Ltd
Istanbul, Turkey

Editor's note: Han Tumertekin's list is different from previous lists we have published so far in that he chose to present his books through a narrative that is defined by the challenges he faced as a student joining Istanbul Technical University in 1976, when Turkey was undergoing intense political turbulences.


When I was admitted to Istanbul Technical University (ITU) in 1976, an informal civil war was going on in Turkey. Each day, nearly twenty people were killed due to the conflict between rightists and leftists. This troubling period lasted until the army’s intervention in 1980. In this kind of an environment, it was unavoidable that education would be hampered, especially at ITU, which was a leftist university. One positive outcome of those difficult years – during which many paid a serious price, both socially and personally - was that we had a good amount of time to read. Naturally, the majority of the books read and the arguments discussed were political. The discussions were very intense and everything was open to discussion. This condition also applied to architectural education. My education was supposed to begin with a period where reading was as important as drawing, but due to boycotts, the start date of the term was delayed from September to May. I used the incredible amount of free time I had to read books that my brother picked for me. That is how I started to read about architecture.

One of the first books I read during that period was Bruno Zevi’s Apprendre A Voir L’Architecture (1948; translated into English under the title of Architecture as Space: How to Look at Architecture). I suppose that my unexpectedly easy understanding of the concept of “space” comes from two drawings in Zevi’s book that consisted of plans of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome placed side by side. In one plan, he marked the walls and columns to attract attention to the void. In the other, he marked the void instead. Through this comparison, I understood that the “void” is not what remains after one removes the walls and columns, but that it actually has a body and a mass itself. Zevi presented an amazing way to make the void visible.

During that same period, I also read Sigfried Giedion’s Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition (1941). The book was about how modern architecture emerged through industrial developments, and how it is still developing through various dynamics. For instance, the invention of the elevator and the development of structural steel enabled the building of skyscrapers. These kinds of relationships made me understand that architecture cannot only be handled in a formal world that merely involves the manipulation of forms, spaces, and surfaces.

Following that, I read Auguste Choisy’s Histoire De L’Architecture (1899), which chose drawings of some structures that also showed their building processes. I was so impressed by the book’s bird’s-eye and worm’s-eye sectional axonometrics that showed both spaces and supports. It is a technique that I still use when sketching. These drawings made me realize that we always need to think about the entire components of the space together with the plan.

I also read the French translation of Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966; De L’Ambiguite En Architecture). It is an important book as it warns the mind, which is busy creating spaces, about the use of these spaces. I remember being impressed with the way Venturi refers to the normal behaviors of everyday life to discuss space. I realized through reading this book that architecture is not about building structures; it is more about designing spaces, which allow us to live in an organized fashion. I remember how enlightened I felt after reading how staircases not only work as circulation systems, but also as spaces as one may sit on their steps and have a chat.


October 1, 2014