Hear from Alexis and Murat Şanal of ŞANALarc (Turkey) at the sixth session of the 2017 UQ Architecture lecture series.

ŞANALarc is a knowledge-centric design practice focused on civic and civil architecture, research and city-design situated in Istanbul. The firm explores how unique qualities of place, intertwined with technology, art and social life, generate distinctive and expressive environments. Intensifying space, celebrating the natural environment, and delighting the imagination are valued in each of the practice’s architectural endeavors. Professional efforts are focused on design as a contributor to civic society and nature by exploring cultural values, sustainable design principles, local ecologies, natural light, geometry, local materials, and available craft and dexterity in construction methods.

Read Alexis and Murat’s Q & A:

Tell us a little about your background, and what originally led you to architecture?

Murat Şanal grew up in Istanbul during its greatest population growth. Istanbul’s multi-century multi-layered history provoked his curiosity into its design and construct as opposed to building. He pursued his curiosity during high school, self-educating himself on what other places around the world were designing as architecture and livable spaces for cities. For university he chose to stay in Istanbul, using it as a live laboratory to advance his nascent design understanding, and to rediscover the diverse layers of architectures in the city he grew up in. Murat completed his BArch at Yildiz Technical University in 1993. To broaden his aspiration in environmental design and explore the nascent possibilities in computational design, Murat joined UCLA’s March program and moved to Los Angeles. Upon completing his advanced design degree, Murat went off to explore the mountains of Colorado, practicing architecture in design-build practices. He returned to LA after a few years and joined Moore Ruble Yudell Architects where he met Alexis. They moved to Istanbul in 2000 and in 2002  they established their own architecture and cityscape practice.

Alexis Şanal grew up in Los Angeles as it began to settle as a city in its own right rather than a frontier of industry and experimental culture. Spending endless hours on her bicycle through the suburban fabric that defines LA and its loose omnipresent ecology, she started touching far beyond civic spaces beyond parks and recreation nestled within neighborhoods. The use of monumentality, sequence and scale intrigued here imagination on how design can have a clear role in cultural narratives and be inclusive or exclusive in intent. At a young age, she knew she wanted to be an architect and pursued to get into a university that would focus solely on this pursuit. Alexis completed her BArch at SCI-Arc in 1995. In her curiosity of different processes to practice architecture she worked freelance in various small design practices in LA until she joined Moore Ruble Yudell Architects where she met Murat. After five years of practice, she realised how much more there was to learn before being an effective designer joining MIT’s MCP program in 2000. In 2002 she joined Murat in Istanbul where they established their own architecture and cityscape practice.

Can you give us a little insight into what a normal work day looks like for you?

A normal workday starts with catching up with project idiosyncrasies in construction and in-house production. This is followed by the tyranny of administration and bureaucracy. Before lunch we are usually heads down starting the afternoon of focused design works and team parallel design working.

Through the week we meet with suppliers, contractors, clients, colleagues and the like for ongoing cooperation. Every day is infused with lots of thought, discussions and exploration about the profound complexity of the city – its inspirations and brutalities.

What are some daily office rituals or habits you employ to enhance your productivity and creativity?

Important to our studio practice is to act as an organic team. As a small team of 10 everyone knows every project, its status and has at one point worked on some aspect from inception to realisation.

The Studio therefore self-organises its production as well as priorities of their own interests in the projects. Project teams meet almost daily, the Studio as a team meets every other week for group presentations, and as practice meets every month to catch up on overall activities. But really the basics are: drink good quality teas, have fresh coffee, have breakfast for everyone, not to work excessive long hours, share the humor of the struggle, encourage each individual to pursue their interests inside and outside studio, and take care of one another – including our beloved clients, colleagues and design network. Critical to overcoming daily exchanges about the meta- and daily-life excitement and disappointments of the city and its built environment is channeling that curiosity and design energy into our practices’ ongoing research. Each one reflects a call to action to empower our core team’s individual and collective interest to change our environment towards a shared future we feel is meaningful.

What principles inform your work?

Listening as a means to discovery

Giving generosity and giving way to the natural world

Celebrating natural light

Crafting sequence as a narrative

Moving the body with geometry

Embracing the familiarity and tactility of place

Patterning as a cultural exploration

Keeping it simple and delightful

Where do you go for design inspiration?

For inspiration we go to a variety of places and spaces. Inspiration for us is both to be motivated to pursue our passions for design excellence in this complex world as well as overcome a creative block for a specific moment in time.

One of our current favorites is podcasts like 99% invisible and Snap Judgment, transdisciplinary blogs like Manifold or Behance, even documentaries on nature and space. Long walks on the paths and slopes in silence, “real pauses”, are also very valuable to give the mind space to be inspired. The slowness of walking allows the mind to both wonder on the sun’s warmth, the sounds of the city, the innate choreography of people moving with or without purpose in the streets or the winds direction as well as return to full concentration without the feeling of distraction. For the projects’ daily grind when we are stuck on a particular element and need a fresh look we dive into the amazing repertoire of our peers published in print in our library or online through ArchDaily or Dezeen. Another point of inspiration for us is to return to our co-creators of engineers, creatives, craftsman/tradesman and cultural agents to just represent the problem at hand and openly discuss new pathways. …Yet in the Studio’s hourly life we cannot underestimate humor, naughtiness, silliness and love of beauty as a source of inspiration.

What has been a career highlight for you so far?

The highlights are always there, but the moment of transformation that our commitment to civic and civil design at the city scale and human scale came in 2011 when we were working both on the SALT Research and Sishane Park.

The projects were on both ends of the same street, one was a library in a landmark historic structure for a new type of innovative cultural institution that was to redefine what was possible for cultural production in Istanbul and one was a public-private partnership for multimodal transit hub and urban park. The clients, the contexts, the scales, the audiences could not be more different, but for our studio it was the opportunity to explore design as a ‘public tool’ of sorts for advancing the cities services to its communities could not have been more exciting. The outcome of this juxtaposed experience, the recognition of both works contributions to the city, and their communities have defined our studio.

Which Australian or international architecture people, practices, designers or similar do you admire?

This would be an exhausting list as the dynamics of human creativity in the 20th century is vast. Therefore, we share the architects and their practices that most consistently excite us: Feliz Candella, Jorn Uzton, Richard Nuetra, Alvar Aalto, William Whyte, Antoinie Preadock, Frank Gehry, El Awakil, Morphosis, Herzog de Mauron, Shigeru Ban, William Bruder, Lake Flato, Brit Andresen, Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, Donavan Hill, M3, Tonkin Salgas Cano, Giancarlo Mazzanti, Vo Trong Nghia, Alejandro Aravena….

What are your top five favourite design books?

UME by Haig Beck and Jackie Cooper – I had read it cover to cover in one vacation so I see it as book not a periodic, including the special editions,

Farshid Moussavi’s  Function Series: The Function of Form, The Function of Style, The Function of Ornament, Actar and The Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Chambers for a Memory Palace by Charles Moore and Donlyn Lyndon, MIT Press 1999, Third Edition

Urban Compositions: Developing Community through Design by Mark C. Childs

The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman

What can attendees to the lecture expect to hear and see?

We hope to share our practice as a set of situations often shaped by Istanbul’s greater transformation through arduous conditions and dramas as a way forward into shaping its shared future. How these transformations shape the physical design challenges of the city and projects situated within this change – the dynamic social expectations as well as cultural expressions. Specifically we will share the research on the Pazar Making, the Imaginable Guidelines Istanbul as well as three current architectural/cityscape projects (Sishane Park, Bomontiada/ALT and SALT Research Reading Room).

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