Picturing Modern Ankara: 'New Turkey' in Western Imagination

Lead Research Organisation: University of Westminster
Department Name: Faculty of Arch & the Built Environment


The transformation of the small town of Ankara into the capital of the Turkish Republic is an extraordinary episode in the history of modern urbanism. After the proclamation of the Republic in 1923, Ankara (Angora) was turned into a showcase for the nation-building project led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Several European planners, architects, and artists (including Hermann Jansen, Clemens Holzmeister, Bruno Taut, Pietro Canonica, et al.) were employed to give shape to a modern town that would embody the westernising vision of the ruling elites. By the time of Atatürk's death, in 1938, Ankara had firmly established itself as the 'heart of Turkey': i.e., the geo-political and symbolic centre of the secular nation-state that had emerged from the debris of the Ottoman Empire. While the construction of the Turkish capital has been the subject of numerous historical accounts, however, its cultural representations have not been thoroughly investigated as yet.

The proposed research addresses this gap in historical knowledge by exploring the following questions: How was the making of modern Ankara viewed from the West? And how did its urban imagery inform the European perception of 'New Turkey'? There is copious evidence to suggest that the rebuilding of Ankara exercised a strong hold on the Western imagination. During the 1920s and 1930s, a number of travellers were drawn to witness the rise of this European-looking town amidst the steppe of Anatolia. At a critical historical juncture, in which the geographic space of the Orient was being radically reconfigured, Ankara provided an unexpected terrain of cross-cultural encounters between East and West. While the aura of Constantinople decayed along with its imperial primacy, the allure of Ankara lay in its unique ability to encapsulate at once 'the oldest and the newest in the world' - as an eminent observer pointed out at the time.

Against this background, the research aims to survey and analyse an uncharted body of srces documenting the European responses to the making of modern Ankara. These published sources include, among others, works by Grace Ellison, George Sava, José Le Boucher, Claude Farrère, Corrado Alvaro, Biagio Pace, Stephan Ronart, et al. A set of cultural theories will be mobilised in order to unpack the complex interplay between desire, recognition, and 'othering' that permeates this literature. Drawing on and developing the critical discourse on Orientalism, the research will pay particular emphasis to travel writing as a genre that is able to offer unique insights into the traveller's own culture as well as that of the subjects represented. Within this framework, travel narratives of the 'journey to Ankara' are going to be examined through a critical and comparative approach, in a bid to uncover how the modern capital inflected the European perceptions of New Turkey.

The analysis of travelogues will be corroborated by a wider range of sources such as historical accounts, biographies, memoires, tourist guidebooks, newspaper articles, architectural reviews, interviews, and novels. This study will focus in particular on the spatial and architectural features that contributed to establish the symbolic place of Ankara in Western imagination. Conventional oppositions between 'East' and 'West' will be problematised through the discussion of the patterns of representation that can be observed across various authors, genres, and cultures. The critical interpretation of these texts will also be complemented by the study of visual sources such as film, photographs, and drawings, which will make the subject of a prospective exhibition. Owing to its interdisciplinary nature, the research is intended to provide a case study for the development of a methodology that might potentially become applicable to other urban and cultural contexts in the future.

Planned Impact

The research is expected to benefit a number of users (individuals, groups, and organisations) who are outside the academic community. Five sectors have been identified as the main beneficiaries, along with the pathways through which the impact of research is going to be achieved:

1) Research / Cultural Institutions
Research centres and cultural institutes in the UK and abroad will benefit from the research by hosting events such as public presentations and lectures that will be arranged at various stages of the research. The applicant will engage with several British institutions so as to promote the dissemination of research outcomes to wide audiences, both in the UK and abroad (e.g., Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art; British Institute at Ankara). Owing to its wide-ranging international scope, the research might also be presented to foreign cultural institutes such as the French Institute, the Italian Cultural Institute, and the Goethe Institute through lectures and visual presentations.

2) Art Galleries & Media
The research has the potential to benefit a wide public through collaboration with art galleries and the media sector. The visual component of the research, in particular, makes it the ideal subject of a public exhibition. The University of Westminster offers excellent facilities to host such a show at the Marylebone Campus, whose location in central will help to ensure maximum impact. Other forms of knowledge transfer will also be considered through engagement with the media sector as the research progresses. The prospect of turning the historical research material into a documentary film/video, for instance, is an option that will be carefully explored. The expertise of staff at the Department of Architecture involved in documentary film and photography, along with specialists from the highly respected School of Media Art and Design, will make the University of Westminster an ideal environment to develop such project. The internet will also provide an effective tool for the public dissemination of research findings. A new website recently set up by the Department of Architecture at Westminster will be used to display selected samples of findings to the public and to promote all public activities and events generated by the project.

3) Professional Bodies
The research is expected to benefit the architectural profession by contributing to raise awareness of the historical relationship between architectural cultures in Europe and Turkish. The main issues that inform the research project are directly relevant to the activities and programmes of professional bodies in Britain and Turkey, as well as other European countries. The existing ties between the Department of Architecture at Westminster and the Royal Institute of British Architects, in particular, will be harnessed to promote research-related events with the aim of disseminating the findings to the architectural community in Britain. Moreover, the applicant's connection with the Turkish Chamber of Architects will be used to achieve maximum impact across the architectural community overseas.

4) Private Sector
The socio-economic impact of the project will also be furthered through the engagement with the private sector, and in particular the tourist industry, through the dissemination of ad-hoc research reports and summaries.


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Description Through this project I have developed a methodology for stydying the cross-cultural perception of 'New Turkey' in the West during the inter-war period, based on recurring tropes that emerged from the analysis of travel literature of the time - along with other relevant texts. The research findings reveal, in particular, how modern Ankara became an important 'contact zone' between Europe and Turkey during the early-Republican period.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

Description Exhibition: Building Identities 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An exhibition of Ankara's modernist architecture, loaned from Turkey's Chamber of Architects, Ankara branch, and exhibited at the University of Westminster's School of Architecture and the Built Environment, 23 November 2012 - 28 June 2013.

The exhibition was organised in conjunction with the symposium The Making of Modern Ankara, which was held at the University of Westminster's School of Architecture and the Built Environment on 23 November 2012.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Invited Talk (Turkey) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The talk was organised by the Istanbul Studies Center at Kadir Has University. The lecture/discussion was attended by a wide range of people, including external visitors as well as staff and students from the host institution.

Contacts were established with Kadir Has University, a fast-growing institution in Turkey.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.khas.edu.tr/en/research/research-centers/isrc/events-6.html
Description Invited Talk (Turkey) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Local graduate students and academic staff from METU engaged in discussion of the research project, offering valuable feedback and inputs that was incorporated in the research process.

Previous links with METU were further strengthened. For instance, I was subsequently invited to examine a MA Thesis at METU in 2014. Collaboration with Prof Belgin Turan Özkaya also led to jointly editing a themed issue of the journal Architectural Histories on the theme of 'Travel' (2015, in progress).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://archweb.metu.edu.tr/events/p2_articleid/315
Description Symposium - The Making of Modern Ankara: Space, Politics, Representation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation workshop facilitator
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An international symposium organised by the Architecture Research Group at the University of Westminster in conjunction with SOAS Seminars on Turkey was held on Friday 23 November 2012 at the University of Westminster. This international and interdisciplinary event, organised by Dr Davide Deriu in conjunction with Professor Benjamin Fortna (SOAS, University of London), contributed to reassess the rise and development of the Turkish capital within a wider and geo-political context.

The half-day symposium was convened by Dr Davide Deriu and brought together a panel of scholars from architecture, planning, art history, heritage and Turkish studies to revisit the making of modern Ankara in a cross-disciplinary perspective, while also debating its legacy on the eve of the Republic's 90th anniversary.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.openresearchwestminster.org/2012/11/the-making-of-modern-ankara-symposium-paper-abstracts...