An Architect-Designed Mega Plan in Istanbul

One of the world's largest urban renewal projects is about to break ground in the Kartal area of Istanbul, and every aspect of the new neighborhood is designed by a star architect. The Wall St. Journal reports on the new "city-building industry".

"As mapped out by Zaha Hadid, the London-based, Iraqi-born Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Kartal will be redeveloped according to a 555-hectare master plan that includes soaring skyscrapers, swerving thoroughfares and newly designed public spaces where 100,000 people will live and work and many more will come for shopping and entertainment.

The all-encompassing plan is the latest example in a new trend in urban development that has taken hold in the past decade, in which a visionary designer creates a detailed concept for an entire neighborhood. While individual buildings aren't designed, the overall shape and style of the structures are guided by the master planner.

Urban planning as a discipline developed only in the 20th century, but ideas about organizing communities are as old as civilization. See some important points in the development of cities: Page One | Page Two.

In the past, with a few notable exceptions, urban planners have been concerned with organizing space and infrastructure, while architects, separately, have created buildings. For the most part, cities and neighborhoods developed organically over time. Today, governments and private developers are turning to name-brand architects to create plans for both space and structures, elaborate designs that can be marketed as the creative expression of an artist.

"We are seeing an emergence of a new industry," says Dennis Frenchman, director of the city design and development program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's urban-studies department. "It's not real-estate development; it's not architecture; it's not city planning. All I can do is name it 'the city-building industry.'"

Full Story: Designer Cities: The Development Of the Superstar Urban Plan



Where are the StarPlanners?

Architects are taking over the "city-building industry" because the profession of architecture rewards visionary thinkers and creative expression much better than the planning profession. Most planners end up working for the government, either directly or indirectly, and are constrained by bureaucracy, budgets and politics. Architects are in a much better position to market their ideas through elaborate drawings and concepts as part of a developer's brand name project - even if they are thinly veiled concepts, they capture the imagination and make things happen.

When is the last time you went to the APA conference and watched a presentation on a planning concept that was truly visionary - an idea that really pushed the limits? Probably not that often since most of what planners do is what is dictated to us by the city council, the DOT, the local transit agency, etc... Not that these government agencies don't want to do something innovative, they usually can't because they are constrained by volumes of rules and regulations as to what can be planned and built - usually only considering the tried and true and not able to take risks with new concepts.

Here is an idea, why doesn't APA institute a Visionary Planning Tract at the national conference? This would allow the planning profession to push limits and present innovative ideas no matter if they are actually being implemented or not. A Visionary Planning Tract would help the planning profession compete with the many hundreds of architecture design competitions and bring some much needed excitement to our profession - hopefully pushing the planning envelope. If planners don't become more innovative, the architects will continue take over city building, followed by the interior designers (i.e. Martha Stewart's venture into the development world), graphic artists, etc....


Duane Verner

Exclusive Motorcycle Lanes (EML)

The Star Planners

There are star planners - for example, Andres Duany and Peter Calthorpe.

They are creative visionary thinkers, even though they are not futurists who do weird ("innovative") things just to attract attention to themselves.

They have been very successful because they build neighborhoods that are good places to live. Despite the hostility of dogmatic modernists, there is no danger that they will be displaced by starchitects.

Charles Siegel


Yes, new urbanism is fine and our cities are better off today because of it. However, new urbanism alone can not compete with these new "starchitects" and their grand "innovative" designs. My point is that the reason starchitects are leading these new "city building" efforts is that they have captured the imagination of developers and the public alike. Planners must be able to compete to ensure that we do not get more gleaming "towers in the park."


Duane Verner

Exclusive Motorcycle Lanes (EML)

Re: StarPlanners

I think starchitects are chosen by governments who want to generate more revenue for themselves and who are not very accountable to the public. For example, Gehry's Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn is supported by the city government but opposed by local residents, and Hadid's project in Istanbul is supported by city government but obviously not supported by the people being displaced. Starchitects are also chosen by the boards of non-profit organizations with no accountability to the public - eg, by the boards of museums.

And I think new urbanism is chosen by developers building towns or neighborhoods where people can decide whether to buy their own houses. It also seems to be chosen by cities with lots of public participation in planning: for example during the public planning process after Hurricane Katrina, the new urbanists blew away the avant-gardists so completely that avant-gardist professor Reed Kroloff went to Amsterdam to present his ideas on rebuilding to like-minded avant-gardists, because no one in his home town of New Orleans was listening to him.

Starchitecture is popular with the public as a spectacle that they want to visit occasionally, as they visit theme parks, but I don't see any evidence that people want to live in neighborhoods designed by starchitects. City governments want starchitecture to attract those spectacle-seeking tourists, but there is bound to be a limit on that: the first city that has a Frank Gehry museum gets lots of tourists, but how about the twentieth city that has a Frank Gehry museum?

Maybe the way to reduce the starchitects' influence is by making planning more accountable to local citizens. I am waiting for activists and intellectuals in Istanbul to criticize Zaha Hadid as effectively as Jane Jacobs criticized Robert Moses.

Charles Siegel

Wall-Street-Journal Urban Design

With its eye fixed firmly on the bottom line, the Wall Street Journal inadvertently exposes the real meaning of the starchitects' designs:

"The question "How can I differentiate my city?" has become the driving force in urban planning."

"Name-brand master plans are "an entrepreneurial tool" that are key to getting these large projects built.... Urban planning is now "a very weird mixture of marketing and urbanism," he says."

"It's easier to know about architects than architecture. "A banker won't know about architecture but will know that 'Zaha Hadid' or 'Rem Koolhaas' is a brand."

This is design for cities that want to differentiate themselves, and for bankers who don't know or care about architecture or urban design but who want a famous name. Naturally, it generates architects who care more about attracting attention to themselves than about designing comfortable buildings or livable neighborhoods.

Copenhagen is a beautiful, human-scale city. I hope they stop Libeskind from blighting it with his usual cliche: twisty skyscrapers.

Charles Siegel

Libeskind and Viagra

A funny story about starchitecture:

Libeskind produced a similar design for twisting skyscrapers in Milan, and Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi said that the buildings were not upright because Libeskind was in need of viagra.

Libeskind responded
"In Fascist Italy, everything that was not 'straight' was considered 'perverse art'. My tower is inspired by the work of Leonardo da Vinci, and great Italian culture. [Mr Berlusconi] does not have the time or intellect to study these."

Libeskind is famous for producing far-fetched explanations of his work's symbolism. If the twisting towers in Milan were inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, why is he designing more of the same for Copenhagen? I am waiting for him to say that they were inspired by Kierkegaard.

(Story from the Independent,, July 7, 2008.)

Charles Siegel

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