Le Corbusier’s Istanbul: a charming partnership between man and nature


In The City of Tomorrow (first published in English, 1929), Le Corbusier explains, poetically, his utopian modernist vision for future cities. He starts with making a bold distinction between two categories of place/city-making: ‘the pack-donkey’s way’ and ‘man’s way’! The pack-donkey’s way basically signifies an organic, incremental, evolutionary way of a city building, not necessarly informed by a ‘goal’ or ‘reason’:

The pack-donkey meanders along, meditates a little in his scatter-brained and distracted fashion, he zigzags in order to avoid the larger stones, or to ease the climb, or to gain a little shade; he takes the line of resistance. (p.11)

This mere ‘survival strategy’ has been reflected upon the plan of every continental city, according to Le Corbusier, including Istanbul. On the other hand, man’s way of planning is / should be rational, based on ‘straight lines’ and ‘right angles’:

Man walks in a straight line because he has a goal and knows where he is going; he has made up his mind to reach some particular place and he goes straight to it. (p.10)

Almost a century after Le Corbusier’s book was published, Istanbul’s donkey meandering, curvy shape is getting more and more sharp edges, straight lines and right angles… And, his impressions of Istanbul, especially on the relationship between built and natural environments, is striking when compared with what the city has been transforming into for the last couple of decades. These reflections and his drawings on Istanbul would be radically different, if they are reproduced today:

Trees everywhere, and rising from among them noble examples of architecture.

Everywhere the houses are surrounded by trees; a charming partnership between man and nature.

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