Some civil engineers from Purdue University apparently believe that the best way for Istanbul to lessen the humanitarian crisis and economic impact of a catastrophic earthquake striking the ancient city is to build a second Istanbul.
Istanbul v1.0, these engineers point out, won't be able to withstand a major seismic event as “many of the city's buildings were constructed with little regard for modern building standards.”
The city itself is not well designed for earthquakes. Many streets are narrow and winding and would quickly fill with debris after an earthquake, preventing aid from reaching those who are trapped or injured.
And if Istanbul goes, so goes the nation.
Istanbul v2.0, on the other hand, will be “earthquake resistant, with strong buildings and wide streets. The city would be designed to take advantage of building techniques used to minimize earthquake damage and incorporate modern technologies such as electronic locks and security, video communication and environmentally friendly technologies.”
More importantly, this “satellite city” would serve as a refugee camp and guarantee continuity of the nation's economic activity, 80 percent of which occurs in Istanbul.
Of course, the new city will not lay empty, gathering dust and weeds as it waits for the first influx of seismic refugees to arrive. It is “designed to be an economic hub,” with a business, residential and entertainment districts ready to be utilized in the meantime.
Oddly enough, we are reminded of the Japanese tradition of building exact copies of Shinto's holiest shrines at Ise every 20 years and then completely dismantling the current temples save for a central wooden pole. In another 20 years, a new set of replicas will be erected around this pole, thus completing and restarting the cycle over again.
Consequently, we are left to wonder what if a similar phenomenon were to happen to cities?
Let's say a new city is built, a fully functioning metropolis complete with homes, businesses, museums and infrastructure. For twenty years, people would live there, going about their lives, going to work, raising their children, tending to their gardens. Everyday they would hear news of another city under construction at an adjacent site. In fact, they will be reminded of this at every hour of the day, if not from the news, then from the distant but incessant machine noise and dust plumes emanating from the horizon. It becomes a major aspect of daily life, settling in nicely or not so nicely into the background, like radiation or an impending major earthquake or a Hurricane Katrina, oscillating between states of ambiance and immediate critical concern.
When the new city is finished, everyone will have to migrate there, as the now older city will be torn down, the sewers excavated and upturned. Everything else will be burnt to the ground. But in another 20 years, they will again be exiled, forced to a newer city constructed on the very same site from where they had fled from decades ago.
And so on and so on.
At each new city, then, will people replicate an exact copy of the old? Will their gardens, high rises and even the paintings in the museums be perfect reproductions of the originals, which are themselves copies of reproductions? Will the layout of the streets be an exact mirror image of the one they had walked on and driven through not too long ago?
Or will they gradually come to develop new cultural traditions favoring the values of impermanence, of continual change? Will their society be based on a culture of experimentation and radical innovation? In other words, will they stop designing buildings and landscapes exactly the same way as before, even if it's been proven to work time and time again, when failure can and will be erased in no more than 20 years' time?
For that matter, will there be such a thing as historic preservation when everything is understood to be temporary and concepts such as icons and authenticity are illusory?
What will the built environment look like when everything is conceived as planned waste?
How will you live your life in tenuous circumstances?
In any case, there is a 3D animation of Istanbul v2.0 for you to look at. You'll see, among other things, a cluster of earthquake-resistant buildings arranged in the shape of a star. This shape, we are told, is that of a Selcuk star, a classical Turkish symbol.
More importantly, you will see its overly segregated design and the absence of what some may describe as “charm,” that urban quality accumulated through centuries of successively being a Greek polis, a Roman outpost, the imperial seat of Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans, and the uncontested premier city of the modern Turkish state. Some urban planners and romantics will no doubt lambast it.
In which case, they'll design Istanbul v3.0.