by Keziah VikranthJul 18, 2023
The esteemed Italian architect, Renzo Piano, is widely acclaimed for his meticulous and inherent pragmatic approach to architectural design, evident in his seminal buildings across the globe, including museums. Emphasising lightness and transparency as paramount qualities, Piano imbues a structural language that embodies these principles. With a penchant for seamlessly melding heritage and innovation, Renzo Piano Building Workshop recently achieved a significant feat with the completion of a ground-breaking, energy-efficient museum, Istanbul Modern, on the Karaköy waterfront in Turkey. The landmark structure is situated in this historic district where the Bosphorus and Golden Horn waterways converge, marking the firm's debut project in Istanbul. The project aligns with an ambitious urban renewal initiative, revitalising the once-inaccessible waterfront from warehouses and government buildings into a thriving cultural hub, hosting Turkish and international boutiques, luxury department stores, as well as an array of stylish restaurants, bars and offices.
A milestone in Turkish history, the Istanbul Modern stands as the nation’s first dedicated museum of modern and contemporary art, originally founded in 2004 and houses works of art, spanning the period from 1945 to the present. The museum design is inspired by the contours of various ships and pays homage to the centuries-old history of the harbour. Demonstrating keen sensitivity to the location, the engaging glass façade creates a seamless integration of art, activities and the Bosphorus, blurring the boundaries between indoors and outdoors. Emphasising the correlation between the context and concept, RPBW says, “This museum building is like a creature of the sea, that has just jumped out from the water of the Bosphorus. We wanted to make a building to defy gravity and levitate above the ground creating transparency with views towards the sea on one side and on the other the park and the medieval district of Galata.”
Furthermore, the team adds, “If you build a suspended space, where there is nothing obstructing the gaze, you get one of the strong elements of the project: the multiple planes. On the ground floor, the pillars give you a sense of depth, like tree trunks in a forest. And then going up you have the first, second, and third floors, and to the south, you have the plane of infinity, of light, while to the north you find the park and the city. The gaze never ceases to superimpose one plane on another. This is what a city is composed of: the complexity, the sequence of buildings, streets and spaces that follow one another, creating a panorama of multiple planes.”
The Istanbul Modern has been thoughtfully designed to cater to the diverse needs of a modern art venue, placing a strong emphasis on providing an enriching experience for visitors. Comprising three stacked rectilinear volumes, the building boasts a footprint of 10,500 square meters of usable space across five levels. The ground level is elevated and showcases a sequence of circular columns and round mechanical funnels. These design elements not only create a visually striking ambience but also serve to soften the interplay of light and shadow. A transparent main lobby provides expansive views of the waterfront promenade, and one can access a range of amenities including a library, café, bookstore, museum information kiosks and educational workshop spaces. Accessible from the ground floor, a stairway leads to an underground mezzanine housing a 156-seat auditorium.
On the first floor, photography and pop-up galleries coexist with staff offices, education rooms, and event spaces. Throughout the upper levels, the museum's lobbies are connected via open staircases, a Piano signature—that provides panoramic views of Istanbul and its waterways, establishing a visual connection to the surrounding environment. This not only enhances the aesthetic experience but also facilitates visitor orientation within the building. The second floor encompasses an expansive 3,300 square meters of exhibition space, housing both permanent and temporary galleries. A staircase on the second floor leads to a 650 sqm observation deck that hovers above a reflecting pool framed by the cantilevered roofline.
In order to preserve the industrial character of the original museum building, the selection of materials is confined solely to concrete, steel, and glass. Crafted from a series of 3D-formed aluminium panels, the facade of the museum enthrals with its interplay of light, transforming with the shifting sunlight. The result is an iridescent envelope, reminiscent of glistening fish scales. The building's open ceilings reveal glimpses of its mechanical equipment, while the polished concrete floors and exposed columns establish a versatile and neutral backdrop for displaying artwork. With a commitment to sustainable design, the project aims to achieve the prestigious LEED Gold green building standard. Notable features include triple-glazed windows and solar panels, working in harmony to minimise the building's reliance on the grid. Furthermore, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems have been implemented, ensuring optimal resource utilisation.
Istanbul Modern's new home has an impressive line-up of exhibitions, each accompanied by a catalogue and promising a rich cultural experience for visitors. One notable exhibition, Always Here, showcases a collection of 17 works by women artists. Additionally, Floating Islands presents a comprehensive collection of 280 works, solidifying its status as Modern's most extensive collection exhibition to date. Within the museum's premises, an intriguing newly commissioned installation by Refik Anadol harnesses environmental data from the Bosphorus, infusing the artwork with a unique perspective. Furthermore, the new museum will feature the exhibition Genius Loci, offering a survey of Piano's architecture. Adjacent to it, the library hosts the exhibition Constructing Architecture, showcasing photographer Cemal Emden's meticulous documentation of the museum’s construction phases, unravelling its evolution.
Positioned as an essential bridge between Turkey's vibrant art landscape and the global art scene, Istanbul Modern exemplifies a modern museological approach. By embracing this intermediary role, the museum stands as a testament to the power of art to transcend borders and cultivate a rich tapestry of creative dialogue and exchange.
Name: Istanbul Modern
Architecture Office: Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Total Floor Area: 10,500 Sq.M
Completion Year: 2023
Design Team: E. Baglietto, F. Giacobello (partner and associate in charge), R. Dunphy with M. Cecchetto, E. Doyduk, M. Tokarnia, R. Wong and M. Yildirim
Collaborators: Arup (Türkiye) Architects