Megacity Istanbul – mapped mobility as a planning tool
Selva Gürdoğan, born in 1979, and Gregers Tang Thomsen, born in 1974, got to know each other in 2003 at Rem Koolhaas's office. The Dane Thomsen had previously studied at the Aarhus School of Architecture and the Turk Gürdoğan at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles. After four years at OMA in Rotterdam and New York, they founded their own architectural office – Superpool –in 2006 in Istanbul. The visualisation of urban structures, problems, etc. in map graphics, as evidenced by their "Mapping Istanbul" publication, has always been a particular focus of their work. Their projects have been exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen, the German Museum of Architecture (DAM) in Frankfurt on Main and also at various biennales.
"Mapping Istanbul", a book produced in collaboration with the New York graphic designers projectprojects, Garantie Galerie of Istanbul and the geographer Murat Güvenç, and published in 2011, is one such visualisation project. Based on statistics as well as data collected by the Superpool-led team, the maps in the book analyse the city and its surrounding areas, coming up with an entirely new picture in the process. Whether land use, completed level of education or the seismic safety of buildings, Superpool expresses the data in the form of easily legible map graphics, and in visualising information in this way provides the foundation for discussion, participation and not least, change. Urban development problems are made apparent in this approach as well as previously unknown resources and potential.
Istanbul has been growing since the fifties in a largely unplanned way. Shanty towns have sprung up in its outer environs but constantly have to give way to burgeoning high-rise housing developments, and where they cling on are integrated only slowly into such infrastructure systems as electricity, water or transport. As Gürdoğan relates, "Istanbul's inhabitants often organise their own transit networks in the same way that they build their own houses." A case in hand concerns the impenetrable tangle of routes taken by the privately-operated "Dolmuş" minibuses, which fill in the gaps in Istanbul's public transport network. Dolmuş timetables or network maps, however, have never existed. Accordingly the two Superpool founders rode around Istanbul in Dolmuş buses for almost a year to map their routes. Even if the minibuses use different ones in the meantime, Superpool can take credit for the fact that a website now provides information on Dolmuş routes and departure times.
At the same time, the minibuses can help solve the traffic chaos that reigns in the megacity. For the two architects, mobility is one of the main scourges of rapidly growing metropolitan regions in the digital age, not only being the cause of exhaust emission pollution but also limiting the amount of available urban space and thus the socio-cultural and economic development of cities in general. In their view, the meaningful linking of rail, road and waterborne transport on the one hand and public and private means of transport on the other could be a solution strategy for Istanbul. In their Mobility Study 2030 for the 2012 Audi Urban Future Award, Superpool envisages a future of driverless vehicles and intelligent route finding that frees up urban space for such activities as strolling around and communication. The latest map project by Superpool – a street map for cyclists – also offers a lightening of the load for the chaotic traffic in Istanbul. So far bicycles have been more the exception than the rule in the hilly city's dense traffic. Gürdoğan and Thomsen's publication presents suitable routes in which the slopes are low, initiating a discussion of car-free zones in the process.
Along with the classical research and planning activities of architecture, Superpool thus engages in promoting change with the tool of informative visualisation, not only in the case of Istanbul and its urban development, however. At the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam Superpool displayed its "Women's Guide to Diyanbakir", which serves as a manual for Kurdish women on the fringes of Turkish society. Aid organisations and their services are marked on a map of the south Anatolian city to show women where advice, education, health care and child care services can be found, thus helping them to live in a more self-determined way. For Selva Gürdoğan and Gregers Tang Thomsen, in their integrative and democratic understanding of what planning work is about, using visual material is a proven tool for initiating a process of gradual change and fostering socio-cultural dialogue. It is not for nothing that their office – international both in manning and scope – bears the name of Superpool.