Turgut Cansever’s Ideas on Architecture: an ontological and ethical inquiry in the twentieth century Turkish architecture, by Derya Yorgancıoğlu

Turgut Cansever, a Turkish architect (1920-2009), has a distinct position in the twentieth century Turkish architecture. He is the only Turkish architect who received the Aga Khan awards for three times. However, what is distinctive about Cansever can be related more to the critical framework of his ideas on architecture informed by the philosophy of Islam and a criticism of the impact of Western culture on modern life, than to his projects.

An ontological inquiry based on the relationship between humans and “being” frames Cansever’s understanding of architecture. He considers architecture as part of “the unity of being.” Cansever’s contention that architecture is the major intervention of human beings on the form and appearance of the world, points to a responsibility assigned to architecture as organizing the relationship between humans and being. Therefore, architecture is to be conceived through the consciousness of the unity of being. In Cansever’s view, this unity encompasses the “material”, “bio-social”, “psychological” and “spiritual-intellectual” layers and, architecture comes into being as the reflection of all these layers. Architecture is the material and temporal reflection of a transcendental order.

The consciousness of individuality is at the center of Cansever’s ontological inquiry regarding architecture. What transforms a human creature into a human being is, in his words, “sense of responsibility and consistency of behavior, developing from the consciousness of the unity between the perception of form and being.” An ability to consciously organize humans’ relationship with “being” is the major characteristic of individuality, and what makes the human individual “the most praised of all creatures.” Within this framework, for Cansever, “beautification of the world” becomes the responsibility and a privilege of the human individual. Human individual is responsible, and has the ability, to protect the beauty of the world as well as to beautify it in his attempt to order the environment. The creation of an architectural environment is the most important of this attempt. An environmental consciousness and concern should inform architectural design and production processes. Building, as the architect’s attempt to create an enduring artifact in the constantly changing natural world, should be respectful to nature and contribute to its glorification. Cansever envisions an architecture that is lived, not gazed at. In his view, an architecture that does not distance itself from human being by diminishing his role to that of a passive spectator, but rather stimulates the unity of life and culture, becomes a major branch of art that represents the culture.

It is obvious that Cansever grounds architecture within the realm of ethics. He argues that architecture frames a way of life and of experiencing life; thus, it inherently involves questions of ethics. This study tries to understand the system of thought Cansever developed in an attempt to re-contextualize architecture into a broader philosophical framework. The objective of this study is to make a re-reading of the ethical concerns in the conception and perception of architecture through the lens of Cansever’s ontological inquiry.

Derya Yorgancıoğlu, Istanbul Kemerburgaz University, TR


Harvard Citation Guide: Yorgancıoğlu, D. (2012) Turgut Cansever’s Ideas on Architecture: an ontological and ethical inquiry in the twentieth century Turkish architecture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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