Tucked away in the labyrinthine hallways of Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace is a medieval document that, 600 years after it was written, sheds light on the city’s burgeoning contemporary design scene. The 98-foot-long Topkapı Scroll is a compendium of 114 individual geometric patterns for wall surfaces and architecture. Used by craftsmen responsible for building the Islamic world, the scroll illuminates the role of geometry as a primary design conceit for the area’s hybrid Eurasian culture.
Today, that same geometry is a subtle but strong undercurrent for many craft-based Istanbul designers, marshaling a uniquely Eastern way of working in the modern world. Furniture designer Sema Topaloğlu modifies wood-carved motifs from her native Caucasus region into obtuse constellations of circular forms. They are then translated into interior furnishings made by both tradesmen and university-educated designers in her Ottoman-era stone warehouse. Aziz Sarıyer, a designer known for his spare and clean lines, has scaled two-dimensional geometry into three-dimensional modular furniture components for his Istanbul-based furniture company, Derin, founded in 1971 and now run by his son. And for the past decade, Parsons-educated jewelry designer Ela Cindoruk has obsessively transformed the radial patterns found on paper doilies into assemblages conceived as brooches and necklaces. Attracted to the timeless, universal qualities of these motifs, Cindoruk says, "These patterns have been adapted to the materials of their times for hundreds, even a thousand, years. Marble and stone decorations are seen today on ephemeral materials like paper and plastic."
Gökhan Karakuş was born in Nusaybin, Turkey, and studied architectural history and theory at the Columbia University and Vassar College in New York, USA. The author of the books “Turkish Touch in Design” (2007) and “Turkish Architecture Now” (2009), Karakus works as an architectural critic, theoretician and designer. His field of study is especially related to locality in design, modernism and architecture. Karakus was a nominator and reviewer for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and Mies van der Rohe Awards for European Architecture, and he is the currently director of interactive and environmental design studio E|medya. Follow him on Twitter at @gokhankarakus.