Behruz Çinici, The Aga Khan Award-winning Architect of METU Campus

"After my work is finished, I start to feel writhing and I keep breaking down and rebuilding them in my imagination. However, there is only one building that I have not broken down in my imagination: my Faculty of Architecture."

Opening his own workshop in Istanbul after graduating from Faculty of Architecture, Istanbul Technical University and working as a faculty in ITU until 1961, Behruz Çinici moved his workshop to Ankara and carried out the design of METU campus buildings, which were spread to an area of 500,000 square meters, until 1980 after he won the design competition of METU campus in 1961 with his wife Altuğ Çinici.

METU Campus by the narration of Behruz Çinici, who came to the forefront especially with his contributions to the legal and administrative framework of architecture in Turkey as well as his design-focused architectural work:

“Our campus was built based on a project that was carried out according to the results of a national competition held in 1961. However, the jury was international; including the renowned architect Shipri Kaersen from Paris. Showing the projects received, Kaersen said to his friend in the jury - Orhan Özgüner - “If this project was not here today, it would be very challenging for the jury. How could we decide? It is good that we have this project and we chose this with peace of mind”.

In the competition topic, three structures were as important as the campus: Faculty of Architecture Building, Dormitory Building and President’s Office Building. On the one hand, you were asked to work on city planning, and on the other hand, you needed to achieve the architectural qualities in these three buildings. Our project was chosen among 25 projects. We immediately started to work on the project and then we had to move our home and our workshop here and began a fast-paced working period. 

Our first projects were met with reaction by the construction director; they were almost thrown to our faces, as mentioned by Mr. Kemal Kurdaş in his book: “What the hell is “bare concrete”? Draw them from scratch!” At that time, Mr. Kurdaş was just appointed as a President and had major problems. This was because Mr. (Cemal Abdül) Nasır wanted to take this Middle East project to Egypt and taking rapid actions was of great importance. Mr. President personally reviewed our projects and models; they had increased confidence in us and we started to work at a great pace. 

After the conclusion of the competition, when I came here with my wife, we saw that it was all steppe here but there were some areas of maki. We decided to place the stadium in the center - thinking that it would be the best place to represent youth - and set eyes on that natural slope. In this decision, the address of our Greatest Leader, “Turkish Youth!”, were echoed in our minds.

We have interesting memories about the President’s Office Building. There were no concrete or bricks here; because in my contracts, there was a requirement of not exceeding 800 liras per square meter. Since the President Kurdaş - who was also a great finance expert at the same time - laid down this condition, we had to use plaster for economic reasons. Well, I did not quite fancy all these things; there used to be a little bit of exposed concrete but then it was painted as you see them later. The President’s Office Building has a very complex layout. It required to be both an office and an admission office and all the accounting and administrative tasks would be carried out here at the same time...We had long discussions with Mr. Kurdaş on the models. Then, these round balconies that you see and not included in the original design popped out. We named them “Romeo and Juliet” with the President. These balconies had an acquired function. On the day when the Komer’s car was burned and the President was knocked about in the 70s, my car was also there, and I was barely able to take it away. In this case, it was understood that the balconies had a function; they protected the President from a storm of rotten eggs. “Bravo, how far-sighted you are; to my surprise, these balconies had a function” he said. “We integrated it with such sweet memories.”

“Here is (library), this reserve section is separate from the main blocks. An expert from UNESCO came while it was being built. We worked with Garbret Firuzan Hanım (the Library Director at the time) and her assistants. Garbret - the beautiful black woman coming from I do not know where from the USA- used to come in the office singing the song ‘Ne zaman geleceksin’ (When will you come) by Zeki Müren. And we softened the hard suggestions of the guy from UNESCO. The first big library of Turkey of 500 thousand volumes and the first one-system bookshelf were scheduled together and then the construction started. There is also a chaos here as you can see. We tried to come to terms with the President’s Office with the widespread use of Ankara stone and travertine coatings to a lesser extend; nevertheless, I still prefer concrete and bricks.

“Why am I saying these: “After my work is finished, I start to feel writhing and I keep breaking down and rebuilding them in my imagination. However, there is only one building that I have not broken down in my imagination my Faculty of Architecture...But some people like this library building, especially my wife Mrs.Altuğ. The Faculty of Architecture is the first example of bare concrete design in this country. Until then, there was no such a structure anywhere, except for the fact that I was impressed by the concrete of Yunus Cement Factory on the way from Istanbul to Ankara. This is the first example of transition from the structures like bread pudding to simplicity. The first experiments were carried out under this building. At the time, some people (even technical men), flicked their lighter and said “They are going to be plastered anyway”.

“When Mr. Kurdaş saw the finished structure, he said “I see the breezes of Anatolia and Phrygia” clutching his hands, which was typical of him. Visiting here just before the opening ceremony in 1963, Mr. İnönü asked “Mr. Architect, are we going to walk on it?” and  everybody burst into laughter. Then, he noticed a young guy standing next to me; “Who is he?” he asked. He was one of my assistants. “This is Caesar, Sir” I replied. “Well, you are too modest!” he replied and we all laughed. Then, we walked through this “Alley”. Well, I imagine this alley tells you about our modern history...An alley that I imagine with statutes, variety of plastic items and water. It used to be 1.5 km long, not it is close to 2 km. Where we go up and down is the original spine. These elevations are the natural elevations of the land. They were built without any damage. You can tell I am impressed by the streets of Istanbul, where I grew up. This is my major lesson here. And a 1.5 or 2 km street like the traditional squares and streets where people exchange ideas with each other.” 

* This article was taken from the own narration of Behruz Çinici recorded while he was strolling around the campus and published on the 48th issue of ODTÜLÜ magazine.

Photos: Aydın Tiryaki