In Istanbul, amidst spaces that were once the kitchen and caravanserai of an imperial palace, the rebirth of the Beyazit State Library. Designed by Tabanlioglu Architects, it contains 25,000 rare books and manuscripts. A place for total concentration
Project TA TabanlIoglu Architects – Photos Emre Dörter courtesy Tabanlioglu Architects – Aarticle Antonella Boisi
If you look at the photographs and drawings on these pages you will see: the Beyazit State Library of Istanbul is truly special. Because it is a place of solitude and concentration for study and culture, permeated by an almost mystical light? Because it is the oldest state library in the Turkish city, with a collection of 25,000 rare books and manuscripts? Because it seems to invite you to discover the essence of beauty (in architecture) and goodness (in knowledge) as a way of caring for the collective and personal spirit?
Probably, and that would already be remarkable, but other factors also make it unique. To fully grasp its essence you have to start with the context: a complex of great historical and architectural value – the Kulliyah – which brought together a dining hall, an elementary school, a hospital, a madrasa and a hammam, as connecting elements of the Beyazit Mosque, built in 1506 by the sultan Bayezid II and gravitating around the square of the same name. It is a remarkable tourist attraction.
The spaces of the library, originally the kitchen and caravanserai of the imperial Kulliyah, are inserted in a building dating back to 1884, which recent history had relegated to a state of ruin.
Until a few years ago, that is, when Murat Tabanlioglu and Melkan Gürsel (at the helm since 1990 of the renowned studio Tabanlioglu Architects, based in Istanbul) got involved in its renovation. A project coordinated with firm resolve, in total respect for the local spirit.
“A few minimal signs, in an updated layout of the volumes, materials and functions, have sufficed to make the old and the new coexist in harmony, enhancing and igniting the emotional impact of the zone… in its ‘literary’ connections with other episodes: the book and paper bazaar, the school of calligraphy, the main campus of the university, the outdoor cafe from the Ottoman era,” they explain.
The added value of their project lies precisely in these factors: to convey the spaces that were and are “incubators of knowledge” towards an encounter with the surrounding urban community, stimulating its cultural, emotional and environmental growth. The main facade of the library communicates even more directly with Beyazit Square, the epicenter of the various parts of the complex, which are only apparently independent of one another.
The path of access to the library starts at the square. It has a regular rectangular footprint, heading towards a central courtyard with porticos along which to place a series of outdoor relaxation islands.
The designers have decided to shelter the squared open space of the courtyard with an inflatable, transparent membrane-structure: a filter that ensures ease of use in all seasons, while tempering the entry of direct daylight in the space.
The large spaces clustered at the sides of the courtyard, reconfigured as reading rooms and exhibition galleries, were transformed in the second phase of the project. Lined with pale stone and marked by arches, the vaulted roofs and minute ornamental fresco motifs (the original architectural and decorative features) have been carefully restored, alongside the insertion of essential furnishings, custom tables and chairs with a terse, radical expressive impact.
The new arrangement places the collections of rare books from the Ottoman, Arabian and Persian eras on the ground floor. Unlike the contemporary publications and periodicals situated in a new volume grafted onto the northeastern side of the main building, the more precious manuscripts have become the central focus.
The architects have created accessorized display cases, forming a contrast with the surrounding environment: a series of monolithic boxes of transparent black glass, also equipped with climate control systems. The technical lighting design developed with Studio Dinnebier introduces another level of depth in the spatial construction, inspired by an ideal of purity.
The soft light that spreads inside the cases from the edges of the raised floor returns to add rhythm to the perimeter openings of the stone walls of the rooms. All this enhances the perceptions, permeating every area with light that rises from below.
This creates a timeless, disorienting dimension that reaches its greatest intensity in the basement, where during the work the remains of a Byzantine church were revealed, fragments that can now be viewed from above, and from the outside, thanks to a glass covering inserted in the surface of the outdoor space. The architecture silently bears witness to the spectacle.