Akcan's New Book Gives Voice to Berlin Architects, Policy Makers, and Immigrants

Cover art for a book consisting of a red rectangle with text and a collage of city architecture photos

Cover art of Akcan's new book.

News
May 17, 2018

"I have been working on this book since 2009, and it has been a very important part of my life," says Associate Professor Esra Akcan, architecture.

Akcan's new book, Open Architecture: Migration, Citizenship and the Urban Renewal of Berlin Kreuzberg by IBA 1984/87 (Birkhäuser Verlag GmbH, 2018) engages a discussion of open architecture in the example of the Berlin International Building Exhibition (IBA) of 1984/87, an architectural exhibition and urban planning concept of the Berlin Senate to renew the West Berlin city center as a residential location. Architects who participated in IBA 1984/87 included several with close connections to Cornell AAP, including Peter Eisenman (B.Arch '55), Professor Werner Goehner, as well as the late Associate Professor Arthur Ovaska and O. M. Ungers, former faculty member and architecture department chair. Vittorio Gregotti, Zaha Hadid, John Hejduk, Hans Kollhoff, Rem Koolhaas, Álvaro Siza, and James Stirling are among the other architects that the book researches, though Akcan notes that she features many "rather understudied architects and urbanists."

In the introduction, Akcan defines the concept of "open" as a metaphor in the era of global connections and defines open architecture as the translation of a new ethic of hospitality into a design process. She explains that "IBA 1984/87 was also a telling example about the relation between city and statelessness because the then run-down Kreuzberg has been home to migrants, predominantly from Turkey."

The book weaves together stories of architects and residents, professionals and immigrants, policymakers and refugees, and social workers and guest workers whose paths crossed in Kreuzberg, a quarter of Berlin adjacent to the Berlin Wall, during the urban renewal in the 1980s under the IBA. "Giving voice not only to architects and policymakers, but also to residents," Akcan says, "the overarching theme of noncitizen rights to the city allows for a joint discussion of the history of 20th-century public housing, the participatory, postmodernist, and poststructuralist architectural debates, and the contradictory relation between international immigration laws and housing."

The idea for the book began as an article published in Migrant's Time and soon grew into a book-length project. Over the ensuing eight years, Akcan conducted archival and on-site research as well as oral histories in Berlin even as a new phase in the history of migrations between Germany and Turkey was evolving, in addition to the Syrian refugee crisis and U.S. travel bans for certain countries.

"As I was finishing the book, I was simultaneously reading memoirs and articles and going through applications from threatened scholars, some of whom were even located in asylum sites," Akcan says, noting that she and some of her colleagues were affected by violations of academic freedom in Turkey. "I sometimes wondered if I was turning into a character in my own book."

"But if that is the case, this book is also a chronicle of hope," Akcan reflects. "It reports inspiring stories of immigrants who rightfully take credit for making Berlin's Kreuzberg one of the most exciting places to live in the world."

Support for the book was provided by the Cornell AAP Department of Architecture and Cornell Institute for European Studies (CIES). Also providing support were the American Academy in Berlin, Canadian Centre for Architecture, University of Illinois–Chicago, Clark Art Institute, Forum Transregionale Studien in conjunction with Humboldt University and Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and the Graham Foundation.

Educated as an architect in Turkey, Akcan received her Ph.D. from Columbia University. She has received numerous awards and fellowships and has authored more than 100 articles in multiple languages in scholarly books and professional journals. She is also the author of Architecture in Translation: Germany, Turkey and the Modern House (Duke University Press, 2012), and coauthor of Turkey: Modern Architectures in History (Reaktion, 2012).

A launch event celebrating the book's publication will be held in the AAP NYC studio on June 27, at 6:30 p.m. 

By Patti Witten