Friday, February 17, 2012

Aleks Istanbullu: A Quest for Authenticity

Aleks Istanbullu's architecture is rooted in his personal journey as an expatriate and his quest for belonging. 
Born in Istanbul, Aleks went to boarding school in Geneva before attending IIT College of Architecture in Chicago, and moving west to set up his own design practice in Santa Monica, California.
Los Angeles in the 1980s was wide open, offering him a chance to develop his own voice. It was also a nexus of mid-century Modernism -- recalling his training at IIT where European emigrants had reinvented The Bauhaus, and his childhood growing up in Istanbul where new construction welded modernist principles into the Turkish context. 
"Los Angeles was as far west as I could go within Western civilization," he says of his move to L.A. "I think of it as a necessary exile: you actually have to be somewhere you're not familiar with, forget all the things you've learned, to find your voice. That's what many people come to L.A. for."
Aleks' design approach combines his training in classic Modernism and respect for history with a Southern California environmental and aesthetic sensibility -- blending elemental and natural concepts, and a playful, sensuous minimalism with intellectual rigor and conceptual clarity. 
"My work is very organic," he notes. "It is of the place, contextual, tactile, reflective of the light, the space, the people. It is about flow, process and experience. It comes from caring about people and the environment we live in." 
He defines his approach as follows: simplify as much as you can, build as little as you need in order to connect to the human being and achieve the desired effect. "From simplicity comes sustainability," he says. "Such an approach may depart from L.A.'s mainstream culture of size, stylized environments and landmark statements, but it's okay to be quiet. I'm more interested in connecting to the human being at an emotional level."
"I guess you cannot get there unless you've been taken out of your own cultural context," he adds, reflecting on his nomadic experience. "In Turkey I was an Armenian, in Switzerland I was a Turk, in Chicago I was a European, in L.A. I'm considered a classic modernist." Being an outsider affords him independence while influencing his work in a subconscious, subliminal way.
Aleks' multicultural voice translates into the diversity of his portfolio. He relishes working with different clients, scales and product types -- from intimate residences to large commercial or mixed-use projects, community buildings and urban infrastructure work, and from new developments to rehabilitations and adaptive re-use. "It keeps me intellectually stimulated," he says. 
His systematic approach to projects is what makes every one of them unique. All follow the same methodology grounded in traditions of proportion and design, yet each reflects the personality of each client. "It's a collaborative process, a unique journey every time. I look for the natural grain of the project and let my clients' creativity inform mine. This, I think, is what makes my architecture emotionally evocative, what makes it authentic." 
Echoing a feeling shared by many expatriates, Aleks concludes, "geographic and cultural displacement has fueled my quest for authenticity and my commitment to capturing the unique character of a place.

Written by: Marianne O'Donnell

Monday, November 21, 2011

Time and space on the High Line

During a recent visit to the High Line in Chelsea with artist-photographer Anne Troutman and while she explored, caressed and harnessed one frame after another my anticipated stroll slowed below an amble to an imperceptible movement barely more forward than backward. My sense of time and space thus altered I realized the magic of the High Line lies in exactly that – altering ones sense of space and time by scaling a meandering flight of stairs.
There are many flights of stairs to be sure, each one reveling an innumerable array of ever changing urban moments, but the constant is that once you are on the platform your perception of time and space, both physically and conceptually, are altered.  You realize you are in a place where you were not meant to be and you are free from the constancy of the streets. Standing in the middle of train tracks you are free of the delightful chaos of the city. History has been erased yet you know that everything you see has been there before but it all seems so different as if you have never really seen it before.
Sleek, thoughtful and versatile architectural detailing blended with authentic and exuberant botanical gardens weave through and sprinkle romance over what used to be the meanest and noisiest of blighted urban places. Has the Eiffel Tower been turned into a river that runs through New York turning the worst of the industrial revolution into a romantic ideal. Am I dreaming? Is this really possible? Dare I dream we wrest beauty remnants and valorize yet so much more?

photos courtesy of Anne Troutman

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Steve Jobs

When I started using my first I-Mac I felt a intelligence that mirrored/paralleled/anticipated the human brain - or at least my own brain. I wanted to relate to it, I wanted to learn with it, I looked forward to using it...just like I looked forward to designing and making my own creative became my friend, my companion...and so the entire line of Apple products have become every user’s friend and companion...after twenty years and now writing on my titanium with five or six other mac products in between…here is what I know.

Steve Jobs was the quintessential architect. He tilled that elusive ground between humanity, vision and technology to make places that related, inspired and worked. I use the word “places” because his products have a sensuous corporeal presence worthy of a relationship. That he was able to turn product after product into places we wanted to hang out in is evidence he was working from a place that captured the essence of not only of an era but of the human condition.

His vision became the vision of so many across the globe because what he saw was a renewed way of connecting human beings to the world in which we live. He was able to deliver that vision to each and every individual user because he understood, felt and believed that humans are sensate animals who react to phenomenal messaging.

Apple’s products reveal the synchronicities between those aspects of human endeavor that hitherto seemed dichotomous i.e. beauty, efficiency, intelligence, intuition, creativity, reliability, technology, sensuality... they teach us that all these are human aspirations and that we do not have to give up a single one of them to achieve the others. Only when we are able to hold and deliver on all of them simultaneously do we have a chance of producing something of lasting meaning and value with a potential to inspire others. Beyond facilitating our own creativity, his products/places inspire us to have fun doing it and to integrate as we glide through their use.

In an era of mind boggling and ethereal digital technology and in which reality is ever more elusive is it at all surprising that we latch on to and caress the beautiful physical objects that are our entry point to and continually connects us to that ethereal world? Their sensual skin, the screen’s infinite color range as versatile as nature itself, the buffered sound of the keyboard, not to mention the intuitive magic of the operating system, all these physical attributes recognize that where man-made objects meet the user an inevitable sensual “relationship” is created. Steve Jobs recognized this and tapped every resource at his disposal to achieve the highest degree of connection with each user. Beyond the trendy look, he turned each product into a place in the life for the user. That quest is architecture at its purest and Steve Jobs was at the pinnacle. 
image courtesy of Chris Thornley / Jonathan Mak Long

Monday, September 26, 2011

AI-Architects Transforms AZ Public Garage into Grand Gallery

Collaboration between award-winning architecture firm Aleks Istanbullu Architects and world-renowned local artist Daniel Martin Diaz created "Desert Splendor," the public artwork that adorns the recently completed Centro Parking Garage in Tucson, AZ.

Below is a video chronicling the journey and featuring  AI-Architects design principal Aleks Istanbullu.

Friday, July 22, 2011

We admit it: this one is About Us.

Who we are, what we care about, why we do what we do and how we do it. Need we say more? Please check out our new “About Us” page @ 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Plaza Centro Art Project: Panel Installation!

Installation on the Plaza Centro screens has begun! The first art panels have been installed - they are inserted into a larger screen of metal mesh that will support climbing vines - eventually the art panels will float like medallions in a wall of green. We worked with Tucson based Landscape Architect Lisa Ribes and consulted with various other local experts to ensure that the selected plants will withstand the intense Arizona summers.
The flowers of Yellow Orchid Vines and Tangerine Trumpet Creeper will reflect and complement the paint accents of the projects color scheme. Check back soon to see pictures of the main art piece on the corner of Congress Street and the new 4th Street underpass.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

We hope to see you tonight!

Yes we do love this museum. And hope to see you for another exciting Exhibit opening tonight!