Belfast landscape graduate Andrew Kenny has completed his survey of informal settlements in Istanbul with a Landscape Institute student travel award

Informal dwelling in Dolapdere, Istanbul
Informal dwelling in Dolapdere, Istanbul

Kenny went to Istanbul to look at a variety of informal settlements, in particular the Gecekondus, a kind of unplanned housing made possible by Istanbul’s particular attitude to land use, but which are now being swept away by the rising value of land and the pressure to develop. ‘I wanted to go there and document them before these unique spaces were swept away,’ Kenny explained.

There is a law in Istanbul, Kenny said, which means that if a house is built overnight, and has a roof on it by dawn, it will automatically be granted planning permission. This is partly a means of accommodating the steady influx of refugees from more hardline Islamic neighbours.

Kenny visited a number of these settlements, including one where a Kurdish man had created the beginning of a property empire by first building his own home and then constructing a couple of others – to be given an apartment in return when they were slated for demolition.

Land is not only used for housing but also for food production. ‘In Istanbul empty land is being used for growing fruit and vegetables,’ Kenny said. ‘There is a more relaxed attitude to the use of land. At home there is a lot more box ticking, and a more formal approach.’

This subject is of particular interest to Kenny because he has worked with the Roma community in Belfast, both as one of the modules for his masters degree at the University of Ulster and as a volunteer. He is now teaching part time and working with a group of eight students to look at potential uses for vacant land in Belfast.

As well as visiting the Gecekondus, both inhabited and as they were demolished, Kenny was able to research their history in the archives of SALT, Istanbul’s main architecture centre. ‘It was a really interesting visit,’ he said. He is planning to both exhibit and publish his findings in Belfast.

The award is supported by a fund set up in memory of David Ashmore, Adrian Brunswick and Michael Norton, three landscape architects who were tragically killed in an air crash at Biggin Hill on 13 January 1979. A legacy was added to the fund on the death of Mary Mitchell in December 1988. The aim is to provide applicants with an opportunity to travel that might not otherwise be open to them.

Applications for the 2013 awards will open early in the New Year.

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