The Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage has been a ghost building to me since my childhood, and I have accepted its presence to be a significant component of the island’s silhouette without questioning. Unexceptionally all the tourists, who manage to climb up the hill of the Hagia Yorgi Church and look towards the view of Kartal-Sedef Island direction, instantaneously spot the mysterious, huge wooden building in the forest and wonder what this building serves for. The reason for their curiosity may be because the huge building stands alone on top of a hill that seems unreachable or because of the greatness of its size; and somehow the Orphanage tells a story to everyone in a quiet manner. Many of the people are not aware that they are looking at the Europe’s largest wooden structure or that it was initially designed and built by the levantine architect Alexandre Vallaury as a hotel and that it was converted to an orphanage or that its inhabitants were expelled hastily out of the building.
When I was a kid, I thought that the Orphanage was too far and secluded for me to ride on my bike. Also, the horror stories told by the islanders about the screams of the orphans, who were burnt to death during the fire outbreak, still being heard during the night times were enough to keep me away from the building for a while. Later, I have wished to enter the building several times , but the gates were locked away and I had to leave the site keeping my curiosity to myself. Since then, I only had the chance to look at the interior images of the Orphanage in the books, until a month ago when I had the chance to attend the exhibition and etudes of ‘‘206 Rooms of Silence’‘ in Galata Greek Primary School, sharing a similar history with the Orphanage, held between October 9th – November 10th as the parallel event of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennale, 2018.
Curated by Hera Büyüktaşcıyan, ‘‘206 Rooms of Silence’’ exhibition allowed everyone to enter the building, to hear the noises inside and to witness the life stories of the inhabitants in between the walls of the Orphanage. I could finally experience the wooden structure through the exhibition design of Hera Büyüktaşcıyan, Ali Kazma, Murat Germen and Dilek Winchester. Even though the view was projected,it was a familiar scene for me to watch the view of Buyukada through the shattered windows of the orphanage. When I closed my eyes in the room where the sounds of the wooden orphanage were recorded, the familiar sounds of the island were blended with the squeaks of worn out wood, verifying what I have imagined since long. The exhibition rooms where the orphans’ belongings were on display reflected the life in the orphanage.
At the end of the ‘‘Etudes on the Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage’‘ session, I came out with lots of questions rather than answers. The theme of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial was ‘‘A School of Schools’’. And, I had the opportunity to question what one can learn from a school, Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage, in another school, Galata Greek Primary School, about its outstanding architectural and social background. The questions which are not only hard to answer but also with no exact true answers;
– What kind of a place does this structure have on urban memory?
– How can one handle the urgent needs for preservation of the structure in a tranquil manner?
– How can the urgency go together with thinking down the line on every aspect of the structure?
– What are the urgent preservation proposals for the roof of the structure which is decaying day by day?
– How can one be sure that the urgent needs for preservation of the roof does not create any dissimilarities with the preservation techniques for the rest of the structure?
– Does the improvisations help gain time to think more deeply on the true preservation techniques or only increase the cost of the project?
– Who owns the Orphanage?
– Who looks out for the benefits of the orphanage? Architects, islanders, the graduates of the orphanage, Patriarche?
– Is it agreed that the structure has both local and global significance?
– What preservation methods should be practiced? What are the extents of preservation?
– Is it acceptable to choose stereotypical preservation methods?
– Can leaving the structure to its decay be chosen as a method?
– What are the preparations needed to be done before starting the preservation?
– What should be the new program of the building?
– Doesn’t the new program of the building have any role on deciding the preservation methods that will be applied on the structure?
– Is it necessary to assign a new program to the building or does its existence is not enough?
– Is preserving and using the building the right solution for the building?
– Does the structure need to serve for everybody after it is preserved?
– Do we have to make sure that we preserve the building and open it with its new program?
– What differentiates the orphanage building from the other wooden structures of Istanbul that were built at the same period?
– What does the Europe’s largest wooden structure teach us?
– Is it possible to preserve the original wooden structure?
– How can the physical sustainability of the structure be achieved?
– How can the strong resistance of the wooden structure over time be explained?
– Isn’t it more important to ensure the sustainability of the structure rather than to preserve and use it?
-The building has never served for its original program as a hotel. How does the idea of using the building as a hotel sound?
– Can the building contribute to the mediocre tourism of Buyukada that worsens every year?
– Where does architecture start to have a role in the project?
– Who should be in charge of the project? The owner, a disciplinary institution or a foundation in the name of the orphanage?
– How can the financial needs of the building be sustained?
-What are the creative evaluations that can be done about the building?
-Is it possible to create a project that both feeds the physical and intellectual developments of the structure?
– What does the absence of a relief of the building, that is very much discussed by different parties, say about the situation?
-Isn’t the sole existence of the structure on that location enough as a mission?
*The photos in this article were taken by Aslı Germirli.