e-book Architecture in Translation: Germany, Turkey, and the Modern House

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Akcan explores the concept of translation to explain interactions between places. The book conceptualizes translation as any cultural flow traveling of people, ideas, technology, information, and images from one place to another under any condition. The act of transportation carries with it a process of transformation as well.

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However, the author challenges the denigration of translation as a second hand and inferior copy of the original. She alternatively argues that it is through translations that a place opens itself to what was hitherto foreign , namely a rejuvenating force for changing and developing institutions and cultural forms. Moreover, translation reveals the voice of both sides of a cross-cultural exchange, which differentiates it from narratives that emphasize Western agency alone. The book also challenges the idea of translation as a neutral bridge between cultures, since no translation can be devoid of the geographical distribution of power or capital.

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Thus, the author analyzes both the liberating and the colonizing forces of translation. While criticizing the unhealthy, arbitrary and untidy existential conditions of modern chaotic metropolis, proponents of the garden city model assumed that living in gardens and engaging in garden-related activities would cure humanity.


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Whereas in modern Turkey, the metropolis, in the true sense of the world, has not yet emerged. Therefore, the garden city ideal was translated in a vacuum to the Turkish context without its background on the critique of fast and unorganized urbanism. In fact, this was the case for most of the reform attempts of the new republic. Despite the economic and demographic differences between Europe and Turkey, reformers developed similar concerns insofar as they embraced the broader Western modernizing discourses of the period.

Moreover, the Kemalist modernization process relied on the premise that Europeanism was smoothly translatable into Turkey, even if it had to be inserted from above.

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In this climate, a solution—garden city urban planning—was precociously offered for a problem not yet conceptualized as being that grave. The decision was based on the political will of a new nation-state. Esra Akcan. In Architecture in Translation , Esra Akcan offers a way to understand the global circulation of culture that extends the notion of translation beyond language to visual fields.

She shows how members of the ruling Kemalist elite in Turkey further aligned themselves with Europe by choosing German-speaking architects to oversee much of the design of modern cities. But, as with many analyses that remain at the level of discourse, there are some difficulties here. In particular, many of the buildings and architects she mentions were a product of political and institutional contexts. While Akcan provides a clear sense of what a particular architect thought in, say, an article in a professional journal, it is frustrating that no broader context is given to frame the critique.

As a result, structural conditions and a wider range of connections or meanings are missing.

And yet, while their respective understandings of architecture are thoroughly presented, not much information is given on the academy itself and its role as a state-sponsored institution. Politics here rests at the level of rhetoric or identity, not in policy or political economy.

This is coupled with a somewhat overworked emphasis on the theoretical concept of translation. On the whole, this serves the author well; but there are myriad times when it seems too often merely a metaphor or, as in the chapter on housing estates, drops out of the central argument for significant portions of the text. Thus, by extension, the book is a fundamental critique of the canonical histories of modern architecture.

Architecture in Translation: Germany, Turkey, and the Modern House

These are necessary correctives and critiques that engage in the ongoing problems and difficulties humanities scholars are having adjusting to a world of global capital that, in turn, is building pressure for a thoroughly globalized curriculum. Architecture plays a clear and central cultural role in this process, and the dialogue between Germany and Turkey in these crucial years of the twentieth century is a historical factor long overdue for serious analysis.

Paul B.


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