Design Ecosystem in Istanbul

{ 🇹🇷 } – Istanbul: The Mega-City Straddling Europe and Asia

View over Istanbul’s Galata Tower. Photo by Anna.

There are few cities in the world like Istanbul. A place that has been in the hands of great empires and served as the backdrop of many historical events, today Istanbul is a vibrant and buzzing megacity located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Despite not being the capital city of the modern Republic of Turkey, Istanbul is nonetheless still its cultural capital, due to its long and remarkable history.

Istanbul: Turkey’s Cultural Capital

Istanbul is a cultural city. And it has been for centuries. Serving at various times as the seat of power of the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman empires, the city is now firmly under Turkish control and is the country’s most important city, despite not being its political capital. Walking around Istanbul is like experiencing all the different eras that the city has lived through, with signs of fallen empires at every corner. The landmark that better symbolises Istanbul’s tumultuous history is Hagia Sophia, a cathedral-turned-mosque-turned-museum-turned-back-to-mosque.

The State of Design in Istanbul

Design in Istanbul is thriving. The city is a magnet for designers from all over the country, who come here due to the developed cultural scene and work opportunities. Ankara has the politics, but Istanbul has the art and culture, therefore it is no surprise that most of the Turkish design scene is to be found here.

Crossing the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul. Photo by Tarık Kaşlı.

Plentiful are the events dedicated to design and the organisations that help like-minded designers get together. Due to its peculiar status as an intercontinental city straddling the Balkan Peninsula, located in Europe, and the Anatolian Peninsula, located in Asia, Istanbul has always been a city where influences, ideas, and styles meet and give birth to something new. This is why Istanbul is – and has been – one of the most exciting cities in both Europe and the Near East.

Designs for more than one are those that take into consideration not just their immediate user or client, but the many constituents and complex entanglements inherent to any design process.

Among the most important events focussing on design happening in Turkey’s cultural capital is the Istanbul Design Biennial, whose fifth edition happened in 2020 in both physical and digital form. The event’s name was Empathy Revisited. Designs for More than One and its aim was “to carve out a space of responsibility and nourish a culture of attachment towards the more-than-human, this biennial explores designs for multiple bodies, dimensions and perspectives. The projects on display encourage us to rethink practices of care and civility at this critical moment in time, and to collectively build new systems and structures for reconnecting.”

Design Education

A city of this size unsurprisingly offers several different options to those interested in obtaining an education in design. In fact, Istanbul boasts a wide range of both private and public universities and academies where one can enroll in a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree programme in the many design niches.

It would be hard to give a comprehensive run-down of all the top institutions (like we usually do) due to the abundance of choice. Therefore, in case you are thinking of pursuing a design education in Istanbul – or perhaps you want to study there for some time through one of the many student exchange programmes available today – the suggestion is to first look into the particular field that interests you and check what are the options available.

Where to Work From?

At the time of writing, the world is still battling with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But, thanks to vaccination campaigns and having learned how to live with the virus, life is slowly resuming. And if you happen to find yourself in Istanbul when you’re reading this piece, you might be wondering where to head out to get some work done.

People always belong to one of two groups, and this is the same with digital nomads – some prefer the ambiance of a café, some prefer that of a co-working space. We always like to offer something for everyone, and will therefore suggest a few spots that will cater to both categories, starting with laptop-friendly cafés.

First on the list of recommendations for café aficionados is Journey, located in the city’s Cihangir district – this place is an absolute hit among people who set up camp with their laptops and work away for many hours. Another very solid option is Ara: this place, with its outdoor seating area, can present a good summertime alternative to Journey. Ara is located in the very center of Istanbul, not far from the pedestrian Istiklal Street, the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare.

To those seeking a more office-like environment, the two co-working spaces that are worth a visit in this transcontinental mega-city are DAİRE, a bright and beautifully designed space located in the Beşiktaş neighborhood, and Impact Hub, for those who prefer a more industrial interior and warmer atmosphere.

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Gianmarco Caprio / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Content creator, editor and community manager at Phase.