Contingent Field

Project by Adrian Lahoud, Alina McConnochie & Samenah Moafi, Open International Architecture Cometition for an Istanbul Disaster Prevention and Education Centre in Istanbul, Turkey


Trauma itself is inaccessible; we can only ever circle around it, reading the evidence that it leaves like scars.


The possibility of urban trauma, whether natural or man-made looms ever larger on the horizon. The increasing urbanization of the world’s population brings many possible benefits but also new forms of risk. The challenge is a global one, and one in which this project can play a decisive role. Through this proposal, we believe Turkey can take on a renewed regional and international role in preventing the loss of life from trauma in the built environment. Fires and earthquake have shaped the urban fabric of Istanbul for centuries; and so this city is an ideal home for the creation of the world’s first facility dedicated to exploring the effects of disaster.


This proposal begins by asking how architecture can contribute to a center dedicated to the research, exhibition and simulation of disaster.

We propose a building that offers a rich and complex sequence of experi­ences that all take place against the backdrop of Istanbul. Taking its cue from Istanbul’s unique history, the project recalls both eastern and west­ern traditions, synthesizing them into a coherent and new expression.

The project operates across a number of distinct scales. The site is lo­cated on a part of Istanbul that is still being made. A few large buildings separated by open lots and cut by infrastructure form the context. It is a formative moment. Because this proposal arrives before its neighbors as the first significant cultural building in the neighborhood, it establishes a framework for further development that will both drive and structure growth in this part of the city. We therefore understand the proposal both as a strategic attractor, and as a primary formal element that will begin to govern the production of future projects. We anticipate that the principal structuring devices for this growth will be the canal and the disaster center. In the future, the remediation and improvement of the canal will allow it to function as an infrastructural connector across the distinct neighborhoods in the area.

Our proposal relates to three main infrastructural parts, a freeway, a rail line and the canal. 

Our proposal relates to three main infrastructural parts, a freeway, a rail line and the canal. It draws the surrounding urban condition into the interior of the building through the creation of an urban room or court­yard that is enclosed by the envelope but always accessible through a public street. The pointed arch has been used as a primary structural element, its plasticity gives rise to a wide variety of formal possibilities, transforming in response to both programmatic and climatic considera­tions. 

The resulting sweep of the building envelope creates a form that is both functional and distinct. The colonnade wraps a differentiated field of columns in the interior. This forest like distribution of columns opens up to the light and produces a play of shadows across the ribbed vaulting.The brief for this proposal calls for seriousness (research, experiment, lectures, and conferences), engagement (games, simulations, mazes, and videos), work (administration, training, offices) and display (exhibition, galleries, and foyers). Existing somewhere between a gallery, museum and faculty building, this mix of programs will draw radically different users. The question we asked is: how can we reconcile the conflicting requirements of different user groups? How can the project present its content in a manner that is both serious and engaging? How can archi­tecture intensify the program?

Organizationally, the building responds to the complex program and user mix by inverting the typical circulation of a cultural building such as this, so that visitors circle around the edge rather than progress toward a center. The project is organized around two primary spaces, a reflec­tion pool around the dome of the planetarium and an urban room or courtyard. Visitors inhabit the periphery of the building, walking along a raised plinth and under the colonnade. The western wing of the building houses programs that are related to simulation and exhibition, the east­ern wing of the building houses programs that require quiet withdrawal such as lecture theatres and administration. Both wings are bisected by an internal public street.

There are three spatial formats for exhibition. The main courtyard space can accommodate large-scale installations and stages for public events. A dedicated exhibition hall on the periphery of the courtyard is able to house major exhibitions. A circuit of different events and programs are organized around the perimeter of each plinth and so finally, the intersti­tial spaces between these simulations can also house exhibitions related to the content in the adjoining room. This allows for curatorial flexibility, for example, between the orientation stage and the weather simulator one could imagine a temporary exhibition dedicated to the effect of cli­mate change on weather patterns.


Between each station guests continually move between two orientations. Looking in, they will overlook the public courtyard space; looking out from the elevated plinth they will see a vista towards the rest of the sur­rounding urban fabric. In this way the educational and curatorial experi­ence is linked – through the frame of the building, to the experience of the city and the internal courtyards or void spaces.

Significant aspects of the program such as the earthquake simulation, smoke maze and weather simulator project into the courtyard space. De­coupled from the plinth, this collection of rooms encircles the courtyard and brings down the scale of the building mass. From the orientation stage, all programs are visible within one view. On certain occasions the decoupled parts simultaneously open, transforming the courtyard into a landscape of unrelenting miracles and disasters. Like an inverted thea­tre-in-the-round addressed to the audience in the courtyard, a tableaux of performances unfolds along the edge of the plinth.


Finally, the separation of the proposal into an eastern and a western wing – bound together by a single form evokes – in its complex differentiation, the unique situation of Istanbul herself, a city that has been able to hold together and unite a series of distinct parts into a vital and coherent whole.

Project Details


Status | Completed 2011

Context | Open International Architecture Cometition, Istanbul Disaster Prevention and Education Centre in Istanbul, Turkey

Media | Digital Prints, Digital Fabrication Model [ply, 3d printed acrylic, clear acrylic]

Software | Rhino, Grasshopper, 3ds Max, Adobe,