Ecological conservation + urban development

Atelier Istanbul: Strategic Vision for Arnavutköy

In Arnavutköy, Istanbul, urbanisation is threatening protected areas which have an important function in securing drinking water for the township. An exploration of alternative strategies resulted in the development of a strategic vision for the area, which offers a solution to the (perceived) conflict between conservation and growth. At the heart of this vision is a system in which urbanisation and landscape are symbiotically integrated, to create a multifunctional, adaptive city.


In 2000, the city of Istanbul was officially categorised as a ‘mega city’. Today, it has a population of 13.6 million inhabitants. It is expected that this number will rise within 15 to 20 years to 20-22 million – an increase of about 10 million. The question is whether, in light of this rapid growth trajectory, the concept of a ‘sustainable city’ is possible and practical. Can the city still provide a quality living environment for future generations?


Arnavutköy, one of the suburbs on the northern edge of the city, is characterised by natural valleys, lakes, forests and agricultural areas. These protected areas, which currently serve as a catchment for drinking water for the metropolis, present an opportunity for the systematic, sustainable urban expansion of Istanbul.

An expansion strategy for Istanbul where urbanisation, agriculture and nature go hand in hand

The aim of the Atelier Istanbul project was to develop a new, symbiotic relationship between the city and its natural resources. The core of the vision is an expansion strategy for Istanbul, where urbanisation, agriculture and nature go hand in hand and reinforce each other. The expansion plan for Istanbul into the province of Arnavutköy, presents an inspiring example of a sustainable urbanisation process.


Atelier Istanbul

This project was a joint initiative of the Municipality of Arnavutköy and the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) on the occasion of the 5 th anniversary of the Biennale with the theme ‘Making City’. Atelier Istanbul became the model for a strategic vision and plan for the area around Arnavutköy, which would integrate and transform the social, economic and urban aspects of the city.

Combining international expertise with local knowledge, Atelier Istanbul represents an effective and functional strategy to expand the urban environment of Arnavutköy, and also retain the agricultural and environmental value of the region. The strategy integrates these two aims, such that the environmental capacity of the area actually furthers the durability of the urban city.

Left: existing zoning - based on a distance determined by law. Right: proposed zoning - based on natural topography. Right: proposed zoning - based on natural topography.


The strategic vision places the new township on the crest of the natural basin. Urban wastewater is reused to irrigate agricultural and natural areas in the river basin. The plan also features landscape zoning of urban areas, agricultural land and nature, to ensure that each has its own water regime and management system. The presence of the agricultural landscape prevents uncontrolled urban growth and thus protects the water catchment. The strategy is potentially also applicable to other river basins around Istanbul.


A new planning practice

The biggest challenge will be the practical implementation of the the proposal, given that it requires a change to the established ‘top-down’ planning practices in the country. The proposal requires an integrated approach, which synthesises resources and knowledge from local and regional taskforces.

The Atelier Istanbul proposal was created by employing a ‘research by design’ process, including active consultation with coalition institutes, businesses and other stakeholders. This multidisciplinary approach is, to date, unique in Turkey. A cohesive planning strategy must link short-term interventions with a long-term vision and sustainable solutions are only achieved through an integrated approach to the city and the surrounding countryside.

Urban metabolism

The plan for Arnavutköy takes into account the principles of ‘urban metabolism’. This term conceptualises the urban landscape as a complex, comprehensive and interactive system that continuously aims to meet the needs of its inhabitants. It focuses on processes, looking at energy flows in the urban environment including air and heat exchange, freshwater, energy, ecology, food and waste. These energy currents shape the daily life and well-being of city dwellers. Each energy ‘stream’ has its own infrastructure: electricity, water, transport networks, food distribution centres and so on.


By thinking in terms of these ‘flows’, intelligent strategies can be created that stimulate the interaction between spatial and environmental policy. These considerations and ‘flows’ constitute the crux of urban planning. The outcome of the Arnavutköy research shows that a combination of three ‘streams’ (fresh water, agricultural food production and transport), and their associated infrastructure, constitute a formative part of the urban landscape of Istanbul.