About the Nail Çakırhan House in Akyaka

(Masters Jury citation)

Akyaka, Turkey, completed 1971. Clients: Nail and Halet Çakırhan. Architect/contractor: Nail Çakırhan. Carpenters: Ali Duru, Cafer Karaca.

Master Jury's Citation: For the purity and elegance in design and decoration resulting from the direct continuation and reflection of traditional values. The design of the house goes well beyond the simple reproduction of past models; its ornaments are judicious, sober, and genuine. Its extraordinary harmony with nature, as well as its multipurpose use and the ambience of its inner space, gives it great distinction.

This airy and attractive house deserves special attention for its sensitive revival of craftsmanship and cultural sensitivity as a whole.

It was as a retirement home for himself and his wife, Halet, that Nail Çakırhan designed and supervised the building of this traditional Islamic Ottoman house in his home province of Muğla. What is particularly interesting about this project is that Çakırhan, a poet and journalist by profession, was never formally schooled as an architect but became interested in construction in his forties while accompanying his wife, an archaeologist, on her field trips, and he was over sixty when he began work as an architect.

Since completing his house he has designed and supervised the building of thirty other houses (eighteen in Akyaka itself), renovated several older ones, and completed a hotel. While the first of these projects were weekend houses for non-residents, some of the later ones were designed for the villagers themselves. Çakırhan's work is further assessed and put in context in the essay on contemporary Turkish architecture.

Location. The village of Akyaka lies to the south-west of the Anatolian peninsula and is surrounded by a pine-forested, mountainous region that is becoming increasingly popular as a resort centre. The site of the house, occupying, 2 hectares, is on a cliff overlooking the sea some 150 meters to the south. A road to the north of the house connects it with the cluster of small houses that make up the village, 500 meters away. Although Akyaka has a long tradition of highly crafted timber houses, concrete structures are becoming increasingly common. The climate consists of hot summer days tempered by a cool sea breeze, an mild winter with cold nights.

Brief. Corresponding to the rather simple needs of Nail and Halet Çakırhan, the house was to be quite straightforward. It was to include two separate areas, one for the Çakırhans and the other for their guests. Although referred to as living/sleeping rooms, these areas are multipurpose as in traditional Turkish homes. Between them was to be a divanhane (central hall) in which the Çakırhans and their guests could gather.

A sheltered outdoor haney (loggia) was to provide additional living space during the warm season, with separate shower rooms for the couple and their guests, and a kitchenette and a lavatory completing the program. A caretaker's lodge, situated next to the entrance, was considered necessary since the Çakırhan's were away quite frequently. A garage and storeroom were added later.

Plan. Following the tradition of master builders the plan was more or less directly laid out on the ground, with only a few sketches considered sufficient. Çakırhan's house does not belong to Akyaka's simple architectural tradition but in fact gets its inspiration from his native town of Ula, about 30 kilometres away, where a variety of traditional houses can still be found on lots usually no smaller than 1,000 square meters. These fall into three broad categories: the 150- to 200-year-old houses, which contain a single multipurpose room and a hayat (courtyard); 100- to 150-year-old houses, comprising two rooms flanking a mabeyn (porch) used for storage, as well as a haney and a hayat; and two-story houses, 50 to 100 years old, with a lower flour devoted to storage and an upper floor similar to the previous type. In some cases the haney was turned into a polygonal divanhane, which can either be open and supported on columns or closed with an abundance of windows. In either form the haney faces south or south-west.

Nail Çakırhan's single-story house includes both divanhane and haney in the same plan, with the mabeyn reduced to a rather open area between them. Unlike traditional Turkish homes the kitchenettes and lavatories are not located outside the main building but retain a marginal place in the plan.

The design of this house goes beyond the simple reproduction of past models and was built in three phases. The foundation framework walls, and roof were completed in forty-five days, the woodwork and finishes in twenty-four and the built-in furnishings in fifteen days.

The southern facade of the house is shielded by an open loggia supported on columns. From here one has access to two lateral living/sleeping rooms flanking a porch which draws one into a large polygonal divanhane, corresponding to the tradition of the central eyvan (hall) in Ottoman houses. The two identical living/sleeping rooms flanking the porch also flank the divanhane. They are adjoined by shower rooms (where clothes are also kept), a kitchenette on one side and a lavatory on the other, which can also be entered from the sides.

The house is thermally insulated by the large air space left beneath the tiled gables of the roof, with hot air vented cool and comfortably ventilated, yet without drafts and with the deep loggia and generous eaves providing a band of deep shadow over the windows and around the house. In winter the fireplaces are lit and their burning coals placed in the brazier of the central hall which, when the doors of the adjoining rooms are left open, heats the entire house. Heavy blankets provide adequate warmth at night.

The details of the house have been judiciously designed. For instance, doors are set diagonally across the corners of the rooms in the old farisi way. This arrangement allows the doors to fold back into the spaces reserved for them against the cupboards when they are open. When all the doors are open, the various rooms, including the loggia, merge into a single space.

With the exception of tray stands, book stands, traditional braziers and low couches with cushions placed below the windows of the central hall and side rooms, no movable furniture has been used in the house. There is a fireplace in each living/sleeping room flanked by two cupboards, where bedding is stored during the day. A traditional serpenc (shelf), on which books can be kept as in the living/sleeping rooms, or decorations displayed as in the divanhane, passes continuously over the doors and windows of every room. Both the cupboards and shelves display a high level of craftsmanship, as do the traditional windows and richly ornamented wooden ceilings.

The loggia is supported on wooden columns with decorated capitals and contains the traditional ayazeh (raised seat) at its west end, where the breeze is strongest. A traditional semicircular flight of steps in local pink stone leads from the loggia to the garden.

Structure. A traditional timber frame, which provides the house with the elasticity necessary to resist earthquakes, has been set on a rubble stone base. The roof, covered with the round red alaturka tiles of the region, has no truss but simply posts and beams with wooden planks forming its gables. The walls are made of brick and rendered with lime plaster and whitewash. With the exception of the shower rooms, kitchenettes, and lavatories all the floors are covered with wood over 5-centimeter air space. The ceilings and built-in furniture are also made of wood. All major elements were manufactured on site, and the woodwork was crafted by hand.

Conclusion. For Nail Çakırhan the concrete structures one sees increasingly all over Turkey are like a "frightening cancerous growth". He strongly favours a new spirit in architecture, which is in harmony with the climate, environment, and cultural background of Turkey, and he is a critic of the slavish imitation of Western architecture unadapted to the needs of his country.

His houses have attracted the attention of the authorities responsible for planning and development both regionally and nationally. The governor of Muğla, who is also opposed to the construction of inappropriate concrete structures, wants future building projects in his province to be designed in the spirit of Çakırhan's Akyaka houses.

Timber-frame houses are less likely to be damaged by earthquakes than other types of construction because of the movement the wood allows. Nail Çakırhan's houses are therefore particularly suited to the province of Muğla, which lies within Turkey's earthquake belt. During the last major earthquake in the province, the old timber houses, including those in a whole village where constructed in timber, were hardly damaged. Even the windowpanes remained intact. However, buildings made of other materials, particularly concrete, were completely destroyed. While concrete houses have become a status symbol for the rural population, it is hoped that the practicality, visual appeal, and comfort of Çakırhan's traditional timber houses will in the future encourage the construction of buildings more in harmony with the environment.

Building in timber is also much cheaper than concrete, contrary to certain prevailing misconceptions. Although more timber is required for a timber house than for the timber forms to make a corresponding concrete house, the timber used for the concrete forms is later discarded. Concrete structures also require the addition of reinforcing steel, which is becoming very expensive in Turkey. The better quality of wood required for timber construction still works out cheaper especially when several houses are being built. With a large amount of timber of second- or even third-rate quality, a sufficient quantity of good-quality timber can be found in the core of the wood and set aside for the finer parts of the building, while the lesser quality is used for supporting posts and lintels and for constructing the roof.

Timber houses also require fewer man-hours to build than concrete structures of the same size, which means saying both on money and time. Nail Çakırhan's house was completed within seventy days. The foundations, walls, roof, an chimneys of a timber house can be completed in the same amount of time needed for laying the foundation of a concrete building.

The demand for traditional timber houses has also revived many crafts, especially woodworking, with many young apprentices beginning training in this field. Carpenters, whose work had been limited to making the frame and formwork for concrete buildings, have begun to work with traditional joinery once again.

The simplicity and elegance of Çakırhan's architecture results not from imitation but from the direct continuation and reflection of traditional values. He has succeeded in reviving a vernacular architecture not merely at the superficial level of appearances, but by convincingly reintroducing the compact multivalent spatial organisation of old Turkish houses. At the same time he has demonstrated successfully that the form and construction of his houses continue to make economic sense.

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