Since 2003, from the windows of studio Autoban in Istanbul one can admire the splendid view of the Bosphorus, Galata Tower and the horizon of the Turkish city in constant evolution. Directed by Seyhan Ozdemir (1975) and Sefer Caglar (1975), the studio works on various projects of interior design (commercial and residential) and product design, which blend craftsmanship with advanced production techniques. Many of the trendiest cafés, restaurants and fashion stores in Istanbul bear the signature of the studio in their interiors, as do the relaxing spaces of the "Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge", that reveals the studio's approach as a joyous mix of three fundamental elements of Turkish contemporary culture: the tradition of living well, the refined architectural history and the optimistic enthusiasm towards the future. Seyhan and Sefer, two of the protagonists of the new Turkish design scene, tell us their story.
Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge
How did you choose the name and logo for Autoban?Even while we were still doing the paperwork to set up our design practice we already knew our main goal was to reach out to the international design scene. So the name needed to be something that could be easily pronounced in every language. A combination of the Turkish and German word for highway sounded phonetically good but also the meaning of the word suited our approach. On the highway you make many choices and experience the consequences, like you do in real life. There was a road ahead of us and we were ready to take it and make those choices that would lead us to different experiences. The logo came as a natural extension of the name. Highways are full of signs, and we enjoy using the language of signs in our work.
Could you describe the project that best illustrates Autoban?It’s hard to pin down one single project as they are all part of our constantly evolving design philosophy. But if we had to pick, it might be the "Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge", since of our more recent projects it is the one that best exemplifies our approach. Here the main idea was to create a “Contemporary Turkish Experience” and in doing so, we returned to the idea of “Kervansaray” which were traditional roadside inns where travelers could rest and recover from the day's journey. We also looked at the many domes of Istanbul, most of them being the century-old works of Sinan the Great (a famous Ottoman architect), and to the unique architecture of the Grand Bazaar. As a result of this process, we came out with a series of portals, with each module serving a specific purpose such as a library, restaurant, music room or the lounge area. The portals allow the passengers to travel in between them and discover each module.
Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge
Istanbul is changing day by day. You recently designed Nef Flats 163, which you described as “a new take on the ever rising high-rise way of living”. How would you like to contribute in reshaping the city?Nef project was our first high-rise building, and it offered a new way of living for young professionals. We are not interested in reshaping the city in the structural sense of the word but by offering the inhabitants of the city and any other city for that matter, new ways of living. Whether it’s a restaurant, store, hotel or an airport, we always try to offer the users of the space something inspiring to experience and new to discover. For us, spaces are not made, but designed to be discovered.
Economy is currently booming in Turkey. In your opinion, is the country developing a new contemporary design scene? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in Turkey as a designer, today?There has been considerable progress towards developing a new contemporary design scene in the last 10 years. This is due to the fact that investors are finally understanding the importance of brand recognition and as a result they are collaborating with designers to distinguish their brands. However, these are just baby steps that are arriving quite late. In Europe this was occurring right after the Industrial Revolution... In Turkey, designers are still not as lucky as those in Europe because of the lack of industry support. This is one of the biggest disadvantages of working as a designer in Turkey, especially if you are a newcomer. There’s nowhere to take your designs to produce the first prototype, let alone to sign a contract to manufacture and distribute them. But on the other hand, we are lucky to have local workshops at our doorstep. For us, the biggest disadvantage of not having industrial support turned out to be a great advantage because of the skilled craftsmanship these local workshops offered us. We managed to keep our designs handcrafted and away from mass production. Just as we wanted...
Nef Flats 163 (2010)
Do contemporary Turkish art, literature, music or other creative disciplines inspire your work?We can’t say that we are specifically or directly influenced by contemporary Turkish art or other creative disciplines but we do follow them and in some way, their impact must be showing or will be showing in the future as we keep on collecting visual memories. Nowadays, it makes more sense to speak about an ongoing communication between creative disciplines without putting any cultural or national boundaries to them. The internet and the high level of information exchange enable design to become something global as the influences that trigger design also do. However, it is always important to protect your local spices otherwise design cannot distinguish itself and cannot be original either.
House Hotel Bosphorus was designed in a 19th-century Ottoman mansion at the foot of the Bosphorus Bridge. The interiors of the House Café evoke colonnaded patterns of mosques. How do you try to combine Turkish cultural heritage with contemporary interior design?Throughout the centuries Istanbul has harbored various cultures. As designers brought up and still living in this city, we had the chance to breath in this multicultural environment on both an architectural and social level. We have great loyalty towards the historical richness of the city and a colossal excitement for modernization. So, it is natural and almost instinctive for us to combine them in our work.
House Hotel Bosphorus (2011)
You've been collaborating for a long time with Vakko, Turkey’s biggest fashion retailer. How did you get this client to believe in you?Vakko approached us in early 2005 to redesign one of their store branches and their only references were the few interior design projects in our portfolio back then. We went to the company archives and studied the brand’s heritage first, and then developed a design identity that integrated both the brand’s heritage and what a luxury fashion emporium represents in today’s world. It turned out be a successful formula and we went on to work with the brand for over 6 years.
In 2006, at London's 100% Design, you signed a contract with De La Espada, that now produces, markets, and distributes Autoban’s products and furniture. With regards to the design process, how has your relation with them changed in these 7 years?Since 2007 De La Espada has been producing and distributing a selection of our products outside Turkey. Their manufacturing facilities are located in Portugal, and like us they also specialize in handcrafting and traditional construction techniques to create modern designs. Our relationship doesn’t affect the design process directly, as our main concern when designing is to be able to produce our designs in Turkey first.
Gaspar café (2013)
How did you reinterpret the former printing house interiors that today house the Gaspar Restaurant in Istanbul?The materials used and the main idea behind Gaspar refer to the streets of Karaköy, an old district of Istanbul with plenty of hardware stores and old repair shops, as well as referencing its former state as a printing house. The neighborhood is the antithesis of sophisticated and far from being artificial. The main concept behind the project was 'Cabinet of Curiosities', an idea that flourished in Europe in the 16th century. It defines the collection of interesting and thought provoking types of objects whose categorical boundaries are yet to be defined. According to this idea, these carefully selected objects are arranged via the 'Knolling' method - grouping the objects parallel and at right angles - displayed on the plywood surfaces constituting the space. The space itself becomes a box in which precious objects are exposed to the public. The plywood panels are the key elements of the design, they are produced in different colors and sizes and are positioned at different levels and heights according to a mathematical order. This precise placement surrounding Gaspar vertically and horizontally creates a perception of randomness, arousing an unusual experience.
How does your team of 32 designers organize research?For every project, whatever the scale is - from product design to architectural - the initial step of the conceptual design work is the research phase. In this phase, we can mainly describe the work as being collecting data on the subject, researching for global examples and inspirations, understanding the theme, and eventually - form and material research.
Gaspar café - details of the interiors (2013)
For example?One of our ongoing projects is the interior design of the Heydar Aliyev airport in Baku, Azerbaijan, which includes the interior design of all the areas the passengers will experience. For this project, our initial research was on all airports and what they signified in today’s world. Because in this century we are traveling more frequently than ever, therefore using airports quite often. Of course problems and design deficiencies of existing airports was one of our main research topics. After this phase came the inspiration for both physical items (such as material and form) and conceptual items (such as the experience we would like to offer). This phase was carried out by understanding the design brief of the client, which then led us to a presentation of our design ideas and sketches together with the research outcome.
What are the elements that allow you to imagine the future we’ll inhabit? Could you explain it by describing one of your products.Lounge chair "Baby Nest" could be an example of how we think of the future. It’s a product designed for babies. A generation growing up surrounded by design is likely to shape the future through design.
If a young architect, fresh out of college, were to ask you for advice, what would you say?The young generation is way ahead of us in the way they use technology and communication tools. We think that we are the ones who should ask for advice from them.
Interview by Fabio Falzone
Gaspar café (2013)
Gaspar café (2013)
Nest Loung Chair (2009)
Nest Loung Chair (2009)
Daisy Side Table (2009)
Cloud Table (2011)
Pill Lamp (2010)
Pill Lamp (2010)
Ring Side Table (2007)
Throne Outdoor (2012)