How might we define a holistic vision and strategy for Istanbul's Design Center?

We collaborated with the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IMM) to formulate the design strategy of the “Istanbul Design Center and Platform,” an initiative aimed to be built as a part of the Municipality, joining the UNESCO Creative Cities Network with the title of “City of Design” in 2017. Our challenge was to transform an industrial heritage, a textile factory, into a creative campus, to a new design center that could engage the creative ecosystem and bring value to Istanbul and its citizens.


Project Team: Başak Aras, Deniz Dönmez, Ecem Çınar, Emel Pilavcı, Mercan Denizci, Karya Dirik

Project Lead: Emre Erbirer

Our challenge was to transform the area into a creative campus that focuses on production, sharing and open space for different scales and disciplines of creative industries.

To get there, we centered our approach around the need, value, and experience created with participatory processes and sustainability as a principle. We began designing the vision, community, programming, spatial, digital, and governance strategy.

Generating the vision and strategy of the Center involved comprehensive design research that included various voices and ideas. We held 24 in-depth interviews, 4 listening circles with 19 stakeholders and experts representing design societies, professional associations, student clubs, and researchers. We also conducted benchmark research and facilitated 2 participatory design workshops with the municipality, designers, artists, architects, and diverse creative industry professionals. After these processes, we created the Center’s vision, value proposition, design principles for the community & interaction strategy, and impact measurement goals.

We faced physical, social, and sectoral challenges in the design process. The center was located in an industrial zone, away from the clustered design studios and initiatives. We worked on understanding this challenge through facilitation.

Moreover, the culturally diverse background of the local creative ecosystem differed with regard to the needs of the physical and social manifestations of the campus and design ecosystem, including studios, academies, and other initiatives in Istanbul, which were all active yet not connected to one another. These insights led us to craft our design principles, strategy, and space that enables meaningful interactions and creates a learning environment for each one of the actors.

We positioned the Center as an area that spans and feeds the entire Campus since its purpose was to enhance interaction and cooperation.
Based on this insight, we decided it would be a more effective strategy to spread the Campus functions, communities, and programs throughout the area instead of gathering them in a single building.

We imagined the Campus to be a productive, inclusive, and creative community space. Productive because it embraces people and projects that aim to create value and a positive impact. It is inclusive because it becomes a platform for many different voices and orientations. It is creative because it aims to develop the creative economy; brings together culture, art, design, and creative entrepreneurship. Community because it thinks of its inhabitants before the space. We designed the space to make production visible, invite exploration, create space for co-design, and ultimately encourage interaction.

We also positioned the campus as a flexible area where individuals and small groups can carry out production, learning, and exhibition activities during the day. For that, we designed spaces that would transform the Center into a space that can respond to different scenarios for independent professionals, students, and locals.

Towards the end of the project, we designed a Campus Guide to attract diverse audiences and inform them about the Center to facilitate a holistic and accessible experience and a resource, sharing up-to-date, relevant resources to the community. We also built a digital platform, Istanbul Design Ecosystem Network, to cultivate the creative culture in the Center that would make the creative network visible in Istanbul and the region by mapping more than 300 institutions operating in the design field.

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