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If walls could talk: Exploring the dimensions of heterotopia at the Four Seasons Istanbul Hotel

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Zeynep Kezer


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In 1997, the Sultanahmet Prison was re-inaugurated as the Four Seasons Istanbul Hotel. Located at the heart of the Historic Peninsula, offering excellent views of Istanbul, and surrounded by such remarkable structures as the Topkapi Palace Complex, the Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque, the hotel quickly became a favorite destination for wealthy travelers. The reincarnation of the prison as a luxury hotel has radically transformed the building’s relationship with its physical surroundings and with its own history. The building has become a heterotopic site that juxtaposes the alternate social orderings, incommensurate meanings, and incongruous spatial practices engendered by the prison, the hotel, and the historic site. Most obviously, Four Seasons Istanbul is a generic presence in an exceptional place. It relies on the uniqueness of its location for attracting business. Yet, by framing that location as one among many the Four Seasons chain can offer, it also reduces that uniqueness to ordinariness and commodifies what would otherwise be priceless. Moreover, for its primarily foreign clientele, the hotel exoticizes Istanbul, offering it as the ultimate conquest of tradition by modernity; while for the people of Istanbul it marks their city’s accelerated integration with the spatial logic of global capitalism. Finally, and still more dramatic, is the slippage of meaning between the two different uses of the building. Ironically, despite the incommensurability of the prison and the hotel as modern building types, the inversion of the prison’s patterns of circulation, accessibility, thresholds of privacy, and strategies of surveillance was achieved with surprisingly little physical modification. But comfort in this five-star hotel is not possible without suppressing the memory of its former occupants; the address alone (Tevkifhane Sokak 1/Jail Street #1) invokes its unfortunate history. The coexistence of meanings associated with both of the subsequent uses of the building suggests that temporal adjacencies, as well well as physical ones, may constitute heterotopic relationships. In sum, the Four Seasons Istanbul Hotel as a site where multiple discrepant meanings reveals contradictions comprised within the spatial logic of high modernity by juxtaposing

Publication metadata

Author(s): Kezer Z

Editor(s): Arnold, D; Ballantyne, A

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: Architecture as experience : Radical change in spatial practice

Year: 2004

Pages: 210-232

Edition: 1st

Publisher: Routledge

Place Published: London

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9780415301596