16 July 2008

Urban Settlement: Ermenek, Turkey

Selçuk Sayin and Esra Yaldiz
Selçuk Universitesi Muhendislik-Mimarlik Fakultesi
Mimarlik Bolumu Kampus, Konya, Turkey

Cities are places where the relations between yesterday and today are traced and where people identify themselves by different place-structures. A city’s own personality is directly affected by ideology and movements in specific periods, something particularly outstanding in traditional settlement units.
A society can be defined as a cultural vicinity or an architectural vicinity. Streets, areas and houses reflect processes that form the physical environment as an accumulation of technological, economic and social status, social preferences, movements and religious perspectives, plus personal interest and necessity despite restrictions imposed by nature. People interact with culture as required: it is a communication tool between human beings and the environment. This is how place is determined.
Anatolia has had numerous civilisations, each one leaving traces on its cities. Ermenek, where traditional fabric is not yet corrupted, is one of the most significant cities in the region surrounded by Antalya in the west, Isparta-Burdur and Konya in the north, Seyhan and Ceyhan Rivers in the east and the Mediterranean to the south. Ermenek is an ancient town on the Ermenek River and has been a hub for the area throughout history.
Urban settlement sits on south-facing lower mountain slopes with a Mediterranean climate. Main economic activities are agriculture (cereals, industrial farming, horticultural production and viticulture), stock breeding, small-scale industry, trade and mining. Crafts include textiles, shoemaking, tailoring, ironwork, woodwork, rugs and copper work.
Because Ermenek has been a significant historical centre, its traditional city fabric shows interesting surprises in the integration of city and the green valleys of the Taurus Mountains. Although physical characteristics play an important role in shaping overall city structure, how people live is different from community to community, according to culture and social structure. As a result, various traditional fabrics have typologies based on identical principles with completely different uses. For example, parallel streets laid out topologically on lower mountain slopes are linked by steep streets and steps. These share in the formation of traditional Ermenek house fabric which reflect an integration of geographical circumstances, family structure and overall characteristics in the society.

Ermenek houses, spilling over the hillside, generally have two floors with animals housed on the bottom. These houses resemble steps stretching over the hillside: the roof of one house is the yard for another house. In some parts of the city, houses hang from rock faces: house façades are made of wood and supported with angle braces driven into the rock.
Roads cut into the hillsides allow one to enter houses over the streets. On main streets, upper floors are lived in while the ground floor is left as a covered passage ensuring the vivacity of the street. Streets are narrow and often end with a house, making a blind street.
Building materials in Ermenek houses include stone for the basement and load-bearing walls; wood floors, walls, cupboards, agzı açık, doors, windows and building frames; soil in roof coats and stucco; mine for mallets, door grab bars, decorations on doors and windows, and lime on the cooker and walls.

Culture, as a concept, is a complete package composed of production and consumption relations followed by beliefs, values, norms, perception, uses and customs. It can be regarded as a type of infrastructure regulating social and individual behaviours. Belief systems, ethnic roots, regional factors and interaction with other communities assume an important role in formation of culture’s structure.
Traditional societies gradually form and sustain their ways of building in ways that go beyond features of the specific region in which they live. Communities stick to their own tradition of place even if they migrate to a different physical environment — in other words they bring to their new habitat the building production of their previous habitats. Traditions of ‘cultural place’ resist environmental changes because the act of creating a place is realised in accordance with a world view. Beliefs and contemporary technology, geographical conditions of the place and materials can be both derivative and climate-determined.
Families used to live together in Turkish culture. Children did not leave home after marriage: this newly-formed family was allocated a room in the house. The room given to the little family had a wardrobe bed and a bathroom in the wardrobe bed. A musandere, above the wardrobe beds, stored dried summer food for the winter.
The sofa, connecting inner and outer places in houses, is the focus of household living in the summer. Domestic production activities, imposed by Turkish agricultural economy, take place here. The ground floor is generally kept for storage and service — there is a cooker for baking bread on the ground floor and other units such as animal housing, kitchen, and other service facilities that housewives spend most of the day with. Ambars (storehouses) are built on the ground floor for keeping wheat.

Studies of culture and human-made environments claim that buildings constitute an inseparable part of the culture and are a product of it at the same time. House-form is a complex result of socio-cultural influences dependent on factors such as climate, defence systems and building and construction technologies. Ermenek houses are models of traditional architecture shaped by regional features, culture and geography. Although ensuring physical contingency means the preservation of living environments rather than physical forms, it is highly important to conserve these fabrics shaped with such local characteristics.

Sayin, Selçuk and Esra Yaldiz. 'Ermenek'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Selçuk Sayin and On Site review

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