31 October 2008

The cul-de-sac

private streets, public spacesHavva Alkan Bala and Hassina Nafa
The curving, narrow streets which give you the feeling of an old town may sometimes lead to somewhere or may not. A dead end road is not a cul-de-sac, neither is it a dead-and-street. It certainly isn’t the second one. It is obvious that a culture like this has not experienced such a dead end road. A young child who sits looking out of a window on to a dead end road will never get bored. This is the sitting room of the neighbourhood. Even though it may seem like the houses in the street are leaning against each other, once you walk through the garden gates you can feel the independence. Some are gardens, some are just backyards. Whichever type it is, it is just a sitting room with four tall walls around it but doesn’t have a ceiling. —Balamir 1994

cities are composed of buildings, open spaces between buildings and the streets that connect them. These elements are arranged in a way that reflects their culture. Cul-de-sacs in traditional Anatolian cities represent Ottoman as well as Islamic city culture. Although mediaeval European cities have similar dead-end streets, the usage and the approach to cul-de-sac phenomenon have been completely different. In the traditional urban texture of Anatolian cities the cul-de-sac is a semi-public street safe for children and a semi-private social space for adults: it is well known that crime is less predominant in such urban layouts: cul-de-sac in the Islamic/Ottoman context is to do with segregation, privacy through space, hierarchy and control.
In modern cities, cul-de-sacs are not much appreciated in streets designed for motor vehicles. Although the cul-de-sac has a function as a transitional space between public and private space, they are disappearing in modern cities.

Cul-de-sac is defined in architecture and urban design literature as ‘the street pattern open only in one side and connected to other larger streets’. (Keles 1999), (Sözen ve Tanyeli 1992) (Figure 1).
In Western logic cul-de-sac triggers something not positive: dead-end street, blind alley, blind path are used alongside cul-de-sac, namely dead, numb, dead, lazy, sluggish, lethargic, shiftless, indolent ways (Keles 1999). Cul-de-sac is either a semi-private or semi-public road for residential groupings with only one-way access.

Traditional Anatolian cities were organic, free, rhythmic, not geometric (Aru 1998). The pattern of traditional residential areas was 1-3 floors, having a courtyard belonging to house and a cul-de-sac, curved, narrow and full of bends (Aktüre 1978). The cul-de-sac pattern gives to users a sense of belonging, a territory where they feel safe and protected. The public, semi-public, semi-private and the private overlap (Stewing 1966) (Figure 2).

The growth of these cities occurred in two ways (Figure 3). The first way was the filling the gaps (graveyards and un-constructed areas) in the city pattern. The second way appeared as an expansion of urban settlement areas out at the edges (Raymond 1995).
Under Ottoman rule, people and animals that carry loads used the Anatolian city (Schwarz 1959) — cabriolets were either limited or used on the main road (Yerasimos 1996), hence the roads are generally narrow and change direction frequently (Schwarz 1959). Narrow and broad streets follow each haphazardly, their dead ends have short or long branches and widely varying widths.
Dead ends, divided from each other by gates according to their value and ethnicity, are a civic transportation system organised through closed districts. Ethnic or denominational differences hold the potential for social conflict. Such mixed districts are divided from each other by doors and walls that construct a cul-de-sac (Lapidus 1967), (Stewing 1966) (Figure 4). As well, neighbourhood and family relations affect urban patterns, particularly when a son gets married an extension is added to the house of the family. These extensions make a cul-de-sac by attaching two separate houses (Figure 5) — not legal but it in line with constitution and traditions (Yerasimos 1996).
Dead ends seen in Mediaeval cities (Mumford 1989), (Morris 1979), (Moughtin 1992) do not share the same peculiarities with the cul-de-sac of Anatolian Ottoman and Islamic cities. According to Stewing (1996), Islam attaches more importance to private property rights than public property as long as such rights do not directly harm other people, and it is Islamic city culture that defined the spatial and physical structure of the cul-de-sac. Islamic cities are not spaces one can bypass from one point to another, one quarter to another as one wishes. There is a soft, gradual and hierarchic transition from the most public spaces such as the mosque or bazaar, the square or large street through the garden gate to the most private spaces of garden and house. Oleg Graber defines Islamic cities as ‘human-faced’ where cold laws disguise humanistic warmth in streets (Armagan 1996). Although urban and rural areas are unplanned and uncontrolled due to absolute individualistic interests at the forefront in housing, and positioning according to parcel of land (Cerası 1999), this too is a reflection of Islam. Stefan Yerasimos (1996) in this context clarifies this warmth in a legal dimension.
The status of dead end is a wonderful example in terms of the priority of the rights of natural person. The partnership of property in dead end is not monotype; every resident is the partner of the property, which starts from the entrance of dead end and ends in the threshold of his house. Therefore he cannot enlarge his threshold towards the dead end without the approval of the other owners of the property. The area of the dead end, which is getting more private towards the inner area, becomes the private property of the owner located at the end. Social status of the street residents follows a decreasing order towards the open end (Yerasimos 1996).
In Islamic cities private property is more important than public property and the border concept is shaped through this understanding. The concept of boundary separating private and public property in Islamic cities is called fina, and is used in place of border, which means the progressive transfer from one unit to another. The phenomenon of cul-de-sac, turns the public area into private area in accordance with the fina enabling the transfer from one property to another in Islamic law (Yerasimos 1996). It is a kind of privatisation process of public usage based on the agreement of property owners of buildings that have a surface facing towards the cul-de-sac. (Stewing 1966, Yerasimos 1996). The owner of private property can occupy the street in front of his private property; moreover he can have the right to use this area permanently. Therefore, this street becomes his fina. Two neighbours facing one another may break off the road and divide it into two dead ends with the permission of the street residents. These two dead ends become the property of the residents. Thus, people in this area could privatise a public area.
Administrative, legal and economic alterations were observed in Anatolian countries under the rule of Ottomans after the 1839 proclamation of ‘Tanzimat’ which was a series of Western-influenced regulations (Denel, 1982). These alterations comprise the transforming of the traditional Ottoman city pattern into a grid by deteriorating traditional city patterns. The social logic which creates cul-de-sac has become ‘the other’, starting from the Tanzimat period. When new spatial hierarchies were taken into consideration, the modern city lost the cul-de-sacs as interface.

mots dernieres
Modern movements in architecture and city planning have contributed to the neglect of the street and its architecture. Le Corbusier was one of the main offenders claiming that streets no longer worked and we have to create something that will replace them. One of the significant problems of today’s cities is the sharp-edged transition between private and public space. The cul-de-sac has offered a traditional solution to this sharp-edged transitional problem, with particular buildings between public and private spaces, which provide soft, gradual and hierarchic transition.

Bala, Havva Alkan and Hassina Nafa. 'Turkey: the cul-de-sac. Private Streets, Public Spaces' On Site review, no. 19 Spring/Summer 2008
©Havva Alkan Bala, Hassina Nafa and On Site review

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