Type: Disaster Education Institute (competition entry)
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Size: 34,000 m2
Design: 2011
Structure: Silman 
Mechanical/Sustainability: ARUP

The Istanbul Earth Centre is conceived as an abstract landscape, with the building arising and spreading from the earth organically—a contemporary nod to the mountain ranges of ancient Cappadocia. We imagined a huge massing of earth being lifted or extracted from the ground. Resisting the impulse to create a vertical object, we chose instead to design the structure in direct relation to its ground, its site and its surrounding area, striving for a strong connection with the earth.

Comprised of vertical steel shipping containers assembled together in a dynamic honeycomb pattern, the sculptural volume of the Istanbul Earth Centre is represented by a strong, sloping incline, resembling a man-made hill from afar. This incline and resulting overhang offers strong interaction as visitors approach and begin engaging with the structure. The orientation of the structure’s ground allows direct connectivity to various aspects important to the daily lives of Istanbul citizenry: the pedestrian plaza next to the main entrance serves as a link to a planned mosque next door. In addition, a plaza on the opposite side of the structure offers a cover for car parking and other access points. The Istanbul Earth Centre, in effect, becomes a new destination, as well as a point of activation within the new topography.

The structure for the Istanbul Earth Centre incorporates the basic building blocks of 2,000 (re)used shipping containers into a large stable mass. Voids are removed for visitor access and circulation, as well as to accommodate different programs. The overall structure gains its stability from the large number of containers all tightly connected to one another that, through the transfer of basic horizontal shear forces, form an effectively deeper overall structure. The voids in the mass are spanned locally by smaller clusters of containers that, like corbelling bricks of ancient construction, often arch over the openings and work through simple shear and axial transfer. Overall, the cantilevered end is supported by deep lines of built up containers that find their way continuously between voids and reach from a secure base on the grounded end to the edge of the cantilever.

The structure largely relies upon the understood strength of each container; the shear and axial transfer between each container (at force levels significantly less than those experienced in a heavy sea); and the basic principles of structure that underlie beam action; cantilevered structures; and arches. Constructed almost entirely of Corten steel, the centre’s assembly produces a strong and durable structure that lends itself to positively withstanding extreme environmental pressures, such as seismic, wind and varying temperatures. This imaginative repurposing of the shipping container expresses the dynamic innovation embodied by the Istanbul Earth Centre.