MuuM Architects took inspiration from traditional Anatolian architecture to design a new HQ for the Turkish Association of Notaries
Ask anyone in the private sector about the civil service and they will probably mutter about bloated bureaucracy and overlong red tape. No surprise that reining in government spending has featured heavily in political manifestos this month. Not so in Turkey, it would seem, as Istanbul-based architects MuuM have just helped the expanding Turkish Association of Notaries settle into new headquarters in the Sogutozu district on the outskirts of Ankara.
Prior to this the organisation was based in the city centre, but an expanding workforce had left their small 1970s office building creaking at the seams. So in 2003 the government held a national competition inviting practices to design them a shiny new workspace. Needless to say, MuuM scooped first place, but it wasn’t until 2006 that they got the go-ahead to, well, go ahead with the project.
The district itself posed its own set of architectural questions. The site was at the centre of a developing business district, which is still at an embryonic stage.
Architectural frames of reference being virtually non-existent, the practice decided to mine Anatolia’s deep cultural history for inspiration.
What they came up with was a modern interpretation of a traditional Persian caravanserai, a kind of roadside retreat for weary travellers, tinkers and traders. With Ankara slap bang in the middle of Anatolia, an allusion to Ottoman design seemed the logical step. Having settled on an aesthetic, the second challenge was to create a structure that was an open and inviting place, yet shielded the occupants from the din of a large neighbouring car mechanics and two main roads connecting the district with Ankara’s busy centre.
“We liked the natural materials because they stand for warmth and transparency”
“There were no favourable surroundings to be accounted for contextually,” explains Umut Iyigün, the project architect.
What the site did have, in among its new builds and scorched grass, was a surprising amount of greenery. Therefore, MuuM decided to open up the southern elevation facing this vegetation. “The basic idea was to engineer around a courtyard with an opening on the fourth side, with the working spaces located on three sides of the building.”
On the west elevation, three floors of office space extend out above a curved recessed wall at the main entrance, which doubles as an exhibition space. The practice chose neutral white for the building’s concrete mass, contrasting with the timber and glazed facades.
“They (the notaries) have to be equal to all the people. We liked the natural materials because they stand for warmth and transparency,” explains Iyigün.
Improving communication was a substantial factor of the brief, so naturally the central courtyard had to be as inclusive as possible. Workers can wander out from the glazed ground floor restaurant and tuck in at the plethora of tables dotted about the landscaped garden. “A gathering place for everyone,” is how the practice describes it. A large screen at the south opening allows the space to be used as an open-air cinema.
Inside, a full-height atrium bridges the gap between the working and social spaces, which are linked by a formidable timber and steel staircase.
A winter garden links the courtyard with the interior. The transparency the practice strived for is somewhat compromised by the extensive steelwork lattice that supports the structure. At first glance, this feature seems unnecessary, that is, until one takes into account this is earthquake territory. Terra-not-so-firma, if you will.
“This is really too ugly for us,” explains Iyigün. “We are not so happy with the steel columns and bearings, but we have a lot of regulations to follow.”
“There were no favourable surroundings to be accounted for contextually”
This safety-first approach is apparent throughout the structure. The offices hovering over the main entrance are supported by steel columns, as is the third-floor cuboid meeting pod that juts out over the courtyard.
“It is the directors’ meeting room so we wanted it to be different,” says Iyigün.
The practice also wanted it to cantilever, but these hopes were again dashed by the volatility of the Earth’s crust. Hidden below the courtyard is a large conference hall, decked out in acoustic panelled timber, which can seat the entire 500 strong workforce.
The offices themselves are predominantly open-planned affairs with views over both the courtyard and the surrounding area. According to Iyigün, the association is planning yet further expansion so the workplaces needed to be as flexible as possible. The spaces benefit from natural light and external louvers prevent the notaries from overcooking. Any excess heat is dissipated through the atrium roof, ensuring a constant flow of fresh air.
Sustainability does not feature too prominently in Turkey’s architectural compendium, but MuuM tried to push the agenda by using local materials where it could.
For example, the large information desk was constructed from local stone and the steps were made from chestnut wood from the Black Sea region.
“It (the wood) was aged in rivers to make it more stable. In fact, it is the same material they use to make rowing boats,” says Iyigün.
Elsewhere, rainwater was recycled to water the winter garden and assorted greenery. Being a government scheme, budget was never likely to be a problem, but a large budget coupled with an awkward client does not make for a happy working relationship. Thankfully for MuuM, the client knew and respected their role in proceedings.
“We were lucky,” says Iyigün. “What makes a good project is a good client. They gave us permission to do what we want and that is not a common thing.”