Beyazit State Library, the first state library in Turkey, opened in Istanbul in 1884. The space quickly became a haven for books and documents otherwise in danger of being destroyed or ruined in mosques and tombs throughout the country; according to The Culture Trip, it served as an important storehouse during WWI and Turkey’s War of Independence. Today Beyazit’s collection consists of over one million documents and nearly as many books. And, just as the quest for knowledge never ends, Beyazit never stops welcoming new readers and visitors; the library is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Located adjacent to Beyazit Mosque, a structure built by (and named for) Sultan Beyazit II in 1506, the library is situated in a bustling neighbourhood that is rich in historical and architectural wonders. Beyazit Library’s distinct, multi-domed roof has been a prominent part of the old city’s skyline for well over a century; the scholarly and creative materials housed within have served to archive and document the country’s complex, ever-transforming identity.
When the time came to renovate Beyazit, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism looked amongst their own people for visionaries. Tabanlıoğlu Architects, an Istanbul-based architectural firm, were selected to lovingly and creatively breathe new life into the existing structure while keeping an eye fixed on the past.
Tabanlıoğlu Architects was established in 1990 by a father and son team, Hayati Tabanlıoğlu and Murat Tabanlıoğlu. The surname Tabanlıoğlu is something of an institution in the world of Turkish architecture; Dr. Hayati Tabanlıoğlu made waves in the mid-twentieth century with projects like Çankaya Mosque, Erzurum Atatürk University, Atatürk Cultural Center, and İstanbul Atatürk Airport, as well as Galleria, which is known as ‘the first shopping mall of Turkey’. Today the firm develops large projects all over the world, but when it came to the local wonder that is the Beyazit State Library, the vision for renovation was simple: according to the firm, a ‘minimal intervention’ approach would ensure that the spirit of the place survived, while “modern facilities are grafted onto the historic fabric.”
The project included a modest extension, which honoured the existing scale of the building, to the northeast façade. Throughout the interior, visitors will encounter an amalgamation of old and new; bookshelves situated in a geometric glass enclosure juxtapose the rough, aging stone on the walls with the fixed lines of modernity.
The soaring ceilings of the reading room — a pale space flooded with natural light — are painted with ornamental motifs that pay homage to the decorative designs of Turkish culture.
Well-lit, modern glass cases allow for the showcasing of rare books and the curiosities of antiquity.
A glass enclosure over the courtyard offers an unobstructed view of the sky and the neighbouring structures.
According to The Culture Trip, renovations unearthed the remains of a Byzantine church, which the publication describes as a “common occurrence in Istanbul, where so much history still remains to be discovered.” Tabanlıoğlu Architects, in keeping with their minimal intervention approach, chose to showcase these remains with the help of yet another glass enclosure, transforming this library into something of a museum space in which visitors can soak in the history of the city as well as its wealth of written texts.
On your next trip to Istanbul, be sure to set aside an afternoon expressively for wandering through the stacks of Beyazit State Library; between the breathtaking contemporary architecture and relics of Turkish history, you’ll leave feeling more than a little inspired.
Photos: Emre Dörter (Source: Tabanlıoğlu Architects)