I took this photo in Istanbul on a visit in 2009, whilst exploring the back streets of an industrial area on the Galata shoreline (truth be told I was hopelessly lost). A courtyard between several manufacturing premises had been adapted into a communal area, serviced by this shared tap adjacent to the entrance arch. The tap itself had been crudely manufactured from some rusted machinery parts bolted to the top of what appeared to be a magnificent stone Corinthian capital.
I will defer to the knowledge of any Turkish architectural scholars as to what period in the Istanbul’s history this remnant may survive from, but it struck me as a great metaphor for the city. Heritage seems to be much more aggressively defended here in the UK, where almost everything historic is seemingly revered with little regard to its actual value. So to see an artifact of this type being reused in such a pragmatic matter-of-fact manner made me laugh out loud; Imagine a city so steeped in antiquity that you are forever tripping over column heads as you fill your buckets with water.
It is also a great example of the ‘make do and mend’ mentality that gives a lot of historic cities their unique character; tiny alterations and adaptations over months and years soon become centuries of accreted growth, and result in a gloriously complex urban texture that simply cannot be planned and built from scratch. Whilst it is fundamental that we guard the surviving historic material around us with listings and legal protection, these safeguards must never stifle our cities as they move forward. Cities are in a state of constant inevitable change, and the most honourable thing to do would be to continue in the tradition by which we arrived at our current state; using the materials and buildings to hand to meet the current and future needs of our shifting cultures. In certain well justified instances that might involve a less romantic stance on issues of heritage. To interact with, inhabit and make use of our ancient buildings is a much more enriching way to live than merely being afforded the opportunity to view them from behind a glass screen.
I love historic architecture, and I love seeing it re-used. Let’s take the capital out of the museum and nail a tap to it.