Architectural Production of Leyla Turgut: A Leading Modern Figure

Leyla Turgut’un Mimarlık Üretimi




Leyla Turgut, Woman Architect, Village Institutes, Housing Issue, Social Housing


Leyla Turgut, one of Turkey’s first female architects who contributed to the architecture of the 20th century, was born in 1911in
Istanbul. She lived in Vienna during her childhood and youth. Between 1926 and 1929, she completed high school at the Schottengymnasium. After graduating from high school, she started studying architecture in Vienna. Young Leyla was also a
successful swimmer. She achieved a degree in swimming: On August 18, 1929, she broke the record by swimming the 18-kilometer-long Lake Wörthersee in about nine hours. She founded Vienna’s first women’s ice hockey team in 1930 with her friends from the ice-skating club. Leyla Turgut moved from Vienna to her hometown with her family in 1932. After settling in
Istanbul, she became known for her achievements in swimming. In the 1930s, organizing swimming competitions to attract
attention to aquatic sports was prevalent. Leyla Turgut won all her competitions and broke many records in 1933. The USSR
invited Turkish athletes to compete in 1934. Two female swimmers in the national team, Leyla Turgut and Cavidan Erbelger
were also Turkey’s first national female athletes. In the Turkish National Swimming Competition of 1935, she contributed to
the championship of the Istanbul team with her successes. She started her architectural education at the Academy of Fine Arts
in the mid-1930s again. She gained her first professional experience while still a student: In February 1937, she started
working in the Architectural Practice Bureau, affiliated with the Ministry of Education. The head of the Architectural Practice
Bureau was Bruno Taut, and he was also a professor at the Academy. During the years Leyla Turgut studied architecture,
being a student and a colleague of Bruno Taut influenced her career planning. Taut designed social housing projects that
thousands of Berliners settled in the 1920s. Thus, the issues Leyla Turgut worked on most as an architect were social housing
projects. After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts, she participated in architectural project competitions. While village
institutes, an essential step for rural education, organized architectural design competitions to select the institute buildings in
the early 1940s. She won awards in four design competitions and even the first prize in the Akpınar Village Institute
competition and consulted for building this institute. She also won awards and honorable mentions from other architectural
design competitions between 1944-1946.
On the other hand, she started to work for Istanbul Municipality in the late 1940s. In these years, Istanbul Municipality
developed projects under Henri Prost’s leadership for the city’s modernization and renewal. The most critical urban issue of
the period was the housing problem. As an architect of the Istanbul Municipality, Leyla Turgut worked on the master and
development plans of the housing estates where low-income and poor people can shelter. In addition, with Sahip Özden, she
designed the Selamsız and Koşuyolu social housing that the Municipality built. In the following years, with the activity of the
cooperative dwelling association and Emlak Kredi Bank, these two areas developed further and became essential
neighborhoods of Istanbul.
In the mid-1950s, she established an architectural company with her young associate Berkok İlkünsal. The only known project
they designed together is Okmeydanı IETT Mass Housing. These housing units were among the initial samples of high-rise
residential buildings and Istanbul’s first skyscrapers. In 1965, the German television channel Bayerischer Rundfunk
broadcasted a film about daily life in Turkey. In this television film, there are scenes of Leyla Turgut consulting the
construction works of the Okmeydanı IETT Mass Housing. She briefly explained the living conditions of women in Turkey
before the Republic time in her voice. 1973 was the 50th anniversary of the republic’s proclamation, and the first Istanbul
Festival was a part of the celebrations. The festival’s general manager, in which numerous local and foreign artists performed,
was Leyla Turgut.
She died on March 28, 1988, at the age of 77. Her archive, consisting of valuable photographs and collections, was distributed
to various museums after her death. She did not become a ‘starchitect’ focused on creative designs or following any movements during her career. Consequently, her architectural works have yet to be studied enough, despite much research about her contemporaries. Today, people remember Leyla Turgut with respect as a successful athlete and an intellectual architect. The study aims to examine the life story of a female architect worried about a developing country. Moreover, she worked to find solutions by focusing on the details of her architectural works.