Engineer-Architect vs. Artist-Architect: Fortification of Identities in Architectural Education in the Light of Attempts to Merge ITU and GSA (from the 1930s to 1950s)

Mühendis-Mimar Sanatçı-Mimar’a Karşı




Academy of Fine Arts Architecture Department, Architecture Education, Higher Engineering School Architecture and Building Branch, Istanbul Technical University Faculty of Architecture, School Identity


In the institutionalization process of architectural education in Turkey, İstanbul Teknik Üniversitesi (ITU, Istanbul Technical
University) and Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi (GSA, Academy of Fine Arts) are positioned as representatives of two different
identities. The emphasis of architectural education is on technique (and/or engineering) in the former, and on the arts in the
latter; it is accepted that ITU educates engineer-architects while GSA educates artist-architects. In studies on the history of
architectural education, it is assumed that these schools developed by following their independent paths. It is possible to think
that, in their development processes they gained their architectural school identities of engineer-architects and artist-architects following the nature of the institutions to which they belong. However, the development—even the survival—of these architecture branches (departments/faculties) has not been a smooth-running process. Archival documents and periodicals of the era show the numerous proposals to merge Yüksek Mühendis Mektebi (YMM) Mimari Şubesi (Higher Engineering School Architecture Branch, the predecessor of ITU)/ ITU Mimarlık Fakültesi (Faculty of Architecture) and the GSA Mimari Şubesi. While each merging attempt reveals the influence of the state on the survival of these schools, efforts to prevent these attempts fortify the identities of the schools.
Archival documents and periodicals show that YMM/ITU and GSA came across numerous times from 1930 to 1952. Attempts
to unify two schools, reveal the lack of the state’s budget to allocate to institutions, and when faced with any budgetary
problem the proposed solution is always to merge the schools. The vital importance of benefiting from the state’s resources
necessitates establishing a relationship with the state. During the period, the relationship with the state is far from being a
relationship shaped by laws and regulations and managed with bureaucratic impartiality. Essentially, it includes direct
personal relationships with government officials, and even prime ministers and presidents. The personal characteristic of the
relationship with the state creates a more uncertain environment for the development of schools and increases the conflict
between them.
It is also possible to make the following observation on the positions of the two architectural schools against the state: While it
was proposed to close the newly established branch of YMM in the 1930s and connect it to the GSA, the direction of the
attempts to connect changed after the 1940s. The architectural school which faced the danger of being attached to the other,
was obliged to define its own importance and function before the state. Two main arguments are put forward in the objections
against mergers: The first is having a deep-rooted institutional history and tradition, and training important architects who
took part in the construction of the country within the institutional tradition. The second is the claim to be an institution that
trains architects who will meet the immediate and future needs of the country. Both ITU and GSA have to define the education
they provide and the quality of the architects they educate in a way that distinguishes one from the other in order to make them more important for the state. Essentially, these definitions strengthen the identities of “engineer-architect” and “artistarchitect” schools and place their architectural education in technical education/artistic education contrast.
The technical versus artistic positions of the two schools are mostly owned by the members and graduates of the institutions,
and according to which side they are on, positive or negative values are attributed to these positions. It is necessary to
distinguish the identities of schools that train engineer-architects or artist-architects from the identities of their graduate
architects, and how they define themselves. Although GSA graduates do not use a title such as an artist-architect, the title of
engineer-architect of ITU graduates ensures the continuity of the identity difference.
It can easily be accepted that the source of the engineer-architect/artist-architect school identity difference was based on the
initial formation of architectural education in YMM/ITU and GSA, which were established for different purposes and had
different structures. It is clear that YMM, modeled after European polytechnics, and GSA, modeled after French École Beaux-
Arts, would form architectural education differently. Architectural education programs at YMM and GSA in the early 1930s
are incomparably different. However, both schools underwent many changes in the 1940s and 1950s, and by the late 1950s, the
similarity of the schools’ curriculums made it difficult to place the schools in opposite camps. Despite this, two opposing
identities continue until the 2000s, gaining different appearances.
This study claims that the formation of the “engineer-architect” and “artist-architect” identities owned by ITU and GSA,
beyond the architectural education differences, is the consequence of the state’s efforts to merge the two institutions. The
discourses that are presented to the state and declared to the public in order to survive fortify the school identities.