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CUMHURYET (ISTANBUL, TURKEY) Newspaper articles about conference
Cumhuriyet, 16 November 2000

Experts form 25 countries are participating in the Conference on  “Lessons to be Learned from Traditional Buildings


Traditions” will beat earthquakes


 The international conference sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, UNESCO and ACOMOS [sic] is taking place at The Marmara Hotel and it hopes to establish traditional buildings, whose construction techniques enabled them to withstand earthquakes, as a source of inspiration in the development of future construction systems





Even if the Ministry of Public Works and Settlement continues to close its ears, even if Supreme Science Council thinks of only “steel-frame concrete buildings” when the word building is uttered and even if some members and directors of the Chamber of Civil Engineers tell to architects who want to learn about and develop traditional building systems along with concrete buildings “you don’t know what you are talking about,” and even if university professors who teach “steel-frame concrete buildings” chastise those who tell them that such buildings are not the only alternative…people with common sense acknowledge the following reality, [they did it] first on the anniversary of the 17 August 1999 earthquake and [they do so] now on the anniversary of the 12 November 1999 earthquake:


“One of the primary reasons that transform earthquakes into major catastrophes is the fact that concrete buildings, which turn the slightest technical error in the construction process into a serious risk, are very common. Traditional buildings, which remained erect during these earthquakes despite their age and state of disrepair and saved the lives of the people who took refuge in them, established a clear enough lesson [for these above mentioned people and institutions] to change their erroneous ways.”



Historical meeting


While we are still in an unbelievable denial and we refuse to receive this lesson and we race to put into effect one after the other new rules and regulations which acknowledge only steel-frame concrete buildings, close to 100 experts from 25 different countries who decided to benefit from “civilizations historical accumulation,” declared the days between 16 and 18 November 2000, days of “reminding Turkey of realities.”


The international conference on “Earthquake Security” that will take place in Istanbul at The Marmara Hotel is sponsored by ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture.  Its main focus is characterized as “lessons to be learned from traditional buildings.”


The main goal of this scientific rendezvous is to develop new construction techniques and models by “making use of history’s gains” and by examining the “experiences” of not only Turkey but other countries as well.  This goal is summarized in the invitation brochure in this way: “Earthquake-resistant old buildings and the building traditions they represent are part of the cultural heritage of where they are located. (…) In the last earthquakes, the thesis and beliefs that steel-frame concrete buildings are more resistant to earthquakes than old and wood-frame buildings have been proven wrong. (…) The fact that the widespread building activities which are largely unauthorized and uncontrolled remain hostage to steel-frame concrete is openly criminal. (…) For this reason, both Turkey and humanity at large have a lot to learn from traditional buildings in their effort to develop new earthquake-resistant construction techniques.”


Actually, even before this important conference was planned, Architectural History expert Stephen Tobriner of the University of California in the US, visited the Marmara-Bolu earthquake region and wrote a report after having investigated closely the steel-frame buildings that collapsed and the traditional buildings that remained erect.


Right after the earthquake, the observations and conclusions we expressed both in this newspaper, Cumhuriyet, and in various activities of the Chamber of Architects, led many engineers, who never had the opportunity or possibility to learn anything beyond steel-frame concrete, to brand us almost “enemies of science” for having “questioned steel-frame concrete.”  The [Tobriner] report was “largely in agreement” with our observations.  Yet, in the generally impoverished Turkish cultural climate, which is devoid of “historical consciousness,” this report did not generate any interest in the public opinion.


The “Tobriner Report,” which is put back on the agenda by the international conference taking place at The Marmara, first explains how much “security” the “experienced” load-bearing systems in traditional buildings provide against earthquakes.  It then gives examples from “the building culture that withstood” in the earthquake region, especially places such as, Düzce, Kaynasli, Ulasli, Degirmendere.  It finally, discusses the subject of “reviving and strengthening the traditional Turkish houses.”


In the coming days, we will mention Stephen Tobriner’s report here in Cumhuriyet, along with the views and assessments expressed in the conference taking place at The Marmara.  In the meantime, we all have the responsibility to pay attention to the upcoming words of these Turkish and foreign experts who are “not conditioned by steel-frame concrete” in their meeting in Istanbul between 16 and 18 November 2000.


One wishes that the Ministry of Public Works and Settlement and its “know-it-all” directors who are unwilling to consider any suggestions, were among the sponsors of the conference… If this were the case, it would not be possible to pass building code for earthquake regions banning wood-frame buildings in a country like Turkey which is the “historical cradle” of wood-frame architecture.





Cumhuriyet,  18 November 2000


The International Conference, where earthquake-resistant building culture has been discussed, is closing today


“Experienced buildings” did not collapse…




“The International Earthquake Security Conference” which focuses on “lessons to be learned from traditional buildings that are not taken down by earthquakes” is coming to an end today.


The conference, which started on 16 November at The Marmara Hotel in Taksim, Istanbul with the participation of approximately 100 experts from 25 countries, is organized by the ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) World Wood Committee.  The conference is also sponsored by ICOMOS Turkey Wood Committee, UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture. Some Turkish companies, such as Yapi Endüstri Merkezi, Tepe Insaat. Some foreign governments, such as Italy, France and Sweden and several foreign corporations are also among its sponsors.


Results will be evaluated


At the opening of the conference, a message from the Minister of Culture [name illegible] was delivered by Nadir Avci, Director General of Safeguarding Cultural and Natural Assets.  He said that “the results” of the evaluations during the three-day conference (attended by Ministry experts) will guide new efforts, which will extend the protection of civil architecture examples beyond a cultural heritage policy and will emphasize their protection for “their contribution to the development of earthquake-resistant architecture.”


The Minister’s message expressed “our wish” that these efforts will “influence” the process of determining technical and legal principles “of the new building code” [that is being developed] by the Ministry of Public Works and Settlement.  After the delivery of the message, the conference began to hear the scientific papers.


The first person who spoke “to welcome” the participants was [illegible name], the Director of UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage Section for European, Asian and Pacific Regions.  He explained how the idea of moving towards concrete buildings on cost grounds was shown to be incorrect and to be, in fact, “more costly” by the recent earthquakes.  [Illegible name] said that this error affected Turkey quite negatively, but his most dramatic point was this: “in the last 50 years, traditional buildings were demolished to be replaced by concrete apartment buildings on the grounds that these latter are more solid. But when these were destroyed by the earthquake what was left were the traditional buildings which have not yet been replaced.”


UNESCO’s Regional Director’s views were “corroborated” by a study which was presented by two participants from Turkey, Demet Gülhan and Inci Özyürük Güney.


Demet Gülhan, who, as a staff member of Iller Bank, participated in the damage assessment efforts conducted by the Ministry of Public Works after the 17 August 1999 earthquake, presented a comparison between steel-frame concrete buildings and traditional buildings in the city of Sakarya.  Inci Özyürük Güney provided the same comparison for the city of Gölcük and its suburbs.  For instance, in the Cumhuriyet district of Adapazari, while concrete buildings with proper permits collapsed, old wood-frame buildings sustained little damage and remained erect.


Similarly, in Gölcük’s heavily damaged sea-side Kavaklar neighbourhood, while concrete buildings “went down: as it were, traditional buildings saved lives.


Same in the world


The results that showed that this reality was the same everywhere else in the world constituted the most important “lessons learned” submissions to the conference. This is because the policies that destroyed the traditional heritage in Turkey were based on a “let’s not stay behind” discourse.  Yet, elsewhere in the world, while traditional buildings withstood earthquakes, modern buildings became the bearer of catastrophes. For example, the Chair of ICOMOS Wood Committee David [last name illegible] (England) stated that traditional buildings do not collapse in an earthquake because “they were developed by experience” and explained this thesis with examples from Nepal, China, the Philippines and Japan.


Randolph Langenbach [?], a participant from the US, reminded the conference that 90 percent of the buildings in the earthquake regions in the US are supported by wood frames.


The conference that is closing today heard these important papers which are critical for Istanbul where a major earthquake is being predicted and for Turkey which is an earthquake country.  The first two days, there were many “empty seats” in the conference hall.  We hope that at least today some of these seats will be filled and more people will see and learn from these sensible and sensitive experts who came here from 25 different countries.




Cumhuriyet,  22 November 2000



They Lectured on Earthquakes using “History”


It has been proven that traditional buildings are “secure”


Foreign experts went back to their countries after presenting their papers which contained the important message that traditional building systems sustained less damage in recent earthquakes both in Turkey and around the world.






The three-day international conference organized by International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture and entitled “Resistance to Earthquake of Traditional Buildings” has ended on 18 November 2000 Saturday with the participants “thanking” the organizing committee.


Turkey should be the one thanking these approximately 100 experts from 25 countries who emphasized “historical heritage” regarding “earthquake security.”


Turkey is a country whose architectural and building history goes back “13 thousand years” and this history has been shared by frequent earthquakes. Hence, the representatives of all three institutions, ICOMOS, UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture agreed that Turkey has the “accumulation” to provide the world with the lessons learned on earthquake-resistant building culture.


Sadly, not only Turkey did not offer such lessons learned [to the world], it also pushed aside this unique wealth of knowledge and experience and chose to be a slave to those “killer concrete weights.”




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