An iconic cultural center in Istanbul’s Taksim Square will be rebuilt anew as an opera house, scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on Nov. 6.
Speaking at the Haliç Congress Center to introduce the project, Erdoğan said the new Atatürk Cultural Center, known by its Turkish initials AKM, would become a “symbolic” site of Istanbul.
The president expressed regret over delays in the starting of construction of the new AKM building, which has been closed for many years.
Erdoğan compared people who are against rebuilding the AKM to “those who are trying to prevent Turkey’s fight against terror organizations,” claiming they are “the same.”
Those who will go to the new AKM the most are “those who have tried to sabotage the rebuilding project for many years,” he also said, referring to protests against controversial previous plans for the site.
“We know very well that resistance to the rebuilding of this structure stems from ideological obsessions, not cultural or artistic sensitivity,” Erdoğan said.
“After protests, court cases and commotion, the path of science, intelligence and rationality has prevailed,” he added.
The new project will be led by architect Murat Tabanlıoğlu, the son of one of the building’s first architects, Hayati Tabanlıoğlu.
Murat Tabanlıoğlu said opera houses are often places where only rich elites go, “but they should be places where everyone can go.”
“God willing, it will become an honor and symbol for Istanbul and our country,” Erdoğan said, adding that it shows “we take strength from history.”
The Ataturk Cultural Center, which was first designed as a theater building by French architect Auguste Perret, was built in 1946.
The building was destroyed when a fire broke out during a play in 1970. It was reopened in 1977.
Turkey registered the center as an “urban protected area” in 1993 and it was declared a protected cultural landmark in 1999.
In 2007, a report from Turkey’s Sakarya University stipulated that the building needed to be renovated.
Plans for a reconstruction were eventually scrapped due to a Turkish court decision. The tender for the reconstruction, which had been issued by the Culture Ministry, was then halted in 2013.
The new cultural center will boast a 2,500-person capacity and giant screens will display shows outside the building, Erdoğan said on Nov. 6.
In the same speech, he also announced that Taksim Square would eventually become entirely pedestrianized, stopping traffic from reaching the new Atatürk Cultural Center.