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February 10, 2019


Gonca Pasolar
Gonca Pasolar

Gonca Pasolar is the Chief Operating Officer and a senior architect at Emre Arolat Architecture (EAA), a leading architecture firm based in Istanbul with studios in London and New York. She recently visited Karachi as one of the jury members for the ADA Awards (Architecture Design Art) 2018-2019.

The EAA was established by Emre Arolat and Pasolar in 2004, when her career as a junior architect had just begun. At the firm, she was soon leading multiple projects with her own team, and eventually began sharing responsibilities with Arolat as a managing partner. As part of EAA, she has worked on various large-scale projects, which have received international attention and critical acclaim. However, she personally considers the Dalaman Airport in Turkey as one of the most significant projects of her career. “It was an important milestone for me, a huge learning experience, especially in terms of construction. It was initiated in 2004 and I had only been at the office for a couple of years. In a short period of time, I oversaw the various project stages, and was travelling to the site for revision once every week, so it became a second university for me. It has a very consequential place in my heart,” she says.

In terms of global recognition and critical acclaim, the Sancaklar Mosque is the firm’s most celebrated project. “It is a small building, yet it has been the most widely publicised and discussed project we have done, she says. It’s not like normal mosques. It strips away the cultural burdens and goes back to the roots, capturing the essence of praying. We tried to forget all that we know about a mosque and started from zero. It’s a place to be alone with God and free from ornaments.”

Turkish architect Gonca Pasolar in Karachi recently as part of an awards jury, reflects the significance of architecture for cities such as Karachi

This is a philosophy that Pasolar embraces in all her projects, unlearning everything she knows about a space and trying to understand it. Contextualisation and catering to the surroundings is an important aspect of architecture for her. “At the office we always design in a contextual manner, according to the history, culture, tradition, climate, topography, even socio-economic conditions, because architecture cannot be free from these. We try to smell the scent of the trees and the murmur of the sights,” she says.

In Karachi, her favourite building is the Habib University campus. “Its inner and outer spaces and flowing connections between function and design make it a successful piece of architecture in my opinion,” she says. Yet, she felt that the city as a whole lacks urban spaces that bring the public out and create a sense of communal living. “It’s important to design the void in a city, she says. Just putting up a building and leaving the rest empty doesn’t make a city. The best cities in the world are where one can walk freely on the roads and the urban space belongs to the public.”

The Sancaklar Mosque
The Sancaklar Mosque

However, Pasolar was unable to see much of the city in her short stay as the Award schedule kept her occupied. She found the experience to be quite pleasant and was happy to see “a real embracement of the projects by the public and a strong relation of the projects with the context of the city.” She was also pleased to see several social responsibility projects, which is something the city really needs at the moment.

Gonca Pasolar with other guests at the ADA Awards 2018-19
Gonca Pasolar with other guests at the ADA Awards 2018-19

Maria Aslam, the founder and chief editor of ADA — Architecture Design Art — magazine, took the opportunity of its 10th anniversary to reflect on the past decade, and question the lack of focus on proper recognition for our talented minds. She conceived the ADA Awards as a platform to allow creative practitioners to come into the national limelight, and propel their image and relevance internationally.

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 10th, 2019