01 Oct 2022
Burak Pekoglu

Having completed his undergraduate in Architecture Department at the State University of New York, where he was accepted with an international student achievement scholarship; Burak Pekoğlu, who received his master’s degree from Harvard University’s Faculty of Architecture (Graduate School of Design), has many award-winning projects shaped by his innovative design approach. He continues to realize his inspiring works in his design and research-oriented studio BINAA (Building Innovation Arts Architecture) in Istanbul. He aims to combine the experiences he gained in the international offices he has worked with the potentials that are open to discovery in Turkey and to be fed from different perspectives by bringing together talented designers. We talked to Burak Pekoğlu about his career journey, current projects, and experiences with natural stone materials.

How did your relationship with natural stone begin and continue in your architectural journey?

Burak Pekoğlu: In my practical life after school, my adventure with natural stone formed the basis for establishing my own professional office. I have been in the USA for about 10 years, 7 years of which I studied architecture at the State University of New York, and 3 years of my master’s degree at Harvard. There is an architectural education in the USA where materials and applications are integrated. I was that I had the opportunity to get to know different materials at school. After that, I worked with wood, metal, and stone by drawing and cutting.

Argül Weave is located in an old textile industrial zone in Bursa, which was restructured with urban transformation, and the employer wanted the building to be planned as a leading center for the international textile industry. Can you tell us about the process of the project?

BP: After school, I started working in César Pelli’s office in the USA. While working on a skyscraper project in Malaysia for two years, a request came from Turkey, on the occasion of an acquaintance. A textile employer in Bursa requested a concept project for his existing building. When we met with him, he conveyed that he wanted a natural stone façade, so the request came with the material. I was thinking about how to push the limits with the textile structure, and the idea of ​​​​a knitted facade design was developed. Then, when I modeled this knitted 3-dimensional geometric structure and presented it to him, the employer loved the idea and said, “Let’s do this!”. When I received such demand while I was doing a skyscraper project in Malaysia, I started to think about how I would do it and use natural stone for the first time, and I don’t know the material. When I got stuck on this subject, I consulted with my teacher, Frank Gehry’s ex-partner Edwin Chan; he referred me to Matthew Fineout. Matthew is an invaluable architect who has worked for Frank Gehry for 10 years and is an expert in geometry. When I talked to him, he liked the idea very much, he said I would be happy to support it and we started to solve this project together. I am researching how we can do this job in Turkey, on the one hand, we coordinate the drawings and details with Matthew in the USA. Thanks to Matthew, there is serious know-how behind me, I also have energy and motivation and we started doing it. This project was a big breaking point for me when I was a newly graduated young architect and I was thinking that we probably wouldn’t be able to do it.

What would you say about the sculptural and dynamic form of the building that evokes the textile texture? What kind of building technology was used, especially in the placement of natural stone panels on the facade?

BP: It was a serious process with doing the calculations and details of the steel construction and anchoring of the stone, sketches, workshops, etc. On the other hand, we were investigating employers who could cut the stone and make the detail we wanted. In fact, we went to the Marble İzmir Fair at that time and they made fun of us that we couldn’t do this job in Turkey. The more we heard about it, the more ambitious we got and continued our research. Some of the big companies said that they could do this job, but they couldn’t realize the details we wanted. Then a company consisting of a father, son and uncle in Afyon solved our project and made its model. When we saw that we went to Afyon from the USA. Of course, it was a very difficult job as it was a detail related to geometry and stone processing. We formed the stone there with a 3D CNC process, and then we wanted to combine that form in space geometry with the shape of a wolf’s mouth. Therefore, they used both the machine and their hands in the assembly, as it was a really compelling detail. They are a very talented team that can shape the stone. In that sense, Argül Weave became a project where crafts and technology came together. We were making 3D models and drawings accordingly, and we were trying to produce this work with different know-how. Because the work was risky, when we went to the field, the stones we cut had to fit exactly, like Lego, with a tolerance of 2 mm. The steel team had to produce the steel from which we would hang the stones, as we did. Because we are talking about a 200-ton façade; 60 tons of steel, 150 tons of stones. The 3D model has been a means of communication for us and I learned this from Matthew, an architect who came from the culture of Frank Gehry. We were trying to implement this work in very limited and primitive conditions in Turkey. Our customer was a textile manufacturer from Denizli named Ali Arpacı. At the end of the day, we somehow modeled it, confirmed the geometries, and the stones began to hang in place. The whole process took 2.5 years. It was our first job in terms of application, but in the end, the form we made in the model emerged exactly. At the end of the day, it turned out to be a truly extraordinary and challenging task. We started to think that if we could do this job in Turkey, we could do other jobs as well, and it was a great source of motivation for me. “Weave” became a project that describes not only the form there but also the process. When we say knitting, we actually knit many things; knowledge, opportunities, mastery, craft, technology… We were able to create a platform where we could bring together different subjects, different teams, communicate through a digital model, and after this project, we have come to a point where we specialize in stone.

What would you say about your design approach? What do you think are the qualities that make your projects different?

BP: First of all, if I have to emphasize the education side of the job, my curiosity about materials and how to transfer what I draw to a product, to production has always pushed me to research. We try to use stone frequently and in different ways in projects; because natural stone is a really special material. You have to do the math, framing, and calculations of the job correctly and use it in the appropriate place. There are many parameters in the stone selection, it is not a standard product. We use the stone outside the standard with special dimensions. There have been 7-8 projects we have done since Argül Weave, and all are special in terms of stone used. When we did the Argül Weave, there weren’t many examples that combined technology and craft and used stone in a different way. There were old-style masonry structures. In other words, we did an international job, and the project was indeed featured in many publications outside of Turkey. After that, being able to say that we can do this job in Turkey opened up potential, and with my own field of interest and education background, I wanted to be able to do more extraordinary and visionary works here in Turkey in an international format and transfer them to both the youth and the sector. Because our duty as designers or architects is to be a catalyst in a sense; to build a bridge between industry, employer and design. In this context, I aim to create some new ideas and add different values ​​to the environment with the projects carried out. It is important for me to do projects that are permanent, adding value to its environment and providing quality to the user with the details made.

How important is the natural stone that you often choose to use in your designs, and what is your perspective on this material as an architect?

BP: Stone is a proven material for centuries. I was at a frontline conference in New York recently; the most talked about materials there were stone and wood, as they have the lowest carbon emissions. When we look at the past, and Mimar Sinan, whom I was very inspired by, all his buildings are made of natural stone, marble and lead. Looking at his mosques, there are 4 materials on the palette of Mimar Sinan; lead, stone, glass and wood. These materials live for centuries and have proven themselves. Therefore, it is necessary to use the stone in as many different ways as possible. When we look at the examples in the past, we are quite backward in this regard. They are not very economical materials, but if we solve this with the right mathematics and feasibility, we can control the cost in the long term with a correct project. Of course, we have responsibilities towards the employer, if we inflate the cost too much, we cannot do that job. But with good calculation and mathematics, we can mobilize this job and get it approved by the employer.

Which regions’ natural stones do you prefer in your projects, what are the determining criteria in your selections?

BP: We give priority to local stone in our projects. After Argül Weave, we have the Serdivan housing project, where we use Denizli travertine again. In S2OSB, we used Tundra gray marble and Denizli travertine for the interior floor, basalt for the exterior floor, and Muğla marble for the entrance. It became a quality mosque belonging to that region, modest and at the same time balancing daylight between interior and exterior. It is necessary to use the stone more often and in different ways. Unfortunately, that culture is weak in our country. We mainly use artificial, industrial materials. Considering their production costs, natural stone is a material we would like to use in every project; on the floor, on the wall, on the facade, and in wet areas. Also, it is necessary to use the natural stone according to its type and characteristics. It is important to understand and research the stone very well; because each stone has different performative properties. The stones to be used on the facade and in the wet areas are different from each other. At this point, it is necessary to master the material knowledge. As you do business, you reach this reflex, and predictions are formed accordingly.

Finally, what would you say about your current projects?

BP: We used Denizli travertine together with zinc, again with 3D CNC technology, on the facade of an apartment we are building in Nişantaşı. The building seems to play shadows and it communicates with its surroundings in a different way. Natural stone rotates as a frame in the building in a sculptural format. With the knowledge we gained there, we will use travertine in another office project, No 58 in Bostancı, in a fantastic way, like a relief, with the method we also call carding in three dimensions. The project has been approved, its implementation will begin; it will also be a special project. We also have a project in Çeşme Ovacık where we use recycled local stones from a building and prefer Denizli travertine for the landscape. In the pastoral sense, it will be a house project that we built on an olive grove with its landscape.