City Games propose earthquake–proofing

Yap-Yaşa is a business and design game for decentralised urban transformation for Istanbul.

purpose: unlocking conversations on urban transformation amongst various stakeholders
client: European Capitol of Culture, ECOC Istanbul 2010
partner: DUS Architects
engagement: Over 80 major players from Istanbul’s Sariyer, Kartal and Arnavutkoy districts
project duration: July 2009-October 2010
area size: 2 hectare city blocks in 3 districts

Urban Challenge

In the last two decades, urban transformation linked to the impending threat of a violent earthquake and urban gentrification is dominating Istanbul’s urban agenda. The critical question remains: Which parties will take the lead in conducting a transformation task on such an enormous scale? Istanbul has a strong tradition of self-building and densifying in the last fifty years. Can the ongoing tradition of bottom-up city making undertake such a technically challenging question? With Turkey’s changing politics and an ever-centralizing planning system, the question arises whether an Ankara-centered top-down model will entirely replace self-organizing mechanisms to fulfil the transformation assignment. If that will be the case, how will consultation of millions of inhabitants, small and medium scale developers, contractors and investors occur?

We created Yap-Yaşa to highlight burning questions with a vision for generating alternatives to centrally organised production of the city.

Projected Urban Transformation for Istanbul 2023
Projected Urban Transformation for Istanbul 2023


In preparing Yap-Yaşa, building trust amongst stakeholders: visiting most of them and convincing them to join the play sessions took as much time as inventing, designing, building and testing the play interface. Our correspondents, Muge Yorganci and Ulas Akin in Istanbul, built a network of individuals and institutions to support the play sessions while we were busy designing the play narrative, rules and conditions -and the hardware- the play table and units. Our correspondents joined forces with Istanbul Metropolitan Planning Organization -IMP, the Mimar Sinan University, Turkey Architects and Engineers Association TMMOB and the Amber Platform, a new media institution in Karakoy. IMP provided us with mapping and data about Istanbul, Mimar Sinan helped with reaching out to the NGOs and resident’s organizations, TMMOB provided their network of planners, designers and local governments, Amber Platform provided us with a debate platform and their location as a ‘neutral’ ground in which to welcome all players.
As the project was part of the official Istanbul European Capital of Culture 2010 -ECOC program and the Dutch Consulate was one of the funders of the project, we used these institutions as a framework through which to reach out big players such as TOKI, investors, developers and the Transformation Department of Istanbul Greater Municipality. The correspondence with these official institutions evolved slowly and required extra attention and perseverance to introduce them to, and convince them of, our unusual method.

Yap-Yaşa events in Istanbul continued for 10 days: 3 days of building the setting and organization meetings with locals; 5 days of play sessions, two of which for internal tests; 2 days of public lectures and debates, and 1 day of spontaneous outdoor play with the public in Karakoy Square.

Projected Urban Transformation for Istanbul 2023 based on YapYasa Vision
Projected Urban Transformation for Istanbul 2023 based on YapYasa Vision - Yapyasa’s outcomes photoshopped on the satellite image of Istanbul between 2012 and 2023.

Project Results

Three Yap-Yaşa sessions resulted in various urban blocks, although the agencies scripted in the game are the same. The complex human beings, and their particular ‘real’ context, gave life to the agencies by revealing their own dynamics. The sociopolitical conditions of each district, Sariyer, Kartal and Arnavutkoy, were reflected in the final Yap-Yaşa block. A new assembly of stakeholders from the same locality would generate yet another novel block. Thus the interactive play does not calculate an optimum form for a given neighborhood, yet does facilitate the modeling and understanding complexity of stakeholders and the possible forms that could spring from their power dynamics.

In the Yap-Yaşa game we not only modeled power relations according to reality but also tested an episode with alternative power ties between existing stakeholders. In the first phase, power, or access to building units, was in the hands of the central housing corporation as in reality. In the second episode, power was redistributed to a larger group that included the residents, business owners and contractors. Leveling power and responsibility changed the process of play entirely. Although both episodes depended on the same consensus rule to set the transformation in motion, they turned out differently. In all the game sessions, the first episode ended up deepening urban conflicts and resulted in a lack of decision making, an earthquake, a call for new elections, and the alteration of the set rules of the game. In the second episode, where most players had some form of access to shaping the transforming city block, the negotiation phase took much less time. TOKI and the residents engaged in real co-working. The behavioral change according to the levels of access to resources and influence on the process carries significance for real urban development processes. The controlled self-organization exhibited during the second episode soothed previously polarized urban politics.

The sharing of powers has been inspired by the Chile Elemental project, introduced earlier where due to lack of resources the residents were brought into to process of urban transformation. For the Yap-Yaşa case, not exactly the scarcity of resources but the necessity of collaborative decision making through the ’50% rule’ worked constructively. This could be a democratic and well-informed track for Istanbul to reinvent its own self-organizing process in urban development.

The role-play aspect of the Yap-Yaşa game gave the process of play its autonomous input. By role-playing, participants could reveal their own background knowledge and experience. Releasing such input would be difficult to stimulate through game rules. Freeing players and giving them space to introduce their own perspectives is necessary alongside strict game rules. We observed that players used this freedom to invent new conditions such as demanding new elections as in the second sessions or lowering density as in the third session.

Media Coverage

Yap-Yaşa at the Turkish National NewsPaper Radikal
Yap-Yaşa as a new word was added to the urbanism terminology. Read the urban dictionary Ekşi Sozluk Entry