PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT HANS FONK

Their own symphony orchestra is gradually conquering the musical world, the art collections are slowly taking over all the walls and spaces in the head office, and young artists are being invited to develop their work under the guidance/protection of curators. These are just a few of the cultural activities being developed by the Turkish Borusan conglomerate from Istanbul, under the inspiring leadership of Ahmet Kocabiyik. Since the company was founded in the late 1940s by Asim Kocabiyik, the cultural and educational efforts to enlighten and delight the Turkish people have always been one of the priorities.

The cultural and educational objectives of the group have been the common thread running through the policy since the company was set up by Asim Kocabiyik in the late 1940s. For him, an important guiding principle was to give something substantial back to the community in which he was active. It started with the building of schools, which were donated to the State, and the setting up of education programmes. Cultural objectives were to follow later. Meanwhile Borusan has expanded and currently comprises a conglomerate of companies, including steel production, the exclusive rights in Turkey to represent Caterpillar and BMW (from MINI to Aston Martin), logistic services and distribution and energy. The company has collaborative ventures with ArcelorMittal and Mannesmann, among others. The business is managed by the Holding of which the Kocabiyik family are owners. The group is headed by Ahmet Kocabiyik, who also enthusiastically oversees the visual art activities.

Much of the art collection hangs and stands in the Holding’s head office just outside Istanbul beside the Bosporus. It is an old building – the Perili Kosk – constructed at the beginning of the 20th century. On the roof it has a pavilion-like structure which is designed as an artwork by Ekrem Yalcindag entitled ‘Feels Like Home’.

The interior of Perili Kosk is considerably more modern that the exterior might suggest. The most noteworthy aspect is the art which fills the space. Large modern sculptures and installations, video art and photography, paintings and light installations can be found in literally every available space. To start with, the works were by young, modern, abstract artists, and gradually the collection has acquired international standing.

Today about one-third of the works are procured from Turkish artists, the rest are from other countries, with as yet a slight inclination towards German and Austrian artists. The purchasing policy has evolved from painting to modern media and photography. The art collection is Ahmet Kocabiyik’s undertaking. He is an enthusiastic art aficionado who calls on prominent curators for advice regarding his acquisitions for the Borusan collection. The art collection is the responsibility of the Borusan Holding, but a foundation has been formed for the remaining cultural activities. It resides at Istiklal Caddesi immediately opposite the new Music House and since 1997 goes under the name of Borusan Center for Culture & Arts (BCCA). The foundation belongs to the International Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM) and the European Music Council (EMC), and organises the annual Mediterranean Contemporary Music Days. In that context, Zeynep Hamedi, Ahmet’s sister, is responsible for a great many activities. The BCCA includes the Borusan Philharmonic Orchestra, the Borusan Quartet and Children’s Choir, the Music Library & Scholarship, the Mediterranean Contemporary Music Days and Ertug & Kocabiyik Publications.

The Art Center Istanbul is a building where hand-picked young artists, supervised by curators, can advance their artistic skills. The foundation took a landmark step when it commissioned the renovation of a historic building at Istaklal Caddesi by the architects of GAD, Global Architecture Development of Istanbul and New York. Since 1994 the practice has been headed by Gokhan Avcioglu, assisted by GAD’s global associates. They also designed the Borusan Expedition Center in Istanbul’s Parkoman forest and have now undertaken the Music House, as it is informally called.

The GAD design entailed gutting everything behind the historic façade. The empty space was filled with a transparent box, supported and held together by a light-weight steel frame that is visible in all parts of the six-storey building. Open staircases, glass walls and partially glazed floors create maximum transparency. On the ground floor, the lobby is set behind a glass façade that harmonises with the neighbouring stores. Behind the lobby the first large exhibition and reception hall is located. The first floor is also multifunctional. On the second and third floors there are concert rooms and, above them, the musicians’ practice rooms. There, an atrium has been created enabling spectators on both levels to enjoy the music. The upper floors serve as gallery space. Outdoor stairs lead to the large roof terrace. The Music House is the permanent concert space for the Borusan Chamber Orchestra, which, like the Philharmonic Orchestra, is gaining recognition internationally. The latter performs around 16 times a year in Turkey and is regularly invited for guest performances abroad.

Recently the orchestra issued several audio CDs. It has a repertoire of both classical and modern music. When asked whether all the cultural activities have a positive effect on the employees of Borusan itself, Zeynep Hamedi replied: “Yes indeed. People seem to have become more open and more receptive to new things which they probably would not have encountered in their daily lives”.