Turkey has always been a cultural melting pot, especially in architecture. The Turkish region has a prime central position between Asia and Europe, thus allowing it to reflect this mix of culture in a more vibrant and grand setting. Its dynamic history and diverse community have led to the growth of a variety of different styles of design throughout the years, each with certain distinctive characteristics.

Early Turkey

The arrival of the Seljuk empire in Turkey sparked the beginning of a distinctive architectural movement in the country.  Even though the empire consisted of cultural diversity, it excellently adapted the architectural features to the Turkish region. It saw the construction of a variety of tombs, mosques, medreses, hospitals, palaces, baths, etc. The defining features of these structures included elegant, bare formwork of simple design and harmonious proportions. These structures were more or less plain but used the concept of a ‘Monumental Portal’, a doorway decorated with colourful, intricate embellishments and designs.

Often described as ‘Poetry in Stone’, Seljuk architecture was characterized by the use of large blocks of beautifully dressed stone and brick, with relief work that featured the dynamic play of light and shadow. Buildings usually incorporated eyvans, a three-sided walled room, with the fourth side open to a large, internal courtyard, muqarnas, minarets, domes, and “Turkish triangles”, triangular pendentives that support the dome. 

The Çifte Minarelli Medrese in the Erzurum province is an excellent example of the style. Its expression relies completely on proportionate formwork and material. The use of muqarnas, the internal courtyard, and ornamental brick and tile masonry were also key features.

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Çifte Minareli Medrese, Erzurum_©Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

The Ottoman Empire

The following era that came about with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire saw the design of complex and elegant structures, usually characteristic of Turkish architecture. This Ottoman style was developed as an amalgamation of design principles from the Middle East and the Mediterranean region, with Byzantine influences as well. Mosques were the main typology of design of the style, along with buildings of the Mosque complex, the kuliye (baths, hospitals, schools, etc.), palaces, tombs, fountains, etc. Designs included grand and rhythmic formwork that had a focus on harmony and hierarchy.  

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The Blue Mosque, Istanbul_ ©The Istanbul Insider

Elements like domes, minarets, buttresses, etc., were common features of the era. Most designs followed the same study of proportion, general layout, and material, with differences seen in the arrangement, size, and a number of these building elements and the ornamentation and decoration seen in the interiors, which always created a feeling of splendour and majesty. 

The Blue Mosque, designed by Sedefkar Mehmed Agha and considered the “Apple of Istanbul”, is the last project of the classical Ottoman empire. Though the exteriors boast extravagance, the use of symmetry and repetition, along with natural light and flamboyant interior decoration, create a heavenly space, perfect for religious contemplation and prayer. 

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The Şehzade Mosque, built as a memorial to the prince Şehzade Mehmed who died young_©Ayhan Altun

Mimar Sinan, an architect and chief administrator of public works, was a prime figure in Ottoman architecture. He formulated a number of principles to enhance the effect and view of the architecture on the public, focusing on simplicity, hierarchy, movement and negative space. The Sehzade Mosque was a major project designed by Sinan, while still in his apprenticeship period. It reflects the basic dependence on proportional formwork, a central layout and use of Byzantine building elements, and was built in dedication of the late crown prince.  

European Fascination

As dynamics in ruling powers shifted in the region, the Turkish region saw an increased fascination with Western ideals, in terms of designs and lifestyles. Various European influences, like the Baroque and Rococo styles, were seen to be woven into Ottoman designs resulting in a variety of style hybrids of Turkish architecture, like the Tulip style, the Baroque style, and the Empire style. This led to a shift in the type of buildings designed and saw the incorporation of European design elements in traditional formwork. 

The Fountain of Ahmed III, an example of the Tulip style, the Nuruosmaniye Mosque, an example of the Baroque style, and the Ortaköy Mosque, an example of the Empire style all showed different styles that reflected nobility and elegance in details.

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Ortaköy Mosque _©Guillaume Piolle

Nationalist Movements 

From 1890-1930, the region saw the rise of the First national architectural movement—a movement initiated to instil a sense of nationalism and pride in the Turkish region. They looked to former, local designs and styles to construct a new style of architecture for the land. Various structural elements and design features of the Seljuk and the Ottoman eras were incorporated in the designs of this movement. 

The Tayyare Apartments designed by Ahmet Kemaleddin and the Defter-i Hakani building designed by Vedat Tek were standout examples of the time.

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Tayyare Apartments _©Jamie Barras

As the requirements of buildings grew until the 1950s and there was a lack of enough Turkish architects to design these projects, the government bought about 40 foreign architects and urban planners to help with this problem. In addition to this, they also helped to oversee the development of the new capital, Ankara. These architects brought popular architectural styles like the Bauhaus, the Art Deco style, to the country, as seen in the Florya Atatürk Marine Mansion, by Seyfi Arkan, and the Ankara railway station designed by Şekip Akalın, respectively.

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Florya Atatürk Marine Mansion_ ©https://memim.com/florya-ataturk-marine-mansion.html

While the modern architecture movement grew in popularity throughout the world, the Turkish region saw the beginning of the second national architectural movement, a movement inspired by European fascist architecture movements in Germany and Italy, catalyzed by the arrival of foreign architects. This movement targeted designs of government buildings and used large proportions (large walls and windows) to heighten their sense of power and authority. Buildings of the movement like the Anıtkabir mausoleum showed symmetry, simplicity, and a complete lack of ornamentation, in reminiscence of the Neo-classical movement.

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Anıtkabir mausoleum _©Orhan Cam

Modern Architecture

After a period of great shifts in Turkish society, in response to various political movements and economic crises, the architectural scene was forced to develop itself, to cope with these changes. The rationalistic style of design was abandoned and a more fragmented, flexible, and modern formwork was adopted.

Additionally, Turkey was also seen to be expanding its reach in global trade plans, hence, greatly influencing the construction industry, and so Turkish architecture. Architects could now use modern tools and technology to color the fast-growing Turkish society. The introduction of new materials (steel, aluminum, plastic, etc.) and new technological developments (curtain wall systems and prefabrication technology) led to a drastic shift in formwork which greatly influenced the local architecture scene.

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Atatürk Cultural Center _©Bryce Edwards

The Atatürk Cultural Centre, designed in the 1960s, was an important development of the time. It reflected a new era in Turkey, by the use of new materials and technology, and the design of a new expression, through the façade and the interiors, as well. Construction for expansion and restoration of the centre began in 2018.

Turkish Architecture Today

Turkish architecture today has passed several high points. Besides having made a series of architectural developments in terms of typology, expression, and general design, the country has set itself up as a prime spot for historical, modern, and contemporary architecture. Many Turkish architects use modern materials and construction techniques to keep up with the changing times but do so by reflecting the extravagance and cultural dictionary of ancient Turkey. 

Additionally, great attention is paid to maintain sustainability through design to improve the energy efficiency of these buildings in the region. Turkey today still stands as a place of vibrancy and energy, a place of heritage and culture, truly, a place of beauty and splendour.


Joshua Fernandes is an architecture student and an avid cinephile who always looks at the whimsical side of things. Hawaiian pizza, pop culture references, and writing are his true passions. He loves discovering new music and movies, being outdoors and believes that the beauty of the world lies in the smallest details hidden within.