Warhola: As an Art Complex, what are the distinguishing features of the Zorlu Center Project compared to the other large scale architectural projects in Istanbul?
Mehmet Even: The Center of Performance Arts –a first in Turkey– is one of the most important divisions of the Zorlu Center built in Zincirlikuyu by Zorlu Real Estate with 2.5 million dollars of investment, which hosts a mall, residencies, offices in addition to the Raffles Istanbul Zorlu Center Hotel. It is one of the best art complexes in the world thanks to its technical specifications, scale and contents. Thus, the fact that it’s a living platform for art, distinguishes it from the other architectural projects in Istanbul.
The center has cost a total of 300 million dollars and is operated by the 101-year-old Broadway company Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment, and all the shows and art activities hosted in this Center will also play a significant role in helping Istanbul become a center of cultural tourism. Thus, Istanbul will be able to compete with many European cities in the fields of culture and arts as well.
Ray Cullom: Even though Broadway musicals have occasionally been performed in Istanbul, there used to be no theater in compliance with the Broadway standards concerning stage size, audience capacity, technical equipment required by the shows and the overall experience offered to the audience. This resulted in the shows being presented at lower standards than required, for both the performers and the audience. The Zorlu Center – Center of Performance Arts will overcome all the shortcomings in this regard and host the significant shows that have defined Broadway. The large hall (main theater) has a seating capacity of 2,262, while the other drama stage has a capacity of 738. Reinforced with high tech equipment, these theaters have been designed to handle the acoustics and the grandeur of many different venues ranging from musicals to classics, from concerts to ballets.
W.: Can you talk about the technical specifications of the Zorlu Center – Center of Performance Arts?
M.E: The center has a total 50,000 square meters of interior space, with two main halls that differ in size and purpose. Similar to how a tourist visiting New York, London or Paris includes in his travel plans to see a musical or a play, guests visiting Istanbul will see the world’s best shows at the Zorlu Center – Center of Performance Arts. Istanbul will be the new address for musicals other than Broadway and London – West End.
With their unique architectural designs, our public foyers are spread over 3 floors with a total 5,200 square meters of space, and have the necessary infrastructure to host a wide variety of events ranging from cocktail parties to opening ceremonies, and from temporary exhibitions to art galleries. Featuring a huge 180 square meter LED screen that is 30 meters wide, the foyer is an attractive and functional space. Influenced by the Siena Square, the stairs at the entrance of the Zorlu Center – Center of Performance Arts have been designed like a small amphitheater. Therefore we have a small public performance space open to anyone visiting Zorlu Center, and not just guests who have bought tickets to see a show. This space will be kept available to young artists with the intention to present performances.
R.C: At the Zorlu Center – Center of Performance Arts we have two halls designed to meet the different requirements of different types performances. The large hall (the main theater) is one of the best theaters of the world, concerning its seating capacity, stage size and high-tech equipment. It has a 550 m² stage and a 1044 m² backstage. Stage height is 30 meters, while the carrying capacity of the stage ceiling is 46 tons. The main theater can descend to 1 floor below – a total of 4,5 meters. The front 3 rows of seats can be lowered by means of a special mechanical system, in order to have the necessary space for the orchestra pit, and it can be reorganized according to the needs of the orchestra. It offers a performance space large enough for a 70 piece orchestra. Because the hall is amplified (with reinforced and enriched acoustics) it’s extremely suitable for shows that require a high standard regarding technical specifications, such as musicals, ballets, dance, opera shows, musical concerts and many different kinds of shows. The whole infrastructure of the theater is designed to provide zero degrees of sound, and is thus ideal. It’s possible to set up three different sceneries at the same time. One is the active set for the stage, while the other two are for two different shows, ready to be used. The sceneries for three different shows to be staged on the same day can be installed in just one hour. This is the first theater in Europe that’s completely equipped with a LED lighting system. A subtitle system is installed on the curtains next to and above the stage. There’s also the necessary infrastructure for translation in 8 languages. The main stage allows the entrance and the loading and unloading of 6 large trucks.
In the main theater there are 24 dressing rooms for a total of 286 people, the biggest of which is 56 square meters large. Additionally there are 150 screens and 16 broadcast IPTV channels.
The drama stage has a seating capacity of 738. The 11×12 meter stage has an area of 132 m². With its natural acoustics, it’s particularly suitable for acoustic concerts, theater shows and corporate activities. The drama theater has 13 dressing rooms with a capacity of 119 people.
W.: How does the project intend to relate to the city? Do you think culture, art and malls could support each other in a complex?
M.E: In addition to comprising five functions that support, complete and bring synergy to each other, the Center will become a new meeting point at the heart of Istanbul. And our relationship to Istanbul will consist of breathing together and helping its social life develop. This unique project is our gift to Istanbul. We spared no expense in providing easy transport, by building beltway connections in addition to “Zorlu Center Metro and Metrobus Pedestrian Connection Tunnels” which will serve pedestrian transport between Zorlu Center and Istanbul Metro Gayrettepe Station and Zincirlikuyu Metrobus Station. We call it unique, because bringing together five functions, this project will create a new living area that will enrich Istanbul. It’s because the main square in Zorlu Center has been planned to be around 10 thousand square meters. The area that connects the Center to Istanbul will be full of vegetation. In the 72 thousand square meters of green space surrounding Zorlu Center, people will be embraced by stone pines that Bosphorus is identified with, in addition to redbud trees. We will keep alive the vegetation of Istanbul’s Bosphorus area with 60 different types of plants and trees. In this regard, there’s nothing similar even in Europe. We will be able to see every possible color the nature has to offer during the 12 months of the year. A guest of Zorlu Center will be able to accommodate right next to Bosphorus, pick a restaurant according to his wishes, shop in a mall just like the ones in world metropolises, then maybe visit an exhibition at the Center of Performance Arts and see in the evening a Broadway Show without even leaving the Center.
W.: We know that the Zorlu Group supports contemporary art events such as Contemporary Istanbul. What are the reasons for doing so? What are your plans for the future?
M.E: We have supported the development of art as it has been one of our aims at every stage in building Zorlu Center, and we will continue to do so. The most obvious proof of that is the Center of Performance Arts, which is the result of the social responsibility of Zorlu Group. We’d like to make our support to art sustainable. We keep working to make it true. Before Zorlu Center was opened, it started its activities in the field of art with sponsorship and publishing. The first step of Zorlu Center in publishing was with the book “Unexpected Encounters – Contemporary Art Works of 2000’s in the context of their relationship to architecture”. Presenting a selection of contemporary art works made in 2000’s, “Unexpected Encounters” was one of the rare books that presented architecture and contemporary art together. Zorlu Center’s second book “Object” was launched at Contemporary Istanbul, November 24th, 2012. Cemal Emden’s “Making of: Architectural Objects” is our third book. We renew ourselves with each new book and boost our excitement. We have sustained our support to Contemporary Istanbul in 2011 and 2012 as one of the sponsors. In addition to the events we organized before the opening, we have provided the visitors with a distinct experience with Cemal Emden’s works that bring together architecture and photography. Alongside all these things, we have provided our support with various other sponsorships as well. We’re ambitious with other projects in the field of art that we support.
In the past years we have also worked with IKSV and Istanbul Biennial. Our support in this context will continue in the future.
W.: How do you plan to handle the art direction of the center?
R.C: As you know, the operator of the Zorlu Center – Center of Performance Arts is the 101 year-old US firm “Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment (NWE)”. Directing one of the world’s biggest live entertainment organizations, NWE manages over more than 30 Broadway theaters in various countries such as USA, UK, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Brazil and Cuba. The arrangement of the artists to work on our stages will be made with the help of the close relationships of the Nederlander management with the US and world art market and with our experienced crew. With all this experience and connections, we will be presenting the most prominent artists and productions of Turkey and the World on our stages with perfect harmony.
W.: Can you elaborate on your process of coming up with a program?
R.C: Working on a program to determine the artists to perform at an international performance arts center such as Zorlu Center is quite an elaborate and time consuming process. For some of the shows, the planning stage begins a few years prior. For the large scale and significant Broadway and West End productions that are to be presented in the main theater, one has to make reservations and arrangements 3 years in advance, and sometimes even earlier than that. With Nederlander, this coordination is possible thanks to their strong and well established relationships with the significant artists, producers and managers of the field. For all the other kinds of shows that will be presented on our stages (dance, opera, symphony, international events) the required preparation and reservation periods will differ, but we work in extreme detail for each single event.
W.: What kinds of performances will the Zorlu Center – Center of Performance Arts present?
R.C: Our program at the Zorlu Center – Center of Performance Arts will comprise a wide range of different “series” or performance types. Our main series of performances will be “Broadway is in Istanbul” which will take place in our main theater and present three or four large scale Broadway / West End productions each season. One of our Broadway musicals to be presented this year is “Cats”, one of the most acknowledged and loved musicals in the history of Broadway. Other series in our program are as follows: “Classics” series, “Dance shows”, “Family Events” series, “Turkish Music and Culture” series and finally the “International Events” series which will include internationally famous solo artists and groups that will be on the stage in Turkey for the first time. We will be hosting different artists and productions each year, however the types of series will stay the same each season, and will grow and develop over time. During our first season we will be presenting 50 separate events in the aforementioned different performance categories and more than 400 performances to the audiences in Istanbul. A lot of world famous artists and groups will take stage in Istanbul for the first time at Zorlu Center – Center of Performance Arts. The first event of the Center is the concert of the world famous Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Eunaudi. The Nutcracker Ballet, master film music composer Ennio Morricone, 2Cellos, Forever Tango, and “the man with the golden flute” Sir James Galway will take stage during the first season of the Zorlu Center. For the “Kavafis Project”, which is organized to celebrate the 150th year of the birth of the great poet Kavafis, George Dalaras’ songs and the poems read by Okan Bayulgen will echo in Istanbul.
W.: Was the interior architectural design of the center planned with focus on contemporary art, or are the works to be set up later?
M.E: The architectural design of the Zorlu Center project was realized by “Aga Han” award winner famous Turkish architect Emre Arolat (EAA) and International RIBA award winner Turkish architect Murat Tabanlioglu (Tabanlioglu Architecture) who was chosen the best architect of the Middle East. The Center of Performance Arts within Zorlu Center has been designed with both functional and unique architectural solutions, to serve the needs of many fields of art. The Center of Performance Arts provides the visitors with a special experience starting with its stairs located at the entrance which were inspired by the Siena Square. It can serve the requirements of not only contemporary art, but also a wide range of events with its theaters which can host various shows and its wide foyer spaces. In addition to the superior architectural design, this magnificent structure has been the result of our work together with the best advisors of their own fields in the world, regarding all the details ranging from lighting to sound.