The Fascinating, Makeshift Shelters That Occupied Turkey’s Protests

Istanbul architects document the simple, ingenious encampments of #OccupyGezi.

Like recent protest movements that inspired it, #OccupyGezi seemed to have come out of nowhere. What began as an environmental demonstration to dispute the development of Istanbul’s Gezi Park transformed into nationwide protests involving hundreds of thousands. The crowds voiced their discontent with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership, his authoritarian impulses, and the creeping defeat of secularism in Turkey.


By June 1, Gezi Park–one of the last public green spaces left in central Istanbul–was littered with small, informal encampments that the protesters erected with all the spare materials they could get their hands on. The camps were short-lived, but Turkish architect collective Herkes Icin Mimarlik (Turkish for “Architecture for All”) took the initiative of recording, on paper, the spontaneous constructions.

“The life cycle of these spaces was really short so we had to document them, the organization’s co-founder Hayrettin Günç tells Co.Design. “Creating a collective memory is really important when the government is trying to cover everything with different layers of misinformation.”

The architects cobbled together a small archive of line drawings that depict the architecture of #OccupyGezi. The simple illustrations, which resemble patent drawings or Ikea instruction manuals, were made by tracing lines over photographs of the encampments. Devoid of detail or contrast, the drawings nevertheless faithfully translate the jumble of the makeshift shelters and the varied materials used to build them.

Each of the drawings is presented as an item in an inventory of types. The “library” is a small scaffold-like structure draped in a (blue) sheet; donated literature is spread across it. A “reading swing” is suspended from a set of monkey bars. The “communal table” consists of a few planks of wood balanced atop plastic street barriers. The “speaker’s point” uses a pair of metal police barricades and a signpost to create a portable rostrum.

The drawings were compiled from several contributors, all of whom are part of the Herkes Için Mimarlik group. As they write on the project’s Tumblr, each structure is unique and “has its own in-situ design and implementation process.” Documenting the “architecture” of the protests was a way of preserving them while also examining how design was being used in subversive ways. Günç explains: “We believe that these structures are huge reminders for designers that we are not the only ones with designing capabilities. You don’t need an architect or a designer to build these kinds of structures.”

The role of architects and designers, he adds, is to facilitate these ad-hoc developments. When people began occupying Gezi, they had no recourse but to “design” the spaces–sleeping quarters, infirmaries, kitchens, masjid (prayer rooms)–they needed. For Günç, it’s in this capacity that architects have a part to play in defining these new types of co-habitation.


Despite the fervor and ingenuity of its participants, the occupation was dealt a huge blow when Erdoğan–after doing nothing for several days–filled Gezi Park with riot police. The task forces, armed with tear gas and clubs, flooded the park. They disassembled the camps and tread on them underfoot.

It remains to be seen whether the protests will regain the heights of early June. (Günç is optimistic; he believes the events have sparked a new era for Turkey.) At any rate, if there’s another occupation, you can bet that a copy of the “#OccupyGezi Architecture” manual will be available in the next makeshift library.

The project is open to contributions. Submit your drawings here.

About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.