On August 17, 1999, the earth shook under Turkey’s North Anatolian fault, triggering an earthquake that registered 7.4 on the Richter scale and destroyed towns and villages in southwest Turkey between Istanbul and Ankara. More than 25,000 people died-almost all of them in building collapses.
Jan Wampler, a professor in MIT’s architecture school, immediately called two of his former students, Barbara Brady ‘92 and Rukiye Devres Unver ‘93, MA ‘96, who had formed their own architecture firm in Istanbul in 1997, to make sure they were safe. In the year before the earthquake, Brady and Unver had been discussing with Wampler the possibility of bringing one of his signature workshop classes to Turkey as part of a design project. Wampler told his former students, “Maybe now is the time.”
As graduate students, Brady and Unver had participated in Wampler’s International Workshop, which he has been teaching for the past decade. Each workshop brings together a mix of undergraduates and graduates from various disciplines (engineers and urban planners as well as architects) who make a field visit to a country to consider the architecture, resources, technology, culture, and history of a particular area. They return to MIT to spend the rest of the semester designing a project for that area. Brady and Unver, for example, helped design a school in Pakistan. Other workshops have gone to India, China, and Honduras.
Wampler reasoned that, by bringing a workshop to Turkey after the quake, he and his students could help rebuild the devastated countryside, designing and constructing much needed and more stable shelters. After consulting with Brady and Unver, he chose to focus on the region surrounding the city of Adapazari, which lies directly on the fault and 75 percent of whose buildings had been leveled. He also intended to devote the workshop to planning an entire village, or as he puts it, a “microvillage.” Wampler invented the term, he says, to capture the sense of a small, technical community-something more than just homes grouped together. According to his definition, a microvillage incorporates design that recognizes local architectural traditions while exploring the newest technologies; fosters a sense of community (something that gets lost amid the high-rises of a big city); and provides economic self-sustainability (if inhabitants can create microindustries within the village, they won’t feel pressed to migrate to the cities).
“I wanted to use this opportunity to build a permanent community to explore new technologies,” says Wampler.
What started in 1999 as a proposal by Wampler, Brady, and Unver expanded to include students, the Turkish government, and nongovernmental Turkish nonprofit organizations. It took years to iron out the details of the project, and dealing with the bureaucratic wrangles necessary to build in any country slowed the process. But construction of the village finally began last summer. And Wampler’s longtime commitment to not just designing shelter but helping form a new type of community is coming to fruition. “I’m prepared to say it might not be as successful as we want,” Wampler says. “But we’ll know something, and that’s the point.”